Congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn being elected as the new Labour Leader and Tom Watson as Deputy Leader.
Still, it is disappointing that not one woman was selected for a Labour Leadership role, even though they accounted for five of the nine candidates standing for the top posts. Perhaps if the leadership and deputy leadership campaigns had been run at slightly different times the pattern might have changed.
Jeremy Corbyn as Leader is a popular choice and many women are reassured by his Working With Women Manifesto. He committed to a 50:50 Cabinet and all done the shadow cabinet includes 16 women and 15 men. He has appointed women to top jobs including:
- Angela Eagle – Business Secretary
- Heidi Alexander – Health Secretary
- Rosie Winterton – Chief Whip
- Seema Malhotra – Chief Secretary to the Treasury
- Diane Abbott – International Development
Even if they are not one of the “Top Five” as per BBC Radio Four’s TodayProgramme they are impressive important positions. 50:50 Cabinets are trending, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister was the first to present a 50:50 cabinetand Tim Farron recently announced a Lib Dem spokesperson team of 12 women and 10 men. In comparison the Conservative Cabinet includes 10 women and 20 men a 30:70 split.
By pushing to address the matter of gender equality and incorporate women into senior roles Jeremy Corbyn has shed more light on the overall problem that still exists. Parliament is predominantly male. There are 268 more men on those green benches than women. In fact there are still more men in the Commons than there have ever been women. This is a persistent, historic problem. As the first sentence of Corbyn’s Working With Women Manifesto says “We will never be a successful society in which all are able to achieve their potential until we have equality for women.” The 32million UK women make up 51% of the population, they are the majority of the country’s life-experience, talent and skills, our country needs them at Westminster.
Of course men can represent women, and women can represent men, but as Joni Lovenduski, Professor of Politics, Birkbeck, University of London observed in a paper she presented at the Speakers Conference 2012 “Evidence from more balanced legislatures than ours shows that as membership of women increases so does the sensitivity of male MPs to the range of women’s concerns. So men can act for women, but they may be more likely to do so when there are more women around.”
Parliament needs to lead the way on this. Our dream is a Parliament where men and women work side by side shaping legislation for the future, together, in roughly equal numbers. Our society is changing, particularly regarding men’s and women’s roles. It is essential that we have an equal number of women in Parliament participating in crafting policies concerning these changes. The setting up of aParliamentary Committee for Women and Equalities by Speaker John Bercow is a welcome move. Let’s hope that MPs respond positively when deciding upon action that might be taken to bring about better balance of women and men at Westminster. It is important that Parliament spearheads the social reforms required to make our society more gender equal and fit for the 21st Century.
50:50 Parliament is a cross-party, inclusive, non-partisan campaign for better gender balance at Westminster. 50:50 Parliament runs an Ambassador Programme to encourage political participation and is petitioning all Party Leaders for solutions and action for better gender balance and please join us by signingchange.org/5050Parliament.