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…)