I subscribe to the concept of gender equality. I support this when it comes to political representation and have played my small part in ensuring it happens.
There are some subjects that are guaranteed to start an animated discussion in Labour circles, and all-women shortlists (AWS) is one of them. AWS, I think it fair to say, gets a lukewarm reception in certain quarters, and this is not from any aversion to seeing gender equality. Whilst comrades subscribe to equality, AWS is viewed by some as a very blunt instrument in achieving this.
I accept that AWS has flaws, but if one wants to drive up the numbers of women actively involved in politics then I have yet to see a better method. I know that sometimes a woman is selected or elected over their male counterparts when those frustrated males have years more campaigning experience behind them. But selection is not, and should not, be a reward for long service. It is about being the best qualified for that positions, and yes one’s gender does matter.
Outside the marginals tackles an aspect of this; stemming from a radio phone-in on producing a gender balanced parliament by halving the number of constituencies but then having each constituency elect (simultaneously) one man and one woman.
This idea is deeply flawed in one aspect, and that is the implication that male constituents are best served by a male MP, and vice versa. Not so, and gender equality has nothing to do with this idea. In fact, this is the very opposite of equality as women should be able to represent both sexes, as should men. Gender equality is all about the overall gender balance in Parliament (and council chambers, and in internal party constructs).
I should add that gender balance does not mean an exact 50/50 split either. It is best endeavours to get parity, cognizant that absolute equality is not necessary. If we get to 40% of MPs being female, for instance, I would think “job done”. Of course, women may get to 60%, but anything beyond that and we may have to contemplate AMS.
Sometimes you run out of suitable women candidates. I accept that in part this may be the fault of the local party in its failure to attract sufficient numbers of interested women, but whilst that may be true one has to deal with the reality one is faced with. I am pleased to be able to say that the Labour Group on Southend-on-Sea Borough Council has exact gender parity. Seeing the number of women coming forward it may be problematical keeping that fine record if we start to make significant inroads into the chamber.
I do wonder, though, why we have to have gender equality at all levels within the party except the very highest. Why is the Shadow Cabinet exempt? This really does send out the wrong signals.
The article goes on to explore other potential claimants for special treatment – BAME shortlists for example. I have waited in vain for the one-quarter Belgian shortlist myself.