To tackle misogyny at Westminster, first address the political gender imbalance

Katie Neame
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“Unfortunately, sexism and misogyny are a sad fact of life for women in public office, and we need to understand that the Labour Party is far from immune,” Claire Reynolds from the Labour Women’s Network told LabourList following the news that a Welsh MP had accused a shadow cabinet minister of making deeply sexist remarks. The MP, who has decided to remain anonymous, alleged that the unnamed Labour frontbencher told her she was a “secret weapon” because “women want to be her friend and men want to **** her”. He also allegedly said she was a “vote winner” because of her looks. The MP noted that this was not the only sexist or misogynistic behaviour she had experienced while working in parliament. Labour leader Keir Starmer said the accusation was “deeply concerning” and he wants to “get to the bottom of this and do something about it”. The MP has reportedly decided that it would not be in her best interests to reveal her identity or make a complaint.

It has been a bruising week for women in Westminster, with each passing day bringing new stories of misogyny and sexual misconduct. If you can stomach it, I would highly recommend reading Politico’s latest piece on the subject, appropriately titled ‘What the hell is wrong with Westminster?’. It includes the story of one former parliamentary staffer who alleges that she was assaulted by a senior party official (of unspecified party) who is still in post. The staffer has not yet decided whether to report the incident, concerned that her complaint would not be taken “seriously” and that she would be seen as a “troublemaker”.

It is entirely unacceptable that women continue to be deterred from making formal complaints because of a lack of trust in the Westminster system. Reynolds from Labour Women’s Network told LabourList there needs to be a “cultural overhaul”, something that has been acknowledged many times in recent years. But Reynolds stresses that “most importantly” we need “equal power at all levels”. Women continue to be significantly underrepresented in politics, currently making up just 35% of MPs – an all-time high. Addressing this imbalance must be a key focus of any attempt to tackle sexism and sexual misconduct within Westminster.

In other news, LabourList understands Momentum is expected to confront the Labour leadership on key policy “pressure points” where they feel Starmer has strayed from the mainstream of party members and public opinion, such as public ownership of energy. This will form part of the organisation’s wider push on public ownership as part of a Green New Deal to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. Momentum-backed motions at Labour conference are expected to call for a range of public services to be returned to public hands, including water and transport, with the aim of ensuring immediate financial relief for people and rapid decarbonisation.

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