Essex Labour groups and the struggle for gender parity

One of the travails of local Labour party organisers is the striving for gender parity in their representatives. We aspire to this in our internal organisations, we aspire to it in our council chambers.

Travails? Indeed – a laborious effort (pun intended). I have met no-one in my circle of activists and comrades who wants anything but more women involved in local politics, and yet I have met few who can claim success.

See here:

Male Female
Basildon 9 1
Braintree 8 3
Brentwood 2 1
Castle Point 0 0
Chelmsford 1 0
Colchester 6 3
Epping Forest 1 0
Harlow 10 7
Maldon 1 0
Rochford 1 0
Southend-on-Sea 5 4
Tendring 7 2
Thurrock 13 9
Uttlesford 0 0
Essex CC 6 3

This table shows the numbers of male and female Labour councillors in the fourteen local authorities plus the county council in Essex. In eight of these authorities we have gender parity, including the council that I am a member of. Eight out of fifteen sounds like reasonable, if limited, success. Except, that of these eight, two have no councillors, four have just one, and a further one has only three Labour representatives. Only in Southend-on-Sea is there a reasonably large group that manages parity.

(Note: whilst parity means the same number of men and women, odd numbers of councillors mean that getting within one of equable numbers counts as parity.)

This failure is not through want of trying. It cannot be because women are not interested in politics – in general voter turnout is higher amongst women than amongst men. Women, in general, tend to favour Labour more than their male counterparts, so it cannot be that our (Labour’s) politics fails to attract females.

For whatever reason, and despite repeated entreaties to our female members, fewer women come forward to stand in elections than men, and fewer still are prepared to put in the hours of grind necessary for electoral success. We do not give up though, and whilst some of the reasons will be cultural, we should be able to encourage women to come forward as potential community leaders.

The picture in Essex will improve, of that I have little doubt. Will I ever live to gender parity everywhere? The honest answer is that I do not know. I do know that our rules insist that we keep trying, that we have women-only shortlists – and this not only vexes those male activist who feel shut out, it vexes those of us tasked with finding women to come forward.

Showing racism the red card

Long before I became a Labour activist I was an anti-racism campaigner. In my teens I joined the Anti-Nazi League, and since I have supported a number of groups, such as Unite Against Fascism and Hope Not Hate. I was therefore delighted to be invited to a Show Racism The Red Card event at St Mary’s Church of England Primary school yesterday afternoon. At some point in the past (probably nearly two decades ago) I owned a Let’s Kick Racism Out Of Football tee-shirt, the predecessor project to SRTRC.

A DVD was shown, and then four of us responded to questions from the assembled year 4/5 pupils. Two of my fellow panellists were ex-professional footballers, the third had a community engagement role with Southend United FC. I have had thirty years involvement with local football – I cannot pretend to have got any higher than the semi-professional level, and my current level of engagement is minimal.

The fight against racism goes on. Over the many years of activism I have seen the intolerance and bigotry and it is still there, but the targets have changed. I recall the Ugandan Asians coming over in the early 1970s, and they struggled to be accepted at first. Nowadays it is East Europeans and Travellers than seem not to be accepted by all. However, I genuinely believe that things have got better – certainly the casual racism of the 1970s is a distant memory.

Incidentally, in more than a thousand games of football officiated as referee I can only recall sending one player off for racial abuse. I think most involved in football are tolerant, although I do confess that as a referee an element of deafness is an asset and maybe I did not hear everything that was said.

At the end of the event there were photographs of some of the Premier League teams (none of Aston Villa) given out and the pupils asked us to sign them. Now I can understand that they might want some footballers to sign, but a borough councillor?! I did point out to them that I was only a mere councillor – they still wanted my autograph. Doubtless there are some parents looking at the signatures across pictures of the Arsenal squad, or Manchester City or Chelsea, who must be wondering who this Julian Ware-Lane fellow is.

Later I paid a visit to the public exhibition on the proposed development at the former Prittlebrook industrial estate. This was hosted by Bellway Homes and Havens Hospices. I found it informative and it was good to see the plans. Naturally I had some questions too, and I reminded the Havens representative that I had suggested this site was a better prospect than the Belton Way when I paid a visit to their Chalkwell Avenue establishment a couple of years ago.

Unite Against Fascism national conference 14th June


Beyond Right and Wrong – a film for International Women’s Day

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day.

If you have fifty minutes to spare watch “Beyond Right and Wrong“, a film produced by former Women for Women International board member Lekha Singh. The exceptional film features stories of justice and forgiveness in Rwanda, Israel/West Bank and Gaza, and Ireland.

Even if you do not have fifty minutes, just watch what you can. I think you will find it both moving and uplifting.

Some public health data

The data below comes from the Public Health England website . This shows the seventeen wards that make up the Borough of Southend-on-Sea, and also includes the English average.

The four columns show admittedly arbitrary choices (the website has many indices to choose from); however it does reflect and illustrate some of the things I campaign about.

Life expectancy at birth for males (years) Life expectancy at birth for females (years) Income Deprivation (%) Overcrowding (%)
Kursaal 71.9 78.4 31.6 19.9
Victoria 74.9 78.6 30.8 19.8
Milton 74.4 78.5 23.6 19.5
Shoeburyness 78.0 81.4 20.2 10.1
Southchurch 77.6 83.5 19.5 6.2
St Luke’s 78.8 83.2 18.9 7.7
West Shoebury 78.3 79.8 18.6 5.9
Blenheim Park 77.0 83.1 18.2 6.2
Westborough 77.3 83.3 17.0 9.9
St Laurence 79.3 84.5 15.1 6.6
England 78.3 82.3 14.7 8.7
Belfairs 79.5 83.2 14.1 5.8
Prittlewell 77.7 82.5 14.1 7.5
Chalkwell 76.1 79.5 12.4 13.3
Leigh 79.1 85.0 9.5 6.2
Thorpe 78.8 86.4 8.7 2.5
Eastwood Park 81.1 83.4 8.5 4.8
West Leigh 80.1 84.3 5.6 3.2

And so, what does this all mean? Well, clearly there are some disparities. The table is sorted by income deprivation which shows Kursaal and Victoria some way behind most of the rest of the town, and way behind West Leigh.

The UKIP candidate in West Leigh is campaigning on over development – ironic given that West Leigh not only has a very low overcrowding figure (16th in the borough) and it is also the fifteen least densely populated ward (see I think we can safely file that under ‘scaremongering’.

Overcrowding is at about a fifth in the three town centre wards, which further vindicates my campaigning about overdevelopment here.

The contrasts in life expectancy are stark; men in Eastwood Park can expect nine years more than their Kursaal  brothers. The gap for females is not quite so large, although it still stands at eight years between the women of Kursaal and those living in Thorpe. That these wards also rub shoulders says something.

Chalkwell ward, which does well on income deprivation, falls behind on the other three measures. I wonder what the voter under registration figure is here, because I suspect that the eastern end of this ward (east of Crowstone Road/Avenue) has many houses of multiple occupancy – and this usually means both poverty and disengagement.

Stand up to racism and fascism


Excess winter deaths

This graph makes for pretty ugly reading if you live in Southend-on-Sea. For almost all of the last twenty years my town has had a worst record than the comparator average when it comes to excess winter deaths. Recent numbers show the gap to have narrowed, and I hope that I will be able to report at some point that Southend-on-Sea is better than average.
(Excess winter deaths (EWD) are calculated using the Office for National Statistics method which defines the winter period as December to March, and compares the number of deaths that occurred in this winter period with the average number of deaths in the preceding August to November and the following April to July.)

I asked for an explanation for our poor past record, and here is the response:

The causes of excess winter deaths are complex and interlinked with cold weather, fuel poverty, housing and health inequalities, as well as infectious diseases (such as flu and norovirus) and the extent of snow and ice. It is therefore very difficult to say that there is any one particular reason for Southend being above the average of its CIPFA comparator local authorities throughout the period being reported on.

I have been supporting Ed Miliband’s freeze that bill campaign. Until something is done about fuel poverty one can only speculate what this graph will look like after this coming winter has passed. This is why the vote on the Local Council Tax Support Scheme Annual Review last Thursday was so crucial, and why those who support the idea of making the poor poorer (and for what the administration had proposed) must be made aware that actions have consequences. We can add to the ‘heat or eat’ question ‘or council tax’.


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