“The Labour candidates for the city region mayors were announced this week. In Liverpool, Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, each one is a man. In the shortlists there was only one woman, Luciana Berger MP. I am not surprised she didn’t win, but I am incredibly disappointed that no woman did. What happened to the party that has for years beaten all other parties on representation of women and achieved so much for women?
Justin Trudeau in Canada managed to get a 50/50 cabinet, but not just by giving out any old job to elected women. Years before he became prime minister, he tried to identify good women to run, in order to ensure there were plenty in the pipeline. Research shows that women often underestimate their potential to take on powerful roles, and need a nudge to do so. Trudeau recognised this and set up the Invite her to run campaign. He identified brilliant women from all sorts of backgrounds and asked them to run. He didn’t just sit back wearing a T-shirt with a feminist slogan, being a bit right on. He did something. Deeds not words.
There are many who will not like what I’m saying. They will cry out that the best person for the job is what matters. If you sign up for that meritocracy argument, you must also then accept that the fact that women so rarely rise to the top means that we are just not as good as men. Same with black and ethnic minorities, the disabled and all the other people who are not identikit leaders.
Others will try to tell me that representation of women in high office is feminism for the middle classes. I kindly point you to the words of Leymah Gbowee who won the Nobel peace prize for her work with women in Liberia. When asked what single thing we could do to improve things for the poorest, most abused women of the world, she answered: “More women in power.” So take that argument up with her.
Months ago I foresaw the results that were announced this week and wanted to work with the Labour leadership to do something about it. The king of the mandate holds the cards of power in the Labour party. Without Jeremy Corbyn’s backing and involvement the likelihood of anything happening in selections is nil: I needed Corbyn’s help. I wanted to work with him on this; unity is what I think it’s called. So I sent him a text message asking him to help, it read: “In the spirit of not speaking publicly without telling you my concerns. I am very worried that all Lab mayors will end up being men unless we do something. Perhaps we could have chat about that this week. Jess” He ignored me. So I tried a woman in his office with whom I’ve always had good relations. I wrote to her: “Hey lovely. I’ve just texted Jeremy and asked for a chat. I think we need strong action and direction from leadership on issue of women mayors. I will feel that the Labour party is not for me and other women if in 2018 we just elect loads of Labour men.” Again, I was ignored.
Yes, no doubt he was really busy and just forgot – we all miss text messages. Except whenever I have texted him about anything else, save one example, he has responded within a day. He responds to praise even quicker. My text message exchanges with Jeremy would be a surprising read for all those who think I was vile and bullying. There is a lot of chatter about my kids, his family and summer holidays. Some more robust stuff about Ken Livingstone and a lot of to and fro over things I thought he should be picking up, stuff that was making him look bad. He was usually thankful for my suggestions and offers of help. If you remember, I famously promised to tell him to his face, after all.
People tell me I should just get behind Jeremy, work with him. On this, I tried. I would have gladly organised events in the regions for women members and councillors. I would have gone with Jeremy, stood shoulder to shoulder on platforms, encouraged women to give it a go, and offered tips and mentoring about being a representative and standing for selection. I was willing to work hard to do something that would have made Jeremy look good.
I’m left disappointed and deflated again. I don’t know why Jeremy didn’t answer. I don’t know why his office ignored my advances. They never ignored me before and haven’t since. He told me he was a feminist. I suppose feminism is out of the window when your brothers in arms want the jobs. The Labour party is becoming a movement of words not deeds.”