As Jacqui Smith pointed out the other day, Labour’s advances in gender equality are good, but they are not yet great. 44% of the Shadow Cabinet is impressive – as are the women holding those positions. But there is more needed – particularly in Labour’s strategy and messaging capacity.
Women’s votes are incredibly important to Labour’s chances of winning the next election. In Deborah Mattinson’s excellent “Talking to a Brick Wall” she points out that women voters care about the same issues as male voters (the cost of living, the economy etc) , but tend to talk about them and relate to them differently. There are currently no women at all at the heart of our electoral strategy and campaigning. Labour must be very careful that our messaging is able to reach all voters and female experts and strategists should be a huge part of that.
So the Party are in luck. Because on the 16th November Labour Women’s Network will be holding their second national political conference Foundations for Victory totally focused on Labour’s strategy for victory. The conference is open to everyone, so hopefully the electoral team of Iain McNicol, Douglas Alexander, Spencer Livermore and Michael Dugher will book their tickets soon, as there will be plenty to learn from.
There will be challenging and robust discussions all day as you would expect at any political conference. Topics to be debated – and I suspect hotly contested – include ideas around political positioning and where the winnable centre resides. As well as challenges to take Labour out of discussing our traditional comfort zones with discussions on our relationship with rural communities and Southern England and defence. We will also be talking about how Labour can take the fight to other parties.
All the panels will be made up of capable experts who also happen to be women. As I know by repetitive banging of my head against this particular wall, there will be some who will complain of hypocrisy. Why have all female panels when we fight all male panels so vociferously? The answer I will give is the same answer I give when the same hot air merchants argue against all-women shortlists. I long for the day when we have genuine parity. When that day comes I will be the first to ask that these measures are brought to an end. But as was demonstrated by the many, many unthinking all male panels at conference, as well as the disparity in numbers of women being selected on open lists, we just ain’t there yet. And until we are, conferences that showcase how many incredible, talented women we have in our Party are essential.
There was some consternation a few weeks ago when Kirstin Hay produced that list of all male panels, with organisations who had added a female speaker after the closure of the fringe guide (far from all included on the list) complained that they were being wronged. This conference, and the important debates it will generate will show that women are far from being an afterthought or add on. They should be the first speakers you invite – because they know their onions and how to present them.
So come men, come women, come those who are interested in strategy, come those who are interested in policy. Come those who are planning to run events at Annual Conference next year and are looking for inspiration. I promise you will find it.