A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Here we go again - in defence of All Women Shortlists

I was a bit surprised to get an invite to join a Facebook group entitled "Support equal opportunities: oppose all-women shortlists" (http://www.new.facebook.com/group.php?gid=30014641020).

I thought this debate had been settled in the early '90s but it looks like some colleagues want to reopen it.

I think it might have made their case look better if the creators/administrators of the group had not both been men. Particularly in the case of the one of them who I know wants to be a parliamentary candidate, there's a bit of a whiff of self interest. I notice Kerron Cross who I had some intemperate exchanges with about this subject in the early days of this blog has joined the group.

There's a legitimate debate to be had about whether the Labour NEC's Organisation Sub Committee is over-doing their interpretation of the rules around which seats should have an All-Women Shortlist (AWS) for their selection. Personally I think that the Party needs to ensure a national level of 50% AWS in vacant Labour seats and aim for a level of 50% AWS in each individual region where this doesn't affect the national total. At the moment the 50% per region target, because it involves rounding up on small numbers of vacant seats per region (i.e. 1 of 1 or 2 of 3 vacancies must be AWS) is meaning that the national total is likely to be over 50%, which is excessive seeing as women can also contest the other 50% of "open" seats. There is also some micro implementation going on around specific boroughs or counties e.g. there are 3 Labour seats in Anyshire, all of them held by men, so any vacancy in Anyshire must be AWS (even if next door Upshire and Downshire have plenty of women Labour MPs), which has a distorting effect.

There also needs to be a debate about how allegations of the political use of AWS to block particular candidates or help others can be put to rest and complete transparency ensured, so that the principle is not undermined.

We also need to work out how to address the contentious issue of whether AWS damages the chances of increasing the number of BME candidates.

But the principle needs to be stuck with until we get a PLP that represents the electorate and is at least 50% women. The only proven way to get there is AWS. In years where we have had AWS selections Labour has managed to get lots of women MPs selected and elected. In years where we haven't, the numbers have gone backwards. This is something to be ashamed of. We shouldn't need to force Constituency Labour Parties to pick women candidates but the reality is that left to their own devices, all but the most progressive pick men. Unless you believe women are less capable than men as politicians (which there is no evidence for) the only explanation must be conscious or unconscious discrimination by the format of the selection process itself or by members of what is supposed to be a party of the left.

If this discrimination didn't exist then there would be no need for AWS, but it does, and we as a Party believe in equality, so we must use the only proven tool for tackling this, AWS.

Whilst AWS has been unpopular with voters where disgruntled male candidates have made an issue of it, such as in Blaenau Gwent, the net result of AWS, and the thing that only it is proven to deliver, a line-up of candidates with a lot more women in it, is popular with voters and is a major differentiator between us and the Tories and Lib Dems.

I write this as a man who has personally had all the seats near me that I was interested in contesting in selections this time round declared AWS so I was unable to go for them. But if you are a male candidate who believes in a more representative House of Commons, and a Labour Party whose candidates reflect the electorate, you have to accept someone has to miss the opportunity to run in order to move towards our goal of gender equality in our parliamentary party.

As my partner Linda sensitively put it when I moaned a bit about one of the AWS decisions that affected me: "Blokes like you have been in the Commons for hundreds of years, women haven't, get over it!".

That's why I won't be joining that Facebook group and why I disagree with the premise behind it. I'd urge the members of it to "get over it!" and support the principle of Labour's initiatives for getting talented women into the PLP, their council or wherever else rather than worrying about how it impacts on them personally. A little bit of self-sacrifice in the wider interests of the Party and our principle of equality is never a bad thing.

39 Comments:

Anonymous tim f said...

Of course, the most effective way of dispelling rumours about AWS being used to block particular candidates would be to make 100% of vacancies AWS, at least for existing Labour-held seats.

Anyone who doesn't accept that real equality is more important than procedural equality would be more at home in the Liberal Democrats than the Labour Party.

2:53 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Blogger Bloggers4Labour said...

Actually the debate about "positive discrimination" in favour of one particular gender, race, etc. has not been settled, and frequently resurfaces in the Labour blogosphere.

Unless you believe women are less capable than men as politicians (which there is no evidence for) the only explanation must be conscious or unconscious discrimination by the format of the selection process itself or by members of what is supposed to be a party of the left.

Far from it. You're working from an assumption that men and women must have the same preferences for a particular (political, here) career. You need to provide the evidence that this is so. I've tackled this in some detail here.

And there's this on "positive discrimination" on the basis of "race".

I don't rule out that there *might* be a benefit to society from positive discrimination, but you have to offset against the feelings of resentment that *all* discrimination produces.

Besides, if it's only the ends that matter, not the means, and if liberal principle is so much bunk, we might as well start hanging criminals in public places again. What's your objection?

2:57 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perfect post.

Peter law was a 'favoured son' of the local party: exactly the reason we need all women shortlists.

So what he was a friend of Llew Smith, the outgoing Campaign Group MP. If the left haven't got a women candidate to try to get selected, there is something wrong with the left.

(I am on the left).

3:05 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Before someone else makes the point, isn't this debate a bit academic and pointless.

Labour will be down to a rump of 140 MPs at the next election. And all those beneficiaries of AWS will be wiped out.

The issue isn't gender. It's survival.

Yet again, Labour is back doing what it does best: policies of the highest principles but with not a chance in hell of ever implementing them.

Luke, tell Linda, "Get over it".

3:08 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Andrew

if women don't have the same "preference for a particular (political, here) career" then maybe there is something wrong with the structure or image of the career, e.g. it is full of macho nonsense, or not family friendly in its working practices.

Being a councillor or MP isn't a "career" that exists for the benefit of the individuals elected to the role. People holding public office are primarily representatives - vessels for aggregating and promoting the views of a group of electors or a party - hence it's entirely legitimate that their personal aspirations should come very low down the priority list compared to the needs of the Party for a representative panel of candidates.

As for AWS causing "feelings of resentment" the problem there lies with the people who can't put their feelings in perspective and accept the greater good, not with the system. There is no "entitlement" to be allowed to run as a Labour candidate - it is in the gift of the Party to pick people and gender is just as valid a criteria to be taken into account in selections as political views, experience, and capability, all of which can lead to people not getting selected.

3:18 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Blogger E10 Rifle said...

The most irritating thing about the AWS issue is how so many people leap on the issue and effectively obscure all other debates about selections.

When my CLP had a hotly-contested AWS selection, it was maddening in the extreme that so many internet discussions simply became about the 'unfairness' of the AWS rather than the pros and cons of the many disparate candidates.

I broadly agree with Luke's post, though AWS's need to be advanced in line with other measures that enhance representativeness and transparent internal democracy, both of which are lacking a bit at the moment

3:45 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke,

How is it the principles you set out for candidates standing to represent Labour don't apply to Gordon Brown?

If they were to be applied to him then he wouldn't get selected ... just as he'll get comprehensively rejected at the next election.

3:45 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Blogger Bloggers4Labour said...

Luke,

if women don't have the same "preference for a particular (political, here) career" then maybe there is something wrong with the structure or image of the career, e.g. it is full of macho nonsense, or not family friendly in its working practices.

Undoubtedly so: if politics can be made "family-friendly" and needless discriminations removed, great - it should be done (and Labour has indeed been doing this), but as it's done the case for reverse discrimination becomes weaker. I have supported AWS etc. as a short-term measure, but that it persists is either an admission of failure in removing discrimination, or an acknowledgement that - if you accept the evidence that women are more risk-averse than men - that it's not possible to remove risk from certain careers, e.g. financial trading, electoral politics, where one's success depends upon many, many others.

Being a councillor or MP isn't a "career" that exists for the benefit of the individuals elected to the role. People holding public office are primarily representatives - vessels for aggregating and promoting the views of a group of electors or a party - hence it's entirely legitimate that their personal aspirations should come very low down the priority list compared to the needs of the Party for a representative panel of candidates.

As for AWS causing "feelings of resentment" the problem there lies with the people who can't put their feelings in perspective and accept the greater good, not with the system. There is no "entitlement" to be allowed to run as a Labour candidate - it is in the gift of the Party to pick people and gender is just as valid a criteria to be taken into account in selections as political views, experience, and capability, all of which can lead to people not getting selected.


Sure, politics isn't necessarily a "career", but the sense that it can take many years of your life, and that people need to pay the bills, lead fairly comfortable lives, as well as finding new work whenever the end comes, who knows when?, entering politics is a huge investment. So I'd understand if the risk-averse would be less likely to stand for election, however worthy they are, and how deeply they feel about political issues.

Of course selection is in the gift of the Labour Party, but there is a legal framework that applies to us all; besides, our instinct as citizens is that any kind of discrimination is bad, and the closer it is to you, the more resentful you feel.

It's hypocritical to use statements like "the problem there lies with the people who can't put their feelings in perspective and accept the greater good" alongside the language of discrimination. You might as well say the problem lies with uppity women rather than uppity men. And as soon as you start talking about "the greater good" you've blown a hole in your arguments about democracy and "representativeness" (bear in mind that I could produce a balanced group of men and women that was richer and whiter than an alternative group). How is this greater good, as influenced by the selection procedures of the Labour Party, to be measured? To what extent has decision-making been improved (or could be) by changes in the representativeness of Ministers? I can't possibly answer that.

3:52 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Anonymous tim f said...

B4L, I think you've missed the point with your final paragraph.

I can't speak for Luke, but for me the main problem with the existing process sans-AWS is not that it discriminates against women. (That is a problem, but not the main one.) It's that I think having a low proportion of women skews parliaments priorities away from issues that particularly affect women. I think parliament is more likely to be progressive on issues like abortion, childcare, equal pay - and actually prioritise these issues rather than paying lip-service if we have more female MPs. To this end I'd actually like women to be considerably over-represented in parliament.

And as for AWS producing a group that is richer and whiter than an alternative group - that is just a good reason for having BAME-only shortlists. Or income-caps on shortlists. Or bans on people coming from particular professions. I recognise that might be controversial, so right now I'll settle for ABAMEWS!

4:17 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Blogger Mark Still News said...

The Labour Party is now for careerists and out of touch. The only candidates I believe that should be short-listed must have a Fully paid up Trde Union membership and have a trade Union background whether male or female!!

4:18 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Blogger Shamik said...

This debate is entirely academic, for as long as Gordon remains in power, we'll have very few women MPs after the next election.

The only way to increase the number of female Labour MPs, if not now then at a future election, is to kick him out.

Come on Milliband/Johnson/Purnell, start collecting those signatures...

4:23 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Mark Still News

your wish has been fulfilled.

It is a condition of membership of the PLP that you are a member of the relevant union, hence my understanding is that 100% of Labour MPs are union members already.
(when I first joined the Party it was a condition of Party membership for all employed people)

4:25 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Blogger Tom said...

I just think it's interesting that the male-to-female ratio of the Facebook group is similar to the male-to-female ratio of the PLP before we had AWS.

4:48 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fiddling while Rome burns.

The only question concerns how Brown got to crowned prime minister without challenge and is now immoveable without catastrophe.

This is Brown's challenge: His ace card for self-preservation until the electorate get to have a say.

5:25 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Anonymous Ian G said...

I won’t be joining the facebook group because I believe there is a place for positive discrimination.

The problem is of course that the AWS rules often seem to be more about political expediency rather than equality. For example, in Ealing Southall, weren’t the members presented with an all male shortlist? At the same time other parties were no doubt in situations where good male candidates were being excluded from council selections, putting them and their parties at a disadvantage.

Why is it’s fine for the PM to pick a male-dominated cabinet, while if our slate of council candidates be anything less than 50-50, we’re in trouble?

Ultimately, while we know the benefits of positive discrimination, Labour politicians have not succeeded in making the case for it amongst the electorate, making them deeply suspicious of any candidates selected in that way.

5:40 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Blogger Bloggers4Labour said...

tim f,

I think parliament is more likely to be progressive on issues like abortion, childcare, equal pay - and actually prioritise these issues rather than paying lip-service if we have more female MPs.

That doesn't square with the facts at all. Labour Govts. of the past were able to make big strides here without anything close to 50% women. What's the point of a Labour Party at all if its representatives are only capable of promoting policies that are immediately appropriate to them, personally?

And as for AWS producing a group that is richer and whiter than an alternative group...

No, I didn't say that. I was making the point that groups that look "representative" on one criterion can be profoundly representative on others.

~

Ian g,

Ultimately, while we know the benefits of positive discrimination, Labour politicians have not succeeded in making the case for it amongst the electorate, making them deeply suspicious of any candidates selected in that way.

While doing so might just cause hostility among genuinely reactionary men, I think promoting (or rather, continuing to promote) any kind of discrimination nonetheless goes against most people's instincts, whatever their gender. Not least because once one form of discrimination is entrenched, others likely follow.

5:59 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post Luke - you have more credibility writing on this considering, as you say, you have seen seats you have been interested in go to AWS, than a wannabe MP who probably feels the only reason he's not an MP is because of AWS rather than the real reason - he's an idiot!

7:00 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Blogger Duncan Hall said...

I saw the same Facebook Group, and I agree with you on this Luke.

There may well be procedural things to look at, as you say, but the principle is absolutely sound.

And again - like you - it has had an impact on the occasional selection I may otherwise have had a go at. That's hardly the point, is it?

7:49 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Blogger Bloggers4Labour said...

There may well be procedural things to look at, as you say, but the principle is absolutely sound.

I take it you haven't read the comments above!?

The purpose of debates is to challenge opinions, and expose incorrect ones, not to self-affirm, or to make friends.

8:09 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Haha. I assure you I'm not trying to make friends with Luke!!

I've read your comments - just disagree with them. I was commenting on the original post, not responding to you.

In responding to you - it is the business of socialists and social democrats to try and equalise outcomes, not just ensure equal opportunities. We have a hugely male-dominated parliament and a hugely white parliament. We also have a rather male-dominated and white party who select candidates. If we want to equalise outcomes then there are things we can do at a variety of levels, but radical action such as all-women shortlists is effective and fair. This isn't a job advert - it's seeking representatives, and we are not representative if we don't have women MPs.

Of course, if it is anounced in the coming weeks that Keighley is an all-women shortlist or an all BAME shortlist, I will be the 'victim' of the sort of 'discrimination' you refer to in that I might otherwise have put my hat in that ring - but I couldn't in any sense suggest it was unfair. It might, however, be unfair if it is an open selection and I were victorious if women and BAME candidates felt uncomfortable about standing or if the local members voted for a white man out of some manner of habit (though I'm sure the marvellously progressive comrades in Keighley CLP would not vote without careful thought).

9:08 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Anonymous tim f said...

B4L - I remember seeing some stats to show that women of both parties are more likely than men in their own party to vote in favour of abortion rights. I can't find them right now but if anyone else knows where to look for them, please link.

As for "What's the point of a Labour Party at all if its representatives are only capable of promoting policies that are immediately appropriate to them, personally?"

Surely that's exactly why we have a Labour Party rather than being satisfied with the Asquith/Lloyd George New Liberal types. Because we knew that to make further progress it wasn't enough to have people who thought they had the working classes' interests at heart, we needed working class people to represent themselves in parliament.

Yes, men can support women-friendly policies but, especially when they become part of the Westminster bubble, when they have people pulling them this way and that pressing different agendas most of which have some value to them, do you really think they are as likely to prioritise those issues than women would be?

Come to that, do you think the current perception that the cabinet is out of touch maybe has anything at all to do with the fact that most of them are resolutely middle class with lifelong careers in the political sector?

Background does make a difference. People's experiences do make a difference to their future actions. The ability to make imaginative leaps is useful, but why rely on that when you can have the real deal? When people are under pressure they resort to what they know, so I want people whose life experience makes them more likely to support a particular political agenda. For me, that means I want more working class people in parliament, more black, female & disabled people in parliament. How we do that is unimportant as long as we do it.

9:10 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Anonymous Rich said...

Any positive discrimination is bad and will only deepen discrimination in the long term.

One thing and one thing only should get you nominated and that is your ability, regardless of race and sex.

Too many Labour MPs are so wrapped up in text book politics that they are void of reality. Women are not less capable but a system that postively discriminates will only reduce the quality of those being nominated.

I don't give a damn if there isn't one woman in parliament or even one man.....what matters is that the people there are up for the job. Personally I would sack all of them and start again as most of them are useless no bodies.

9:25 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke you would probably think me hard-left but great post.

I got the invite too - through my membership of a group about children having to give an oath of allegiance.

I was annoyed someone had raised this debate again, but also annoyed they had used a totally unrelated subject group which they also happened to run to promote it.

10:17 pm, September 09, 2008

 
Anonymous observer's friend said...

Luke

more women and BAME candidates by all means - but what about lists to encourage more disabled and LGBT people in parliament?

YES OR NO?

5:16 am, September 10, 2008

 
Blogger Mark Still News said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:02 pm, September 10, 2008

 
Blogger Mark Still News said...

Blogger Mark Still News said...

Not only should they be fully paid up and active Union members, but they should support and action their Trade Union Policies, not betray them? Fat gut 2 Jags betrayed the RMT and was completely useless. In 1987 I saw John Prescott at a meeting in the Trades Council of Worthing, banging the table and promising that once an LP Government is re-elected, all Privatisation would be re-Nationalised and trade Union rights restored. Then he said on a return of an LP government 1 million Council homes would be built in the 1st ten years? He left with applause for what he promised us daft and gullible workers. Now I know was dishonest!

4:06 pm, September 10, 2008

 
Blogger Kerron said...

So Luke, your argument is that as we are a Party of "equality" we should believe in discrimination.

May I make a couple of observations?

Firstly, I am not one of the creators of this site - please do not try to insinuate otherwise - I was sent the link the same as you were. I signed up to the group because I do not believe any form of discrimination is right and I do not believe our Party should actively promote discrimination.

Secondly, I note that you do not make any reference to the many women who are also signed up to that Facebook Group. Of course the reason you refuse to do that is because it does not fall into your lazy and wrong argument that the only people who oppose AWS are white men who want to be MPs.

In fact many women oppose AWS in principle for the very fact they want to (and deserve to) be judged on their own merits, not on what sex they are.

Again you parody people who make reasoned arguments that we need to support and promote greater involvment of women at all levels in the Party, but not via AWS, as "anti-women". Frankly that is moronic and does not allow a proper debate on the issue.

You, and your partner, are free to believe whatever you want - but please can you stop telling the rest of us what we believe and think, because you seem completely incompentent at doing it.

Thanks.

8:07 pm, September 10, 2008

 
Blogger Kerron said...

One further thing, there are 4 administrators for the group.

Two are men and two are women.

Why do you only refer to the two men as creators?

Is that because you are:

a) Wrong
b) Lazy
c) Being sexist
d) All of the above

Just a thought.

8:20 pm, September 10, 2008

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Or it could be because at the point that I wrote it Paul and Peter were the only two administrators.

10:23 pm, September 10, 2008

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Current running total is that 50 of the 64 members of the Group are men.

10:30 pm, September 10, 2008

 
Blogger Dave said...

When people wondered about why there weren't many women MPs, the response from the majority of male-dominated CLPs was that women didn't want to be MPs because they never applied.

When research was done (mostly by academics Joni Lovanduski and Pippa Norris in the 1980s) examining this, they found (naturally enough, this being on the crest of second-wave feminism) that plenty of women applied, but weren't getting shortlisted.

people proposes AWS, but were told that this would be discriminatory. All that was needed was that CLPs just had to make sure they selected at women for the shortlist, and then once in the mix, the talented women would win out.

Unsurprisingly enough, this didn't make a jot of difference so the rules were changed to ensure that women made up at least 50% of shortlists. And yet the chaps still beat them much more than they should have (should have = 50% over all should have been won by men and 50% by women.

Now, whilst you can tolerate some deviation from that, - maybe 45-55 or at a push 40-60, when you get 80-20 or higher, then you're in the realms of institutional sexism. And so it was, what with the labour Party having a fantastic record on equality laws and as poor a record on treatment of women culutrally as the country it sought to change.

So, AWS are an imperfect way to select candidates, but in an imperfect world, they remain essential. Until such time as we see women getting selected for contested posts in numbers proportionate to their numerical strength within that party, then the sexism at work in that party demands corrective action.

10:51 pm, September 10, 2008

 
Anonymous tim f said...

"So Luke, your argument is that as we are a Party of "equality" we should believe in discrimination."

This is an unbelievably daft point. Any progressive tax system is discriminatory from a procedural point of view. So are targeted measures to reduce poverty. Besides, equality is a much wider concept than non-discrimination, just as racism and sexism constitute more than just discrimination.

"In fact many women oppose AWS in principle for the very fact they want to (and deserve to) be judged on their own merits, not on what sex they are."

This argument is usually trotted out in opposition to AWS, but it's nonsense to suggest women selected under AWS are not selected on their merits. If we exclude men, there are still 30 million people to choose from, for goodness sake. It is patronising and sexist to argue that women selected under AWS have not been selected on merit. Selections under AWS are just as competitive as those including male candidates (in fact most are harder to win than those seats favoured sons win in non-AWS seats).

11:41 pm, September 10, 2008

 
Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

Kerron

I don't think you are "anti-women".

I just think it is apparent that you think it is more of a priority to get Kerron Cross into the House of Commons that it is to get more women MPs.

8:11 am, September 11, 2008

 
Blogger Kerron said...

You think it is apparent?!

Luke, you know nothing about me or my motivations in life - or about the many women I have campaigned for during Parliamentary selection processes.

Your arguments are just plain lazy. Simple as that.

Why not rather argue on the issues, as opposed to your assumptions based on the fact I am a man?

The fact is, you have proved time and again, you are unable to do this. It is weak and lazy, and to be honest becoming quite repetitive and boring.

12:29 pm, September 11, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A woman who has been made an admin has posted a wall post complaining that she didn't ask to be one.

I guess someone was exercising some positive discrimination in ensuring the admins were 50:50 male/female.

10:52 pm, September 11, 2008

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"In fact many women oppose AWS in principle for the very fact they want to (and deserve to) be judged on their own merits, not on what sex they are."

But women are judged on their sex and not their ability, otherwise we would have managed to select far more women before the days of AWS.

9:14 pm, September 12, 2008

 
Blogger Mark Still News said...

Anonymous-is no one?

1:46 am, September 13, 2008

 
Anonymous observer's friend said...

Luke

more women and BAME candidates by all means - but what about lists to encourage more disabled and LGBT people in parliament?

YES OR NO?

So, I guess that is a "NO" then.

1:43 pm, September 13, 2008

 
Blogger Merseymike said...

I'm not all that keen on AWS on one level - generally, I don't like quota systems, and I think that too often they are only looked at in terms of ethnicity and gender. I would be in favour of having a ten year moratorium on lawyers standing to parliament, though....

However, the facts speak for themselves - there are not enough women MP's, and to suggest that this has any link to merit is ludicrous. I would certainly suggest that a major part of the problem is the nature of Parliament - two excellent Labour MP's , Tess Kingham and Jenny Jones, stood down after one term in 2001
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2001/jun/20/houseofcommons.labour
outlines Tess Kingham's frustrations.

7:10 pm, September 14, 2008

 

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