The Rambles of Neil Monnery

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Are All-Women Shortlists really a good thing for women in the long term?

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Ah the old chestnut of All-Women Shortlists. It is a fun one. I posted the following over on SpeakersChair yesterday. I am posting this and then I plan to hide under the duvet for the rest of the day (well I don’t as the Grand Prix and Wimbledon are on and the big HD TV is not in my bedroom) but still you get what I mean. Saying you aren’t in favour of AWS generally doesn’t go down well but I think I have pointed out the reasons relatively fairly.

Oh well as Kel would say ‘awh here’s goes…’

Around the Southend based Labour blogosphere the talk of women in politics has resurfaced and the old ‘positive discrimination’ lark with regards to all women shortlists. It is always an enjoyable topic to blog on because I get shouted at a lot because I’m a man and therefore I am an idiot that can’t see the real picture. If I was a red-headed lesbian trying to break into politics and seeing what I was up against I’d know the real issues out there. Lucky for me I’m not because if I was red-headed (straight or not) ‘d not get anything done because I’d probably die of starvation looking at myself in the mirror (seriously why are all red-headed women hot – like all of them?) Anyway I have massively digressed and already pissed off 92.7% of people that will ever read this.

So here are the pieces that have inspired this piece – firstly Politics is sexist and I found that via a piece just called Women. I must say Julian’s title is rather simplistic but I think it gets to the point. Jack’s is quite blunt and has more than a ring of truth to it. Politics is sexist. I am not denying that (now only 88.1% of those reading this hate me) but the question is whether AWS is the way to fix this issue. I think it is well known that I do not believe that it is.

When Zadok Day blogged a piece about Ed Davey replacing Chris Huhne as a Liberal Democrat member of the cabinet he probably didn’t choose the best headline in the world of Opinion: Calm Down, Dears!. It was never going to lead to him being lauded as the face of a diverse Lib Dem Party. However large parts to what he wrote was pretty fair. I think there are certainly Lib Dem MPs who would make excellent cabinet members. I have no doubt – and I mean no doubt – that Jo Swinson would – and should – be the Scottish minister instead of Michael Moore. No offence Michael but I just think Jo would be brilliant in that role. However it is not me who makes these decisions.

In the case of the Lib Dems – and our all pale male cabinet members – it is Nick Clegg who decides who is best suited to the role. He knows all his MPs a lot better than I do. So either I have to think Nick Clegg is sexist or he isn’t. I choose to believe the latter. This of course may be wrong but I’m pretty sure I’m not although that might be the arrogance of another white male talking.

So anyway back to AWS and whether they need to used to create a more representational balance. The argument that is strongly used is that women need to see a plethora of other women being elected before they’ll think about it themselves. I just don’t get this. I won’t say I never will but the likelihood of me getting this argument is slim. I’m inspired by many women as well as men. I don’t feel the need to see a man do what I want to do before thinking that I can do it as well. The thing is many women are MPs and we’ve had a female Prime Minister and a female leader of the opposition (albeit briefly).

More needs to be done and the make-up of top-level politics is not fairly balanced but is a way to make it fairer by forcing certain parties in certain constituencies to only consider women? Now I’m against the quota system as a rule but I can see merits for it in certain situations – i.e. when South Africa returned to the sporting world and they ensured that at least one rugby player had to be black and two cricketers had to be black for a few years. This is because a group of people had been oppressed against. However there is no oppression against women in politics. It isn’t easy for many women but it’s not easy for many men either. Most people in politics have a lot of time and money on their hands.

I ran in Westborough here in Southend earlier this year and if everyone had an equal time, money and resources then I think there is no doubt Kevin Robinson would have won for Labour. As it turned out Kevin working insane hours and his independent opponent Dr. Vel being able to afford to take time off from work to doorstep and canvass enabled him to hold on to his seat. Is that fair? Does that need to be looked at?

One line of Ms Jack Monroe’s piece screamed at me though. It hollered and rattled by bones, ‘As a woman in Southend politics, I am surrounded by a lot of men and a few very good women.’ Did you see what I saw? There are a lot of men, ok that is fair and a few women but wait, there is an adjective thrown into that sentence. Yes the women are ‘very good’ whereas the implication is that men are not. If you want to press my buttons on feminism (and to be fair she describes herself as not a feminist in her blog post) but that sentence screams out the type of feminism that gives feminists a bad name. There are bad men, there are good men, there are good women but do you know what? That are also bad women in politics. Yes folks not every woman in politics is a benefit to the political world.

This is why I can’t abide by AWS. What happens if there are good candidates who get passed over for worse ones due to their gender? This happens. The problem is what if all the women who apply are terrible? What happens if these women win? (as usually AWS are only in safe seats where you could put a chimp with a red rose/blue rosette on and they would win). Does having a terrible MP so out of her depth do anything positive for the female cause? I know that is an extreme situation but it is also not one that is completely beyond the pale.

Good women will get into politics as will good men. Bad men will get in too as will bad women. That is the nature of the game. A friend of mine is currently relocating as it looks as though she’ll be a Lib Dem PPC in a winnable seat. I won’t name her in case she doesn’t want it to be public knowledge yet but she is set to get the nomination because she has worked bloody hard and spent a lot of time in the constituency doing what politicians have to do. Should she get the nomination then I know she’ll work just as hard and if she wins then she’ll be an asset to the country. I’m positive she wouldn’t have wanted it to be handed on a plate to her – and if it was then I doubt she’d be as good of an MP as she potentially can be.

I firmly believe that if things are in essence handed to you on a plate then you aren’t going to be as equipped to handle what is thrown at you. I think that it is far better for women in politics to work hard and slowly get more and more hard-working MPs in than to throw in a lot of people who have been picked and might not be ready. I think exactly the same about male MPs. MPs who have had to work hard will be better MPs who don’t. I just think this. Is it better to have lots of female MPs quickly who may or may not be the cream of the crop or is it better to slowly get women into the House of Commons who have earned it and shown that hard work and dedication pays off? I know I think the latter is the best way forward.

As an aside as I have waffled on for a fair while. If the House of Commons should reflect the make-up of the UK fairer then at what point to we draw the line? A 50/50 balance or so gender wise but what about sexual orientation? What about ethnic minorities? A significant number of the UK population are racists do they need to be represented too? It isn’t an easy one of that I’m sure but I just don’t think AWS are the way to go. All they’ll do is artificially inflate the amount of women in the chamber, what AWS doesn’t do though is ensure a better calibre of MP.

This was first posted on the SpeakersChair website

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Written by neilmonnery

July 8th, 2012 at 5:55 am

Posted in Politics,Uncategorized

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One Response to 'Are All-Women Shortlists really a good thing for women in the long term?'

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  1. Neil,

    A couple of things for you to note:

    First, the LibDems have the lowest proportion of female MPs of any party in the Commons. Does this indicate that all the female LibDem members are crap?

    Second, left to the current rate of increase of women becoming MPs, it will take the Labour party 20 years, the Tories 40 and your own beloved party….400 years.

    Good luck selling that the majority of the population.
    Me? I’ll take AWS over ingrained prejudice any day.

    Simon Carter

    27 Jun 13 at 4:05 pm

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