Angela Rayner: “Women must be at the forefront of unifying our divided party”

Angela Rayner


This is the full text of the speech given by Angela Rayner, shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities, at Labour Women’s Conference today.

Thank you, Harriet for that wonderful introduction.

Conference, it is an honour to be here today at the annual Labour Party Women’s conference, speaking to such a diverse crowd of politically active and engaged women.

I want to thank all the women on the stage, and those backstage, in the front row, and you all at the back there, for everything you do for our Party and our movement. And I want to say a special thanks to my mum who is also sitting here today at her very first conference.

You are all our community leaders, running the food banks, providing the childcare, sitting in the council meetings, campaigning for our NHS, fighting for decent pensions, struggling for equality in the workplace, running the household budget and running our hospitals.

All this and so much more.

Our Party has never been very good at saying thank you. So I want to say a sincere thank you to you all today.

Conference, in 2015, I was proud to make history as the first ever women elected as a Member of Parliament for Ashton-under-Lyne.

It took just 183 years and an all-women’s shortlist for us to achieve that breakthrough in my constituency.

But we have more work to do right across the country to get more female Labour MPs, more female Labour councillors and even more female Labour Mayors.

So that’s my first challenge to you all today for the future: get out there, let’s see who amongst you can become the first Labour woman to become a directly elected Mayor.  More female Labour leaders in local government, more female MPs, more female Mayors.

Like this hall today, my constituency is filled with inspirational women who inspire and motivate me every day. I want to give a special mention to the amazing women in my home towns of Tameside and Oldham. They are strong and mighty northern women.

One inspiration is our very own Dame Margaret Beckett MP, who was born in Ashton and cut her Labour teeth in the local CLP. God knows what it was like in those days, Margaret.

But since then, Margaret has become our first ever female Deputy Leader and the longest serving female MP in the House of Commons.

It is to women like Margaret that we owe a huge debt. For blazing the trail, for showing the way, for inspiring all of us women who follow, to reach ever higher.

That’s why I am proud to announce that Margaret’s home town of Ashton will be celebrating all of her achievements with the launch of our Dame Margaret Beckett Prize for Public Speaking for teenage girls.

Encouraging our young women, giving them confidence, spurring on our young women to become involved in politics and the life of our communities.

Inspiring us on – something Margaret has spent her whole life doing.

This leads me back to my mum and why I wanted her to be here today. My mum inspires me and I’d like to tell you all why.

My mum was born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children. They lived in poverty. And when I say poverty I mean poverty in every sense.

She cannot to this day read or write and was bullied at school.

They barely survived let alone lived on what money the family had.

My mum never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm.

Throughout her life she has faced hardship and struggle. She tried her best to be a good mum and I know that now. I haven’t always given her an easy ride.

It’s fair to say my upbringing was only marginally better than my mum’s. Mainly because of the interventions by the state and the advancement of equal rights in Britain.

My mum would be the first to admit she didn’t know how to love us kids or how to care for us. Let’s face it she didn’t have the right role models or upbringing herself.

But you know what, she taught me that we have to keep fighting and improving the system. We have to break down the barriers that exist still to this day for many woman in our country and across the globe. She taught me through her own struggles that I was just as good as everyone else and to stand tall and be proud of who I am.

Speaking personally, this has been a bit of a whirlwind year for me.

I went from being a humble new backbench MP, fighting on behalf of my constituents, to the Whips office, then Shadow Pensions Minister, helping to champion the cause of the inspiring WASPI campaigners, and now the Shadow Secretary of State for Education, Women and Equalities.

You could not make it up.

I have a lot of people to thank. They know who they are. But I want to thank most of all my partner and my three children for the love, devotion and, occasionally, even the problems they have brought me. They are my rock. Without them I am nothing.

Throughout my journey they have kept my feet on the ground as a proud, working class mum, who also happens to be a Labour MP.

But I am an MP for a purpose. To change society for the better, striving for equality and justice for everyone, with all my heart.

Having my background and upbringing I know something about equality of opportunity.

And when it is missing.

It is missing today in every walk of our lives.

I have only ten minutes to speak and I’ve used up half already. I cannot do justice to the many crimes and struggles woman still face today across the UK and globally. I am sure you will be discussing some of these challenges and possible solutions during the workshops today.

Gender inequality affects us all. It affects our whole family and our society. We can never give up or stop fighting.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.

Giants like my mum who survived the abuse she has suffered and help break the cycle.

Giants like Margaret and Harriet that have blazed the trail for us in parliament.

Giants like the woman in this room and across the world that continue to fight and won’t accept injustice and misogyny.

That same misogyny now rears its ugly head on social media. It is awful, hate-filled and cannot be tolerated. I condemn all abuse, harassment and intimidation unequivocally. On and offline.

Campaigns, such as ‘Reclaim the Internet’ are helping women to fight back.

Because these trolls want women to be seen and not heard, to keep quiet and know our place.

Well, they know what they can do with that.

Conference, today we have a female Prime Minister in 10 Downing Street. The second female Prime Minister of our country. I congratulate Theresa May.

But I cannot celebrate her arrival.

Nor can I allow our own failures to go unnoticed. The Conservative Party, the party of privilege and inequality, has stolen a march on Labour. Britain’s greatest ever force for equality and emancipation.

Our Party of votes for women, of equal pay,the Sex Discrimination Act, the Race Relations Act, gay marriage and equal rights for the LGBT community. The Party of all-women short lists. The Party, where, down the road in Manchester, more than 50 per cent of our councillors are now women.

This is our proud legacy.

But conference, we need to continue the fight.  Because we still have a long way to go before women can achieve true gender equality in our society and in our very own Party.

That is my second challenge to our movement we, the women, must show the way for Labour in the future. Women must be at the heart of our Labour movement. And it is up to you, in this conference, to make that happen. No-one else is going to do it.

Conference, none of us are fooled by Theresa May’s one nation spin, and all her empty rhetoric about a meritocracy.

She has been at the heart of a failing Tory Government for the past six years.

Labour is now looking to the future. We have a new Leader, with a renewed mandate. And I congratulate Jeremy on his historic victory.

Our members have spoken and we must now hear them.

We are Her Majesty’s Opposition. We have serious work to do.

So our Labour family must now come together and move forward as one Labour.

Because we all know that families sometimes fall out. Often, there are faults on all sides.

But in my experience, it is the women who invariably bring families back together.

That is my third challenge to this conference.

Bring back our Labour family.

And conference, it is us women who must be at the forefront of unifying our divided party. We have the unique skills and experience which can help bring our Labour family together.

Our passion, our energy and our knowledge must ensure that we hold the Tory Government to account. Every single day of the week.

Otherwise, the families who most rely on us to get on in life, will never forgive us if we let them down now.

We cannot turn inward again, while the Tories bring back grammar schools, destroy our hard-won rights in Europe, close down thousands of nursery schools, and privatise what remains of our public services.

Conference, I know what poverty feels like, I felt it as a child. My parents were lucky, they were supported by the safety net of a welfare state created by a Labour Government.  Labour has been there for my family, cradle to grave, time and time again.

But that very same welfare state is now facing an ideological attack from this Tory Government.

Under the cloak of Theresa May’s warm words about One Nation and meritocracy, they are intent on turning the clock back even further.

Worsening inequality. More food banks. Profit-driven privatised public services. Tax cuts for the richest. A bonfire of worker’s rights, whether they are male or female.

Life is becoming harder for the majority of people. And it will be women and children, who will be hurt the most.

Our mothers. Our sisters. Our daughters.

We have a moral, political, and historic obligation to work together on behalf of working people.

It is our new mission.

We are one Party.

One family.

One Labour.

Now it is up to us to bring it together.

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