All-women shortlists

The recent photo of an all-male government front bench has meant that all-women shortlists have once again been a topic of conversation, this time with suggestions from within the Conservative Party about whether they should adopt them. But the discussion on AWS is still happening in the Labour Party. As an NEC member, I often receive correspondence from members lobbying me about AWS decisions. While I welcome members’ thoughts and take into account every email and letter, it’s clear there are some common misconceptions about AWS that we need to tackle. 

The most common myth is that all women shortlists are “unfair”.  This misses the point of AWS entirely. We live in a society where women are unfairly and systematically oppressed – day-in, day-out, in political life, at work and in the home.  As a party we use tools like AWS to try to combat some of that unfairness that women face.  Don’t believe me, look at the minuscule number of women who are elected in open selections.

Someone recently cited to me the relatively good number of women Labour MPs in a region as a reason for an open shortlist, but until there is the same amount of women in a region as men, or more, I will continue to believe that this is a shortage. But even if we did have equal numbers of women as men in a region (as it happens, the only region with as many or more women Labour MPs than men is the South West, where we have a total of 4 MPs) that in itself would not mean that discrimination in our selections procedures had been eradicated, and AWS is just as much about that as it is about getting more women MPs.

I think the argument that I’ve heard most often recently is one of the worst: that imposing an AWS “prevents talented people standing”. This is nothing short of offensive. Women are no less talented than men and it is open shortlists that often prevent talented women getting selected. Take Betty Boothroyd, for example, who only got selected on her 14th attempt; I doubt that was due to a lack of talent. I have one question for all those who express this view: which talentless woman, elected through AWS, would you like to see thrown out of the Shadow Cabinet, or do you have no idea who was selected this way because those women are just as talented as their colleagues?

Bizarrely, another argument that seems to be being made more frequently is that AWS is a hindrance to diversity among our candidates.  There’s no doubt that we need more BAME, LGBT, disabled and working class people in parliament, but this argument seems to suggest there are no women who are also BAME, LBT, disabled and working class. I want to see more women like this in parliament and AWS has been proven as the best way to achieve that.  I don’t believe that all-women shortlists deprive the party of talented and diverse candidates; in fact, I know that they do quite the opposite.

Despite us being 50% of the population, women still only make up a third of the Parliamentary Labour Party and 22% of parliament as a whole. How can we begin to say we’ll be the party who gives a voice to the voiceless and represent minorities when we can’t claim to represent the majority? Gender is not the only consideration in achieving diversity but it is nonetheless an incredibly important one.

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About Bex Bailey

Proud feminist. 50% success rate for Labour NEC elections. Campaigner. Labour Women's Network committee member. Co-operative Party member.
This entry was posted in equality, feminism, Labour Party, NEC. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to All-women shortlists

  1. Bex – I’m very encouraged by your piece, please do continue to challenge the continuing hostility to all women shortlists (AWS’s). I campaigned for and welcomed the introduction of AWS’s at the 1993 Labour Party annual conference. It was an historic break-through made possible by an alliance of campaign groups involving Trade Unionists, Labour Women’s Network, Socialist Societies affiliated to the Labour Party and the majority of CLP’s.

    If left to me I would instigate a daily parliamentary vote of thanks to Harriet Harman MP for her tireless bravery in bringing forward the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 and The Equality Act 2010. The former allowed political parties to draw up AWS’s; and the latter made possible the extension of the original ‘sunset clause’ from 2015 until 2030.

    Whilst things are improving, my one regret is that we have still not been able to get a more truly representative group of women MP’s. I am committed to do my best to enable this outcome; and so will continue to support and mentor as many women with disabilities, women from BAME heritage, senior and young women as possible.

    Jennette Arnold OBE AM
    Labour London Assembly Member for – GLA North East London Constituency (Hackney Islington & Waltham Forest).
    (1st Black Woman Chair of the London Assembly)

  2. chris reid says:

    Turnout at Wythenshaw 28.24% That is the problem we need to tackle, AWS is now becoming redundant thankfully. we must not let apathy win.

  3. Megan says:

    AWS can and should work but it won’t while:
    A) so little is done to help recruit, engage and train women from a broad spectrum of backgrounds. The first rafts of AWS basically were seats for Westminster insiders and posh women from the south who fancied northern safe seats and it’s not hugely better now.

    B) people use them as a political tool rather than a tool to promote diversity. When they become about stopping someone being an MP or letting someone be an MP when really the seat should be AWS, the whole idea is discredited. And anyone who says that doesn’t happen is talking complete rubbish, look at Bradford now and Erdington last time.

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