LabourList readers worried about Labour’s London-centric bias

29th August, 2014 8:48 am

The start of the week saw Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond go head-to-head over the Scottish referendum for the second time. There’s been general agreement that Darling won the first round clash but that this time, Salmond triumphed.

We asked LabourList readers what they thought about the debates – whether Better Together or Yes Scotland gained more from them. The figures aren’t too promising for either campaign. Better Together just pipped Yes Scotland to the post with 32% to the yes campaign’s 27%.

However, a similar number (33%) thought that the debates didn’t benefit either campaign over the other and 8% were unsure. Although of course not all LabourList are not eligible to vote in the referendum, the split of these results suggest that with less than 3 weeks to go until the referendum there’s still everything to play for.

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Last week, the NEC election results were announced. As Mark Ferguson noted, only one of the eight people selected lives outside of London and the South. Conor Pope argued that this is cause for concern because, he says, a lack of diversity will result in poor representation, no matter how hard those elected work. We wanted to know if LabourList readers agreed.

The answer was, for the most part, yes. A substantial majority (70%) of people said that they thought there was a London-centric bias in the Labour Party and that it was concerning. 19% agreed that there was a bias but said that they didn’t think it was a problem. While a small minority (9%) said that they didn’t think there is a bias within Labour towards the South and 2% weren’t sure.

What these results seem to suggest is that the Labour Party needs to be doing more to encourage and include party members from across the country to get involved in internal party politics. Ultimately, this comes down to ensuring that people feel like they have a means by which to make their voice heard within the party.

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Austin Mitchell recently caused a stir within the Labour Party (and beyond) when he said that the party was undergoing a ‘feminisation’ due to All-Women Shortlists, which called for an end to after the general election. Understandably, Ma number of prominent Labour Party figures were outraged by what Mitchell said – Johanna Baxter responded saying Mitchell was ageist, sexist and the problem with British politics.

We wanted to know what LabourList readers thought. Most (60%) agreed with Baxter, and condemned Mitchell’s comments outright. However, a sizeable number (24%) thought that Mitchell was right but had simply gone the wrong way about communicating his thoughts. While 7% agreed with Mitchell and had no qualms about the way he launched his criticism and 9% were left unsure.

Given the number of people who said they agreed with Mitchell (31% when you combine those who agreed with him unequivocally and those who agreed with him but thought he should have explained himself in a different way) it’s worth noting that despite the arguable rise of feminism in the mainstream, the gender balance in Parliament, and throughout the rest of British politics, is not doing so well.

The results of a study released yesterday showed that women are underrepresented at all levels in British politics and that Britain has dropped to 65th in a global league table of female representation – it was 33rd 15 years ago (still a damning position). This fall shows that we’re not doing as well on gender as we’d like to think…

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  • Ann Black

    London-centric NEC … agree that it’s an issue, and would love to hear proposed solutions. The original post linked the two local government places with the six CLP seats, though taking the NEC as a whole there are members from Wales (two), Sheffield, Liverpool, Wallasey, Nottingham, Leicester (two), Wentworth, Doncaster, Selby and Wentworth. The two LG representatives are from different regions and it’s hard to go beyond that.

    For the six CLP representatives, 11 regions poses real challenges. Even if there were 11 seats, gender balance would require alternating men and women every two years, so no man, and perhaps no woman, would ever acquire continuity or seniority. Twenty-two CLP reps is the minimum needed. The other option is three mega-regions so large that regional representation loses all meaning. Even modest proposals to add elected CLP representatives from Scotland and Wales have been consistently rejected by the NEC, despite (or because of?) my support.

    I have floated an intermediate proposal which would have no more than two representatives from any one region, with no more than one man or one woman. For this year, it would have given

    London – Ken Livingstone, Ellie Reeves
    South East – Ann Black
    East Midlands – Christine Shawcroft
    Wales – Darren Williams
    North West – Peter Wheeler
    which goes up from three to five regions. Is this the basis for a way forward?
    Finally and on a personal note, the south-east is not the same as London. We have four Labour MPs in 84 constituencies and barely clung on to a single MEP out of ten places. London won half the MEP places for Labour and is well-endowed with Labour MPs. South-east members feel virtually unrepresented by the parliamentary Labour party, which, when all is said and done, wields rather more influence than the NEC …

    • FMcGonigal

      Use the Single Transferable Vote – that would allow fair representation by faction, region and gender.

      • mouthOfTheUmber

        why not ‘affirmative action’ or ‘positive discrimination’? There is a good case/argument elsewhere.

    • mouthOfTheUmber

      the fact is that the delegates on the NEC representing ordinary members are all from the south.
      However, having directly elected Regional Government would also make Regional Boards more important with representation from all sub-regions, CLPs and LCFs

      • Edward Carlsson Browne

        And all but one of them is from London, which is very different from the rest of the south.

    • MonkeyBot5000

      For the six CLP representatives, 11 regions poses real challenges. Even
      if there were 11 seats, gender balance would require alternating men
      and women every two years, so no man, and perhaps no woman, would ever
      acquire continuity or seniority.

      Don’t try to force a small sample to mirror population demographics. A percentage is a number per hundred so when you have fewer than a hundred people, you’ll have problems.

      If you’re concerned about gender representation, you need to start at the bottom and ensure that the pool from which you select candidates for the CLP, PPCs or local councilors is 50% female. That’s the only way you’ll have enough women to ensure representation at all levels.

    • Redshift1

      I don’t agree it’d be meaningless to talk about ‘mega-regions’.

      We don’t have a single northern CLP rep. That is a massive thing. It’s the reason why I’ve been unable to vote for the whole of the GRA slate for the past two NEC elections.

      I’m not sure you take this seriously (and I have voted for you by the way, just not all your colleagues)

  • mouthOfTheUmber

    apparently one MP has said Londoners should be allowed to determine their own future. However, people in other regions still have their lives determined by London ! ! !
    There is a need for directly elected Regional Government in ALL regions

    • Steve Stubbs

      So which existing level of local government do you want to abolish so as to avoid additional expense (some hope!) and over-representation?

      • Redshift1

        County Councils?

        • Steve Stubbs

          But then you would have to dissolve the metropolitan boroughs like Greater Manchester, Tyne and Wear, Avon etc.

          And then have only district councils and the regional council below the national assembly which covers those non-devolved issues.

          • Stan

            Greater Manchester County Council was dissolved years ago, 1986 to be precise, along with those in West & South Yorkshire, Merseyside and Tyne & Wear. Some of the bodies remain, like fire, police, waste management etc, but there are no elected bodies.

          • mouthOfTheUmber

            wouldn’t dissolve Local Government, but drastically reduce national government. After all, it only needs to do; foreign, defence and national taxation policies

      • Wolves_Phil

        What is needed is the devolution of powers from central government to English regions, to mirror the success of devolution in Wales and Scotland. Regional government has nothing to do with the transfer upwards of powers from local government. The North East rejected that model a decade ago.

    • Redshift1

      Well said!

    • Alexwilliamz

      If scotland vote yes then we should have regional referendums for the rest of the uk, so we can decide which bit to join!

  • Ray McHale

    I couldn’t stand if our Labour NEC elections became like UNISON NEC elections – where there is little or no link between popular support and who wins – opening the whole process to manipulation, and where you stand in which seat is more important than what you represent politically.

  • fizgil

    Labour List readers also likely to have a fundamental bias towards Better Together which is not unlikely to have skewed their judgement of the indyref debates…

  • styopa

    Some of us do actually read the questions carefully. “Mitchell made some good points” is not the same as “I agree with Mitchell”.

    • Angela Sullivan

      Yes, I had to put “Don’t know” because although I didn’t agree with his overall views I felt he had made some valid points, and expressed them well. It shouldn’t be taboo to talk about the fact that all women shortlists are problematic for many reasons, even though they are the most effective way of getting women fairly represented. The way in which constituencies are selected to have an AWS seems arbitrary and rides rough-shod over local grass roots democracy.

      • Danny

        For me, it wasn’t his comments about AWS that riled me but his ignorant, sexist bulls*it about how more females in the House of Commons would make it more, “amendable, leadable and less objectionable” and that it would make Parliament more focused on small problems instead of big ideas. And his patronising, factually-bereft cr*p about how any potential Labour government post-2015 would be “gentler” and more “family-friendly”, less able to cope with the “all-night shenanigans”.

        That’s what makes me think Austin Mitchell is well-past his expiry date and delighted he won’t be a public face of the Labour Party post-2015, regardless of the result of the General Election.

        It is entirely possible to frame an anti-AWS position without presenting yourself as a sexist, backward-looking dinosaur. Austin Mitchell failed entirely at this and in doing so, weakened the position of the universal anti-AWS opinion, as it’s quite clear that Austin Mitchell’s opposition to it is grounded in old-school, misogynistic and misguided principles, not because of the fact that it is discriminate and anti-democratic.

        • gunnerbear

          If AM had expressed his position in the terms you wanted, it wouldn’t have made the papers – never mind sparked the debate.

  • Wolves_Phil

    The representation of women in British politics may have gone backwards over the last decade, but that’s because we got a Conservative government in 2010. Progress will resume if the Conservatives and Lib Dems are defeated by Labour in 2015, as the representation of women in Labour politics has gone forward considerably over the same period.

    The more salient problem now is that progress on the representation of women by Labour has not been matched by similar progress with regard to ethnic minorities. The balance of emphasis within the party has to shift now towards rules that give priority to ensuring that ethnic minorities are better represented in relevant seats.

    • Danny

      “Progress will resume if the Conservatives and Lib Dems are defeated by Labour in 2015”

      I fear you are correct, though not the type of progress to which you refer.

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