Tag Archives: gender-balance

Representation in politics: what has gender got to do with it?

One anniversay, two very different ways of covering it. The Today programme opted to mark the 90th anniversary of the first woman elected to the Commons by interviewing the son of a hereditary peer and his granddaughter. Both of them poured cold water over the idea of all women shortlists altough, this being Tony Benn, he then instantly contradicted himself by calling for a system of doubling up constituencies to ensure they were all 50% male and 50% female.

Emily Benn, I’m afraid, rather drew my ire by describing herself as “post the 1970s, 1980s feminist agenda.” So, that would make you anti-equal pay, anti-choice, pro-casual sexism in the workplace and pro-domestic violence, then? If not, what was the 1970s, 1980s feminist “agenda” you consider so irrelevant? What do they teach in that school of her’s these days?

As someone who spent a lot of time in youth politics in the 90s, I found Emily’s “I am not a feminist” stance wearily familiar. In fact, she reminded me a lot of the 19 year old Jo Swinson. The older Jo Swinson however is much wiser, and on politics.co.uk has this to say:

“It’s not harder for women. It’s just harder for carers.”

“The division of family duties in society is still very unequal. This is what we find all the time. Women get involved in politics in their twenties and then in their thirties they say ‘I’ll take time out’. But men don’t take that time out.”

This is an absolutely crucial point, and one which so often gets missed or glossed over – sadly all too often by organisations like Fawcett. So often this debate gets turned into a simplistic, and thus irrelevant, debate about all women shortlists and not about what a truly representative parliament would look like. It wouldn’t look like the current one except with the male lawyers and political careerists replaces with female lawyers and political careerists. It would have a broader range of men. Let’s not forget that the woman whose achievement 90 years ago we are marking today, was a countess. John Harris has criticised the new Speaker’s Conference on a more representative parliament for ignoring class and he is absolutely correct.

Emily Benn may have very little chance of getting elected as the next MP for East Worthing and Shoreham, but if she chooses to stick with it, she is all but a shoo-in for the general election after next, largely thanks to the family name and the other advantages being a member of a family which has provided her with a stable family life and a good education. I hope that, as she grows older, she will gain an insight into that advantage instead of using the platform that advantage affords her to belittle the cause for women’s rights.

As I’ve written before, the BBC does not have a “liberal” bias per se, it has a middle class bias. Their coverage of this anniversary is an excellent case in point.

Clegg’s Academy – credit where it’s due

I’ve been hard on Nick Clegg on this blog, mainly because I’ve struggled to find anything of substance that he has said or written during this campaign.

Thankfully, I now find myself in the position of endorsing something he has called for. To wit:

‘My approach isn’t about women-only shortlists or about A-lists. It isn’t about imposing candidates on local parties or picking winners. My approach is about nurturing talent. I will set up a Liberal Democrat academy to support, train and encourage candidates and aspiring candidates at all levels.

‘I will personally devote my time and energy to raising substantially more money for our diversity fund and will extend its scope.

‘But I believe this is our last chance to do it the purely liberal way, without any positive discrimination written into the rules. If, in two General Elections’ time, we have not sorted this out once and for all, we will have no choice but to consider positive discrimination. I want to discuss with other party leaders the possibility of allowing positive discrimination in the future.’

It remains to be seen how exactly this academy will be funded or will operate, but to an extent that is beside the point. Clegg is not only suggesting a positive way forward, he’s locking himself into a process that would result in the party adopting positive discrimination if we fail to meet our own targets.

Finally. Something of substance that isn’t merely flattering internal party prejudices. I agree with him; diversity is important enough of an issue for us to be prepared to adopt positive discrimination if all else fails. We can’t keep bucking the issue. But that does mean doing all that we can to make our preferred alternatives work in the first place. And that means cash – significantly more than we’ve been prepared to spend on diversity thus far – every penny of which the Campaigns Department will argue would be better spent on target seats (I know – I’ve sat in those negotiations). Both Kennedy and Campbell always liked to say what an important issue this is, but given the choice between diversity and defying Lord Rennard, they consistently chose the path of least resistance. In Campbell’s case last autumn, that meant a significant cut in the already underfunded Campaign for Gender Balance grant – the one part of the party’s diversity strategy that has a proven track record.

So it is odd that he chooses to end this piece with a quote from the current Party President – a man who has always talked the talk on this issue but repeatedly buckled under pressure. We must fervently hope and pray that Clegg doesn’t choose him to be the person to head up this academy project idea; otherwise we are all but guaranteed all BME shortlists in 6-7 years time.

Balls to Morley and Rothwell

An interesting twist on the recent announcement by Colin Challen that he won’t be restanding in Morley and Rothwell, in order to spend more time with his vegetables. I understand from a reliable source that he is incredibly bitter about what he perceives to be a dirty tricks campaign waged by Balls’ team over the past few weeks, which hit fever pitch when rumours began circulating (helpfully boosted by secret Balls admirer Guido Fawkes) that he had made up stories about him falling off his bike.

My bid to raise funds for Ed Balls’ sex change operation failed late last year. Fortunately for him, all women shortlists are at the discretion of the Labour NEC which judiciously (ab)uses them to help the “right” sort of candidate such as Balls, and exclude the “wrong” candidates such as Peter Law. Is it any wonder why people are so cynical about them?