Myth-conceptions

Last night’s defeat in Blaenau Gwent seems to have prompted Gareth Davies to revisit some old ground on the issue that caused a schism in the local party before the last election, the imposition on the local CLP of an all female shortlist during the selection of the party candidate – the resistance to which, as I recall, Gareth referred to at the time as ‘jobs for the boyos’…

I’ll get back to result in a minute but first I want to make a few observations on all-women shortlists and the myths that surround this particular practice.

In his piece Gareth states:

Some members of the CLP, including the man who stood to benefit most from the rebellion against the party, decided they didn’t want to accept a party policy that was designed to correct the gender imbalance in the Commons. That policy was only imposed as much as any democratically decided policy is imposed.

Peter Law’s decision that his personal desire to be MP overrode party policy designed to deliver equality has nothing to do with whatever laws were observed in medieval Blaenau Gwent, if any. Williams’s claim that there was a polity known as Gwent, observing Welsh law for seven centuries is a grandiose exaggeration of the kind that only the self deluded can make. Hywel Dda may have been cited as authority by someone in a row over land rights in a manorial court, but the law in medieval Wales was the sword, and the force with which a landlord could wield it.

Not being up on Welsh history, I’ll defer to Gareth on the finer points of the medieval Welsh legal system, although, looking at what he has to say on the subject, it may be better he let this drop so as not to give our Imperious Leader any more idea… but what I will take issue with the statement that all women shortlists are a ‘party policy designed to deliver equality’, because that precisely what they don’t do.

All women shortlists and, indeed, any other system of quotas based on gender, ethnicity or whatever you might want to apply them to, simply do not deliver equality – they create the facade of equality, it’s external appearance, but not equality itself.

It is certainly not wrong for the Labour Party to aspire to equality and to a position in which women have the same statistical chance of selection as a party candidate as men, nor is it wrong to suggest that the idela scenario, somewhere doewn the line, is a position in which the balance of male and female candidates (and MPs) reflects much more closely the gender balance in wider society.

But equally, lets not pretend that quota and all women shortlists, which are no more than crude social-engineering devices, actually create or deliver equality – that comes only when things such as gender, ethnicity, etc, entirely cease to be a factor in the selection process at all and we arrive at a situation where the balance of the party in terms ot gender, etc, exists without the need to cook the system in anyone’s favour.

The implied slur on the former members of Blaenau Gwent CLP who opposed the imposition of all woman shortlist last year is that there were motivated by sexism – a charge which, because of the circumstances in which the selection was conducted, simply cannot be substantiated simply because they were never given the choice in the first place – there is no more equity or equality in the imposition of an all female shortlist on an CLP than there is in one declining to consider selecting a female candidate purely because of her gender. two wrongs don’t make a right.

All women shortlists may superficially look like a solution to the issue of gender imbalance in the short-term, but in the long term they are counterproductive, simply because the fail to address the real issue here, which is not about the selection process but about attitudes amongst the party membership, and worse still, as with any exercise in tokenism, the real effect of imposing such shortlists is more often than to harden already entrenched attitudes and foster disaffection and dissention, leaving grass roots party members feeling even more disenfranchised than they do already.

Having worked in community development for more than ten years, I’ve seen this same phenonmenon time and time again in relation to the issues of race and ethnicity – pump money and resources into one community on the back of even the most obvious and justifiable needs and it won’t be long before the community next door is kicking up and the perceived ‘unfairness’ of it all. In areas like Sandwell, its precisely this kind of thing that feeds extremist parties like the BNP, whose pitch is always the ‘they’re getting something you’re not, and its not fair’.

Attitudes like that, once they become entrenched, are an absolute bastard to tackle and a constant source of frustration – and I suspect that’s the real backstory to last night’s result. The party pissed local people off with their high-handed attitude towards the CLP and its desire for a local candidate and still hasn’t forgiven and forgotten – sure it might parochialism at its worst, but simply because you disagree with it, it doesn’t mean you can ignore it or refuse to take it into account in your thinking.

At the root of this issue is another myth, that of statistical representation itself, which suggests that if half the population of the UK are women, then half the MPs in parliament should also be women in order to be properly representative of the people.

What a load of bollocks!

Can someone please explain to me precisely in what respect the likes of Patricia Hewitt, Tessa Jowell, Kitty Ussher and Ruth Kelly are in any way ‘representative’ of the needs, concerns and aspirations of the wider female population of the UK, anymore than Tony Blair, Jack Straw and Charlie ‘Minister for Shite’ Falconer are of the male population?

Exactly what common ground and shared-experiences are there between an upper-middle class barrister or a fucking former management consultant and a bricklayer, a Tesco checkout girl or a teenage single parent living on benefits?

Next to fuck all is what!

So what if we somehow do get to the stage where half the MPs in parliament are women, is that really going to make parliament ‘more representative’ of women as a whole?

Looking at the kind of people who are selected by the main politics parties and who do go on to be elected to parliament, the only possible answer as things stand is ‘like fuck it will!’.

Looking at the party over the last 20-30 years, and especially since the Kinnock reforms andf blair’s ascendancy to the top job, then one has to conclude that as party we’re getting less and less representative of the people over time, not more representative as more and more, the upper reaches of the party becomes stuffed to the gills with lawyers, middle class professionals and identikit clones who’ve worked their way up food chain via the now de rigeuer route of university followed a stint in nice safe London-based NGO or a fucking political think-tank.

It’s all very well slating Cameron for being a toff and a scion of the Aristocracy, but can anyone genuinely say that his life experiences are any more divorced from those of the majority of the population than those of the Fettes-educated Blair? Of course not.

Once again, the idea that being pushed here is not real representation, any more than all-women short lists provide real equality, its merely the creation of a facade, a false appearance, a veneer to hide the real truth, which is that parliament, today, is no more genuinely representative of the people today than it was back in days of the property qualification and rotten boroughs – all we’ve really done over the last couple of hundred years is succeeded in swapping land-owners for lawyers and merchants for management consultants – an unrepresentative elite is still an unrepresentative elite no matter from where it draws its membership.

 For what its worth, the party has decided that all women shortlists are the way to go and if people want to support than on the basis that it givens women a better shot at making it in to parliament, then fine. Go right ahead…

…but at least have the good grace to admit the truth, that such things are far from perfect and, in their own way, just and inequitable as the previous status quo, and for fuck’s sake lay off the whole business or wrapping everything up in sanctimonious lectures about ‘equality’ and ‘representation’ – there’s no moral high ground to be had when all you’re really doing is making the best of a bad job.

  • Bruce

    As a male, middle class professional with little experience of life outside my cosy suburban world, I find the increasingly homogeneous make-up of the House of Commons rather reassuring.

  • Bob Lloyd

    The working class make up a fair percentage of the uk when are we going to get our quota .Again the middle class get lost in the issues of race ,gender and sexuality when what matters is class . I’m up for an all working class short list to redress the balance . I’d put a motion to conferance but it don’t work like that any more .

  • I think you’ve rather missed the point. Your contribution to the debate aboutnwhether all women shortlists work or not is valid and reasonable. I don’t agree with it, because I see all women shortlists as a reasonable expedient in the short term.
    Some of the points you make about class and Parliament are equally valid; since I’m neither a lawyer nor a management consultant I too feel people like me are under represented in Parliament.
    But if you’re in a democratic party you can;t simply derogate fromthe policies of that aprty when you feel like it. Democratic parties only work when the members accept that if they lose the debate they have to stay within the party and work for change.
    Otherwise you have the stomach churning insanity of Dai Davies proclaiming that Labour are more right wing than the Tories; this in Blaenau Gwent, where a history of low wages means that the minimum wage has had more impact than in many other areas, where tax credits are making a genuien difference in enabling people to get back into work and stay in work. And all so he can ensure that his place in Parliament is safe. Whatever Dai Davies thinks he’s representing it’s not the values of the Labour Party, old or new.

  • redpesto

    The more interesting scenario than a ‘gender-balanced’ Labour party fully of Kitty Usshers, would be a ‘gender-balanced’ Tory party: how many Anne Widdecombe’s would that take? Would that constitute a feminist programme?