The Labour Party can be proud of its record in introducing All Women Shortlists. All Women Shortlists have played a crucial role in increasing the representation of women in the Parliamentary Labour Party. They are the primary reason why 32% of Labour MPs are women, as compared to 16% of Conservative MP and 12% of Liberal Democrat MPs. We still have a long way to go though, and we cannot rest until at least 50% of Labour MPs, and indeed all Labour representatives, are women.
It is heartening that there is strong support among party members for All Women Shortlists, and I hope that they will help ensure we achieve 50% representation over time. Yet there is also disquiet about how seats are chosen to be All Women Shortlists.
This decision is currently taken the NEC Organisational Subcommittee, and then endorsed by the NEC. Emma Burnell wrote recently on LabourList calling for the rationale for each decision as to whether a seat is open or an All Women Shortlist to be published. I think perhaps even more basic to this is for NEC Organisational Subcommittee to be clear about what criteria is used for deciding whether a given seat will have an All Women Shortlist or be open. I recently asked Alan Olive, the London Labour Party Director, what criteria are used to decide this. He confirmed that there are in fact no set criteria. The suspicion amongst many party members is that a major criterion used in practice is who the potential candidates might be under either system, and how effective they have been in lobbying the NEC Organisational Subcommittee.
Personally, I struggle to think what criteria could mean that one seat is particularly more suited to be an All Women Shortlist than another. Some might suggest that we should not have All Women Shortlists where there is a ‘strong’ male potential candidate. But who is to decide whether a candidate is ‘strong’ or not? This seems a highly subjective approach and one that could therefore lend itself to unfairness. Others have said that where there is a former MP who is male who would like to re-contest a seat, this is an argument for an open shortlist. Yet why should there be special exceptions in this case where former MPs have to go through exactly the same selection process in every other respect? It has also been said that local demography should be taken into account when deciding whether a seat should be an All Women Shortlist. But why should Labour champion equality any less in an area of one demography than another? Similarly, I do not think local parties should necessarily be taking the decision, or even influencing the decisions, as to whether their seat is an All Women Shortlist, as this will inevitably be affected by calculations of who might be the candidate under either system. The commitment to All Women Shortlists is a national commitment of the Labour Party and it should be decided and applied nationally.
There is one approach that would be transparent, fair and would avoid accusations of ‘”stitch ups”. That would be for the decision as to whether seats are All Women Shortlists to be made through a lottery. The lottery could be structured to take into account legitimate factors, such as ensuring that the All Women Shortlists are spread evenly across seats in terms of winnability and across regions. A lottery system would remove the criticism used by opponents of All Women Shortlists that the way they are applied is unfair. There could be no accusation that a seat was made All Women Shortlist or not in order to exclude, include or give an advantage to a particular candidate. Labour can hold its head high in introducing All Women Shortlists, but we must have a system for applying them that is beyond reproach.
A lottery system would deliver this.