Tom and Jerry demonstrate the need for AWS

Perhaps one lesson learnt from the recent leadership elections is that without positive discrimination women have a difficult task in attaining senior positions within the Labour Party. Both leader and deputy are white middle-aged males, and whilst this demographic deserves representation as much as any, it does rather continue a long-line of such types.

Two of the four leadership contenders were women, and they came third and fourth. Three of the five deputy leadership contenders were female; here at least second, third and fourth spot were their lot.

Labour has never had a female leader, although both Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman (twice) have temporarily held that position. They, of course, remain the only two female deputies (from a list of seventeen who have held that position).

Eighteen leaders of the party, eighteen men.

It has been noted that the really big jobs in the shadow cabinet have gone to men, although what constitutes the big roles is a subject of some discussion. Nonetheless, the rules that apply to constituency parties and local authority groups do not seem to apply at the top of the party. This is not a phenomena of the Corbyn leadership – it was ever thus.

We, in CLPs up and down the land, struggle with All Women Shortlists and rules that mean half of our winnable seats must have women candidates, half of our executive committees must have women officers – rules that whilst sometimes frustrating I do go along with. We even have questions on our assessment forms which have to be completed if we wish to be candidates in local elections that specifically ask what we have done to ensure gender equality (“Describe how you have promoted equality of opportunity within the council – in employment and service delivery, and state how you have assisted with the recruitment of representative councillors for the party”, for example). It is galling to find that whilst we, locally, go through all sorts of hoops to encourage women into senior positions it seemingly is not something that troubles those in Parliament.

I accept the argument about choosing who is best for the job, but note that this argument is not used in the grassroots of our movement. The leadership election shows just how innately conservative (note the small C) party members are, opting again to ignore women.

Perhaps we ought to consider a rule alternating gender for the most senior roles – Jeremy this time, a women when his time is up. For a party of fairness to have never has a woman leader seems almost incredible; we really should have had nine woman leaders by now. Whilst women are contending for senior positions, there is no sign that they are about to break through. Like it or not, I suspect that without positive steps to ensure a woman leader in the near future we may be in for a long wait.


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