Labour is the party of equality. That’s why I joined, and I’m proud of what Labour achieved in government to make our society more equal. But we can’t neglect our own back yard.
Labour did lots for women’s equality in government but women in the party are still held back, often facing sexism and sexual harassment.
Labour did lots for people on low pay in government but working class people in the Labour Party still can’t afford to stand for selection.
Labour in government fought to end racial discrimination but Jewish people in the Labour Party still face anti-Semitism.
We must practice what we preach and make the Labour Party more equal.
That means breaking through the glass doors – not just the glass ceilings – changing our structures and, the hardest bit, changing our culture.
Firstly, we have to help more women get involved.
As government cuts hit hard, women are fighting back. Older women are forming action groups like ‘Women Against State Pension Inequality’. Younger women are leaping online to sign petitions. But very few women are joining political parties.
Politics is still seen as a man’s world. This is not helped by political parties consistently putting men up for interviews, or the social media attacks on women when they do put themselves forward.
We need to do more to help women in through the door and support them to get involved when they do join.
Secondly, we have to change our structures. This means thorough and enforced codes of conduct – online and offline, and at all levels of the party. We need training for staff and those in positions of power in local parties, so they can recognise bad behaviour and properly deal with problems that occur. And we need some independence in our complaints system, so people feel able to come forward, have confidence in the system, and not fear political consequences of reporting incidents.
Thirdly, we have to change our culture – and that won’t be easy. Labour has real problems with sexism and intimidation and too often the response is to sweep them under the carpet. We will only make progress if we champion an honest and open culture, where people feel they can come forward with problems, so we can get to the bottom of them. That will require bravery on the part of the Labour Party, but it will be essential to ending a culture in which sexism is rife.
Structural and cultural change combined with a drive to help more women get involved would make our party more diverse and inclusive.
Labour women in government have shown that, given the opportunity, they can make our society more equal.
Let’s make sure our party is giving them the opportunity.