We must protect the integrity of All Women Shortlists

14th February, 2013 7:48 am

I am a real supporter of All Women Shortlists because it has been shown that with our current male-dominated politics they are what  ensures better female representation in Parliament. It’s also good politics as our 26% lead among women voters shows. By getting more women into prominent roles and bringing their perspective to our Party in Parliament we have changed what our priorities are and how we promote them and female voters are responding.

As a real supporter of All Women Shortlists, I am occasionally called on to defend them from their detractors. I have no problem with doing so. Those of you who have been kind enough to read my writing here and elsewhere regularly will know that I have no problem with telling people when I think they’re wrong and exactly why they’re wrong.

But I’d like the Party to help me. One of the most frequent accusations levelled against AWS is that they are somehow a “stitch up”. Usually this comes from disgruntled male candidates convinced that they are being overlooked. But sometimes it comes from CLPs who feel that they don’t understand why they have been chosen. Today, several of the decisions will be made by the Organisational Sub Committee of the NEC which will then be sent to the full NEC for ratification.

As I understand it, the regional offices have been conducting  a consultation across their CLPs and will be putting forward recommendations to Org Sub. Each region will be looking at a huge variety of factors. They will need to ensure balance across their region, while taking into account the history and demographics of the individual constituencies. CLPs wishes will also be factored in. It is a difficult balancing act and many of our regions are understaffed and have been working flat out on the near constant stream of by-elections we’ve faced since the General Election.

At each step in the process – from the recommendations given to Org Sub to the decisions taken by that group and by the full NEC – there will be reasons discussed and a rationale behind each decision.

The Labour Party is continuing to refound itself and continues to open up its processes so members can understand and feel more engaged and empowered. This transparency is essential to giving us all confidence in the processes that take place to decide some of the most important things we do – selecting those who will make our laws and fight our cause in Parliament. All too often, members have had cause to complain because of a lack of transparency.

I don’t want to see All Women Shortlists become a victim of this lack of transparency. I don’t want to see any excuses handed to those who oppose them. They’re too important to be either used as a tool to favour certain individual candidates or to become unwittingly tangled in a process that allows it to look like that has taken place simply by a lack of clear, consistent information around the process.

CLP officers should be informed by their regional directors when their seats have been allocated as an All Woman Shortlisting seat as soon as possible, but the rationale behind that decision making must also be available to them. There needs to be a clear and consistent communication loop between the Constitution Unit and regional offices so that those who will be in direct contact with CLPs will be able to not just inform them of the decision but of why the decision has been taken.

The decisions are complex and are not made based on one factor or criteria, but if each CLP has access to the rationale behind that decision – some of which may be hard to hear (for example, it may be that it was felt that the CLP had a poor history of championing women) they can at least be confident they are not having an individual foisted upon them,  but will – when the time comes – have a wide range of candidates to choose from – whether they are from a single gender or otherwise.

All Women Shortlist are great. Eventually I hope they will be obsolete. But in the meantime, for those of us who champion them, transparency around the process is essential to protecting the integrity of that for which we fight.

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