Thursday, November 20, 2014

Being positive about all-women shortlists

By Siobhan Corria

A perfect storm is brewing in the Welsh  Labour Party following NEC decisions to make some Parliamentary and Assembly seats, ‘All Women shortlists’. I am fiercely pro any measure to reduce inequality and all women shortlists are a method to increase female representation in politics and a welcome initiative.  The party membership in my own constituency, Cardiff North voted for an all women shortlist for the 2015 Parliamentary seat, but I doubt this decision featured heavily in the local press.

All women shortlists often seem to be embroiled in controversy and clearly divide opinion. Cynon Valley is a good example, with the sitting MP Ann Clwyd choosing to stand again but having to face selection in an all women’s shortlist.   There is no need to increase female representation in this instance so the decision to have all women shortlist for a sitting female, Welsh, MP seems nonsensical.  Hence the controversy and the fall out between Welsh Labour and the CLP.

So why are people so against all women shortlists but why are they so necessary?  I don’t think the argument for all women shortlists is understood widely because the argument hasn’t been made well enough.  Encouraging more women into politics isn’t a numbers game but that’s the way it’s heading and it’s time to encourage deeper thought about the need for all women shortlists.  Politics has a credibility issue across the UK because those who represent us don’t feel to be representative of us. As Hackney MP, Diane Abbott wrote this week – ‘the Labour movement has an over-representation of white-collar Westminster insiders’.

We absolutely need a diverse mix of people representing our diverse communities and with varied backgrounds in order to ensure innovative and creative policy setting. A mix of different people is more difficult to manage as any manager understands and politics is no different.  But there is no escaping the fact that this is what people want and need in order for confidence in our politicians and the main political parties to return.  Managing diversity is complex and leaders shouldn’t shy away from it but embrace it and make the case for diversifying politics.

The statistics regarding female representation in Wales speak for themselves.  There have only been 13 female Welsh MPs in 96 years.  Unless something radical is done, female representation in politics will not increase.

All women shortlists are a step in the right direction, so how can we make the case so that they aren't always mentioned when the NEC has imposed it or because a CLP doesn't want an all women’s shortlist, but because a CLP recognises the need and want a female representative?

If the Labour Party in Wales is serious about equal gender representation because it firmly and passionately believes that diversity results in better decision-making and creativity and a more representative pool of talent, then lets have a clear strategy based on guiding principles for achieving this goal.

In practical terms, give members a timetable for selections in good time and in order to make the application process seem achievable.  Ensure that women are enthusiastically encouraged to become politically active by CLPs, with support from Welsh Labour.  A mentoring scheme would be helpful, so that CLPs can actively implement support mechanisms for women who are thinking about progressing in politics.  But these ideas are dependent on the infrastructure to support the practicalities and administration, which seem to be missing at present.  The rhetoric must be substituted for activity and a real and genuine drive to diversify politics.

I think my idea of politic could be perceived as somewhat idealistic and not achievable in the short term.  So the short term goal should be to address the culture that exists within political parties, to ensure people from different backgrounds are welcomed and encouraged and debate and challenge is seen as commonplace rather than people being encouraged to smile for the camera but not offer depth of thought.

To not have a clear strategy for diversity in Welsh politics undermines the need for equality and until a more open and transparent decision making process is established, justification for increasing gender representation through measures such as the all women shortlists will always be sought.  This only makes it more difficult for this argument to be won and further embeds inequality in our politics.

If Welsh Labour thinks that it has made strides because of all women shortlists being imposed, how does it address the lack of BME, disabled, LGBT representatives?  There is a long, long way to go and any strides will only be dependent on careful planning and member engagement.

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