abortion

‘Never more relevant’

Rachel Reeves tells Richard Angell and Conor Pope the subject of her book, Alice Bacon, would have a clear message for today’s moderates

First publish in Progress magazine

The Labour party is full of people whose stories never get heard. Who put in the hours, sit in the rooms where decisions are made and make sure that change happens. They make the history, but are often not recorded in it.

Alice Bacon is one of those people. She was a Labour parliamentarian for almost 50 years, 25 of them as a member of parliament, was a minister in the Harold Wilson government of the 1960s and sat on the National Executive Committee for almost three decades. Having grown up in a working-class community in Yorkshire and working as a teacher before her election, she was an early and tireless champion of comprehensive education, as well as a feared operator – earning the nickname ‘terror of the Trotskyites’ from Denis Healey. She was firmly against attempts to liberalise drug laws but key – alongside her boss at the Home Office Roy Jenkins – to the big liberalising battles of the 1960s, especially on abortion. (more…)

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The missing 30

First published on Progressonline

Labour was founded, not to bring about socialism – that came later with the 1918 Fabian-authored Clause IV, but to put working-class people into parliament. Initially groups like the National Union of Miners stayed with the Liberal party, hoping for scraps off the table. Soon it was clear that only Labour was committed to this first fundamental aim; the NUM and the working-class voters in the new franchise switched accordingly.

Labour led the way for women’s representation. Not the first women member of parliament, but the first in the cabinet and soon by far the largest group of women MPs in the House of Commons. The party stands on the shoulders of giants who entered Westminster in tougher times. Harriet Harman joined parliament in 1982 and was quickly derided for raising issues then deemed non-political, such a childcare. In 1997 a huge breakthrough took place and over the 13 years that followed most big offices of state was headed by a woman at some point. We had the first black woman in the cabinet and appointed Britain’s first woman European commissioner; Valerie Amos now heads up a United Nations agency and Cathy Ashton last year completed her term as first vice-president of the European Union. That government transformed women’s lives and these women transformed the policy environment we now live in. When Labour wins, women win.

Research by Progress shows that, had Labour won all its target seats in England and Wales in May this year, the party’s ranks would have been boosted by an additional 35 women. If it had not lost any seats to the Tories, it would have been 39. The House of Commons, with an overall net gain of 30 women, would now boast over a third, 34 per cent, of its membership as female. Instead women make up just 29 per cent of the famous green benches. This would have transformed our international standing. Currently the Commons is 38th in the league table. Under Labour it would have been 26th, joint with Serbia and one place below Uganda. This would have seen the United Kingdom leapfrog three European Union member states – Portugal, Italy and Austria – and seen us ahead of New Zealand – which remains one of the few countries to elect a woman Labour prime minister. (more…)

Sex and relationship education will enable young people to make informed choices

First published on Progressonline in the Young progressives column

The government in its wisdom last week announced that sex and relationship education will be a compulsory part of the school curriculum. This is fantastic news for young people and Britain more widely.

The reviewed guidance and the addition of compulsion are welcome steps in their own right and will do lots to help combat unintended teenage pregnancies, the sexual health epidemic we are facing and the low esteem of particularly young women and gay men that means people feel they cannot say ‘no’. (more…)

What’s moral any more?

First published on Progressonline in the Young progressives column

The decision by the government to give three free votes on vital elements in the human fertilisation and embryology bill so that some senior members of the government don’t feel the need to resign on ‘moral’ grounds is both sad and problematic. It suggests that a religiously held belief is more important, or more substantial, than a non-religiously held belief. In the immediate context, and moving beyond the theoretical arguments, is demonstrates a disregard for those loyal members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who voted through the abolition of the 10p rate of tax against their better judgement.

I do not want to go into detail on the 10p rate on tax, but we all know instinctively how this decision feels and we all know why. Helping the poor and disadvantaged is part of the lifeblood of the Labour movement. As a principle it is ingrained within the fabric of our party, and compelling arguments have been voiced on how this principle has been compromised by the abolition of the lower tax rate.

(more…)