Labour Women's Network is an organisation of women members of the Labour Party dedicated to supporting Labour women to play a full part in the Party, and to securing the election of more Labour women to public office at every level.
For Westminster parliamentary elections we strongly support the use of All Women Shortlists as a means to improve the unacceptably poor levels of women’s representation.
With 81 Labour MPs, 31% of the Parliamentary Labour Party are women and Labour has more women MPs than all the other Parties put together. However, only 22% of all MPs are women.
Why does this matter?
In opposition, we expect Labour MPs to act as a national campaigning force for Labour values; to represent their constituents and to give a Labour voice to others throughout the country; to challenge Tory-led government policy and to work to get back into Government as quickly as possible.
In government, we also expect them to deliver Labour policies to change our country for the better.
These jobs are most effectively done by a strong diverse team of Labour representatives. We are most likely to win when we field a team which reflects and can connect with voters.
So better representation of women amongst our MPs and candidates delivers opportunity for individual women, but more importantly it makes Labour more likely to be a winning team.
Experience shows that AWS is the most effective way of delivering gender equality in our one member, first past the post electoral system for Parliamentary elections. Shadow Cabinet members like Rachel Reeves, Maria Eagle, Emily Thornberry and Mary Creagh were selected on AWS as were high profile and effective campaigners like Gisela Stuart, Fiona McTaggart, Siobhain McDonagh and Stella Creasy. Many other successful Labour women MPs were selected on AWS. They have undoubtedly strengthened our Party and parliament.
Historically Labour has been the Party with the best representation of women and with the greatest internal pressure to ensure a better gender balance amongst candidates. Despite this, in 1945, 21 Labour women were elected. In 1987, 21 Labour women were elected. In 1992, all constituencies were required to have a woman on the shortlist – 36 Labour women were elected. Between 1992 and 1997, a campaign led by Labour women ensured that there were AWS in half of all potentially winnable seats. In 1997, 101 Labour women were elected.
Some then felt that the job was done. 2001 demonstrated that there is not yet a momentum towards a more equal parliament. After a successful industrial tribunal challenge to AWS, it was not used for the 2001 election. Only 4 new Labour women were elected (and over 30 new men) and by-election candidates replacing women were all men. Labour then legislated to allow positive action and re-introduced AWS for 2005.
At the current rate of progress, a child born today would be drawing her pension before there was equal gender representation in Parliament. All main parties have now conceded that they have a problem with gender balance in their parliamentary parties. but only AWS has begun to solve it. The Tories A-List system in 2010 produced results – the number of Conservative women MPs nearly tripled. However, despite this progress the Parliamentary Conservative Party is still nowhere near the 31% women in the Parliamentary Labour Party. The Lib Dems are still resisting positive action, although they have recognised that they have a problem and have brought in a version of the A-List system to try and address it.
The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party restated the position on AWS after the election – that 50% of candidates in winnable seats (including retirements) should be women.
We expect the NEC to live up to this statement in upcoming selections. Furthermore, where by-elections are held in former Labour seats, the NEC should formally consider the case for an AWS and give reasons if they decide not to adopt this approach. Where more than one by-election is held on any day, at least one of the seats should be selected on the basis of an AWS.