“In Brighton, no Labour women will be in calm down dear mode!” Harriet Harman celebrates Labour Women’s Conference

13th September, 2013 8:00 am

Anyone who hoped that the women’s movement had lost momentum or believed that there’s no fresh energy in politics is in for a rude awakening.

On the Saturday ahead of our Labour conference, 1,000 Labour women will cram in to the Brighton Centre for our annual Labour Women’s Conference and they’ll be in an assertive and demanding mood.

The Tories and the LibDems can only dream of a powerful and dynamic horde of women at their conferences. But it won’t happen.

Because it’s Labour which is the political wing of the women’s movement.  And, gathered in Brighton they will be mobilising for and demanding radical action from Labour to deliver for women.

The point about Labour women is that we want Labour to deliver for women.  And when we do that we will attract the support of women in their votes for us so we can deliver for them. We are already clearly ahead of all the other parties in the support we have from women voters.

This Women’s conference will be about Labour delivering for women.  Not just Labour women getting women’s votes for Labour.

As Labour women, we’re gratified by the progress we made when we were in government – on childcare, maternity leave, tackling domestic violence.  But we had to fight hard and we’ve seen even that progress slip back under the Tory/Libdem government.

In Brighton none of the women will be in the “calm down dear” mode.  There will be fierce demands; for more Labour women MPs and council leaders; for more women at the top of the Labour Party – in our HQ and in our regions.  Not just because we believe in fairness and opportunity as a matter of principle for our One Nation, but because we know that its only when women are no longer so outnumbered by men that we will have the right agenda for party policy and organisation.

It’s going to be the opposite of a carefully managed event with an audience there to admire those on the platform.  It’ll mostly be “open mike” with women from all round the country and all walks of life telling it how they see it.

But we will – because the women’s movement is about solidarity – take a moment to celebrate the great work of Yvette Cooper and our women in the Shadow Cabinet, admire the indomitable spirit or Margaret Hodge – the icon for our Commission on Older Women.

Some will be pregnant, some will be grandparents.  There will be Labour women from trade unions and from management.  The women there will be in all shapes and sizes but with a united determination to make politics listen to women’s voices and to make Labour the engine for women’s equality in these difficult times.

We started this new women’s conference three years ago.  Someone helpfully predicted 40 would come but 600 women overflowed Manchester Town Hall.  This year it will be bigger than ever before and once again the biggest women’s meeting of any political party in this country.


Some men feel a bit fearful of a room of 1,000 women.  But the important thing is for women in the country to know that Labour women are banding together and are determined to deliver for them.

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  • Ben Cobley

    This is the new hegemony in the Labour Party.

    As Harriet says, “it’s Labour which is the political wing of the women’s movement”.

    They say they are going to attract women voters and deliver for women, which would be great, if only it didn’t mean deterring men voters and marginalising men. But unfortunately this is what is happening at all levels of the Labour Party. The women’s movement has been a fantastic success in terms of organisation, messaging and cultural domination, to the extent that about the only public comments questioning its ideology, methods and ambitions are found on comment threads and obscure blogs like my own.

    As Harriet says, “the women’s movement is about solidarity” – but it’s a them and us solidarity that deliberately excludes a broad swathe of Labour members, supporters and voters.

    I would sympathise with much of the agenda, if only this movement hadn’t gone the way it has, becoming something else far beyond the decent and righteous original aims. It is now to a large extent a self-interest movement with substantial powers of privilege and patronage and a momentum of its own.

    I just hope the more sensible members of this movement start to realise what is going on. But given the impressive ideological and organisational momentum, I think meaningful change may be some way off, and indeed may never come.

    I’ve written about feminism and its impact within Labour quite a bit (I would never have thought of doing so before joining the party, but it is self-evidently the most powerful force at the moment). This has brought on a far amount of abuse, and plenty of opposition, but also a lot of positive comments from both men and women within Labour and outside.

    The two links below are: 1) ‘Frank Field: some home truths on Labour’s ‘equalities agenda’?’ and 2) is the second part of a look at the political ideology of patriarchy (including a look at the part-capture of the Labour Party by it).

    1) http://afreeleftblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/frank-field-some-home-truths-on-labours.html

    2) http://afreeleftblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/on-patriarchy-part-2-context-and_24.html

    • Ben Cobley

      I see my comment above has attracted a number of ‘dislikes’ in a short
      space of time, but no comments actually arguing against what I said. I
      find this disappointing, but not surprising. Like I said, I’ve received
      quite a lot of reaction to my writings about feminism and Labour.
      However very little of that reaction has been actual criticism based on
      what I have said.

      There is a powerful grouping out there within Labour which has almost carte blanche to do as it pleases without any institutionalised opposition. And when there is opposition, it ignores it. Maybe I’m seeing conspiracies behind walls that are not there, but if I was in charge of messaging for an interest group in a situation like that of Labour’s women movement, that is the strategy I would take – don’t give any fuel to the opposition; ignore it, and don’t make an issue of it.

      It’s admirable from that point of view, but it also serves the point I made. We have a party within a party that is highly and very well organised to undermine and usurp others within the same party. Fair enough to an extent in this dog eat dog world, but I do question why my Labour subs are going towards promoting something which won’t even give me time of day.

      And I’m not the only one. C’est la vie though.


      • BekkyShambles

        There’s no comments on it for the same reason that no-one tries to have a debate with a screaming toddler in a supermarket aisle.

      • Hi Ben,

        Since you seem confused as to why your comments and blog posts garner a lot of dislikes but very few responses…

        1. You sound like a men’s rights activist with statements like “deterring men voters and marginalising men”. How are men being marginalised by Labour advocating women’s rights, exactly? Greater equality for women does not mean less rights for men, and it never will! “2 many wimmens in my party” (I’m paraphrasing) is hardly razor-sharp political analysis.

        Likewise, “it is self-evidently the most powerful force at the moment” seems unlikely when I reckon it’s the usual PPE graduates deciding policy and holding power within the Labour Party – hence why I didn’t renew my membership.

        2. Your blogs are, to be frank, pretty boring. Some definitions of patriarchy from Wikipedia and a few meaningless platitudes, without any real direction or call for action, are hardly the things of which great political columns are made. A few paragraphs into your first linked blog and I was begging for the sweet release of the Close Tab button.

        That might seem nasty and ad-hominem, but it isn’t meant to be. From one writer to another, I hope you appreciate some honest constructive criticism: blog about ideas and solutions rather than dry description, quote regurgitation and pontification would be an improvement.

        It’s much easier for the lay reader to just click dislike rather than offering feedback. This comment will probably get plenty of dislikes too. It’s the internet. Feedback is negative. Get used to it and just write something better.

    • Redshift1

      I think that’s because actually it’s rather dismissive of the need for any thought nevermind actions to get more women involved in politics.

      Now if you had simply questioned whether AWS for example has been effective in getting more women involved in politics, you’d have a point (I believe that whilst it’s been effective at getting women into parliament, they have largely been already very politicised, well-heeled women – not generally like a single mother of a council estate who started off concerned about the local SureStart Centre) BUT that isn’t what you said at all. And indeed you have no plans to address anything, just a rant against a kind of straw man version of feminism.

      To be honest, it mostly comes across as incredibly insecure…

      • Ben Cobley

        Hi Redshift, I’d like to think I’m speaking truth. If I’m not, then I’d like to hear how and why. If that means coming across as insecure that’s fine by me.

    • Holly

      Harman and her ilk have done more to wreck the power of women.

      Yup, once upon a time we had REAL power. we met a bloke, got married, had a family, he buggered off to work all day, we got to play mum, IF we were really lucky, we bought our homes, and many over sixties today, going on recent valuations, hit the jackpot.

      Today’s women have been brainwashed into thinking that leaving our children with others, for them to raise, then going to work, AND having to doing everything else in the home as well, (and don’t pretend that hubby washing/
      drying up, or picking the children up is ‘sharing household chores) is somehow ‘power inducing’….and sadly, most of today’s women have no hope of ever raking in the hundreds of thousands of pounds when the ‘nest is empty’ and the family home is sold, like the ‘unpowerful’ mums just a generation ago.

      Harman is deluding thousands of today’s women.
      Today’s women have NO choice!

  • $6215628

    Harriet’s ideas are interesting if we regain power, n fortunately Ben copleys link show why we’ve no chance of mass support for this sort of thing.

  • Hugh

    “it’s Labour which is the political wing of the women’s movement”

    Interesting stuff. Who’s the armed wing?

    • John Prescott.

      • Hugh

        Ah, yes, always keen to worship at the Temple of feminism.

        • Oh yes, it’s a broad church, mate. As is the Temple of Feminism.

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    Dear Harriet,
    Yes, I’m sure that “Some will be pregnant, some will be grandparents”, but what about those of us who chose not to get pregnant and are more interested in discussing human rights law? What about those of us who have a disability?

    I was shocked to find out that Labour MPs don’t have to abide by Labour Party policy on the Guaranteed interview scheme for disabled job applicants. As a member of the public I have been under the misapprehension that when I vote for a Labour candidate to be my MP, I am voting for someone who represents Labour Party policy. I was clearly wrong. Apparently I was voting for a self employed person who like me happens to be a member of the Labour Party, but unlike me doesn’t put ideology into practice. Hmmm, I wonder what potential voters would say if they knew??????

    Please rectify this contradiction of “equality” values ASAP.

  • JabbaTheCat

    Ah, wimmin on the move!

  • JabbaTheCat

    Somewhat ironic that Labour has not had a woman leader, let alone a Prime Minister?

  • trip_hazard

    As Harriet says, “it’s Labour which is the political wing of the women’s movement”…….as borne out by the last female labour prime minister.

  • BusyBeeBuzz

    On the subject of “equality”, here is a puzzler. The Equalities Office on deal with equality issues relating to women’s equality and sexual preference equality. Apparently, disability discrimination issues are dealt with by a different agency. This is rather odd considering that the Disability Discrimination Act was scrapped and then incorporated into the Equalities Act 2010 which the Equalities Office should deal with.

    I am a feminist – not a marketing toy!

  • Ashley Perks

    “Some men feel a bit fearful of a room of 1,000 women. ” What was more scary was that, as a PR consultant back in the prehistoric 80s, I was criticised in the media for Chairing the ‘Women Into Business’ Conference held at…Ipswich Town FC! Talk about mixed messaging!

  • John D Traynor

    “must supply a passport style photograph” So, will Muslim women who choose to wear a veil be required to remove it at the conference?

  • ant

    My God that is badly written. Hard to believe somebody actually agreed to publish it in its current form. The tone is pure Harman and as such, sets one’s teeth on edge…

  • disqus_JDuVQwdE3d

    “It is now to a large extent a self-interest movement with substantial powers of privilege and patronage and a momentum of its own”. Good! About time. Men have run the world forever and still run it now. If women want to help other women get on then why shouldn’t they?

  • Sorry, Harman, but I just can’t trust you to deliver on women’s equality when your government and your department deliberately made it legal for some women to be refused access to sheltered accommodation because of their gender identity. Neither can I trust you while you support Cameron’s hare-brained internet filtering scheme which will have a negative impact on women and LGBT abuse victims being able to seek assistance.

  • The Blue Baron

    “”The point about Labour women is that we want Labour to deliver for women. And when we do that we will attract the support of women in their votes for us so we can deliver for them. We are already clearly ahead of all the other parties in the support we have from women voters.””

    It’s like reading Keats.

  • “This Women’s conference will be about Labour delivering for women.”

    Just not trans women, seeing as it was your department and your government’s deliberate intention to include a clause in the Equality Act to that allows sheltered accomodation to legally refuse trans women access.


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