Thursday, June 03, 2010

Affirmative Action for Special Advisers

I am interested in Harriet Harman's suggestion that 50% of the places in Labour's Shadow Cabinet should be reserved for women, but I'm not convinced.

On the reasonable assumption that the Shadow Cabinet will (for the next year, at least) be made up of people who have had ministerial experience, that would mean choosing nine Shadow Cabinet ministers from amongst the eighteen or so women who currently have ministerial experience.

Some of these women, of course, would make very good Shadow Cabinet ministers, but I'm not sure that paving the way for Hazel Blears *and* Caroline Flint *and* Tessa Jowell to return to senior positions in the Labour Party is the most urgent priority for gender equality.

Top priority in securing equal representation for women within the top ranks of the Labour Party, instead, should be how to ensure that by the time of the next election, 50% of Labour's Shadow Cabinet are women. And I think the best way to do this is to build on one of Labour's existing positive action programmes.

Since 2001, Labour has run an informal yet very influential scheme called Affirmative Action for Special Advisers. Under this scheme, Oxbridge-educated men who have been special advisers to Labour ministers have been helped to secure safe parliamentary seats and then fast tracked to help them gain ministerial experience soon after being elected.

This programme has been so successful that there are more ex-Special Advisers standing for the leadership of the Labour Party in 2010 than the total number of women who have ever stood for the leadership of the Labour Party over the past hundred and ten years.

There are 81 female Labour MPs, including many exceptionally talented people from a range of backgrounds. By expanding the Affirmative Action for Special Advisers programme to these MPs, especially the newly elected ones, we will ensure that by 2015 or whenever the next election takes place, there will be a much greater number of women who have the experience needed to be effective members of the Shadow Cabinet, and that by the time it comes to choose the next but one leader of the Labour Party and the Cabinet ministers for when Labour is next in power, we will be able to choose from a much wider range of excellent candidates.

Making sure that the parliamentary Labour Party has roughly equal numbers of men and women, amongst MPs and amongst ministers, is an important part of the wider struggle for equal rights. It is by focusing on the medium term, rather than the next few months, that we're most likely to achieve real and meaningful change.


At 7:01 pm , Blogger Old Politics said...

We could just skip a generation.

At 8:44 pm , Anonymous Daniel Blaney said...

i have a few suggestions for the shadow cabinet:

joan ruddock, cathy jamieson, angela eagle, maria eagle, karen buck, margaret curran, margaret beckett, yvette cooper, dawn primarolo, rosie winterton.

there will be some awful right wingers in the shadow cabinet anyway. give me tessa jowell over phil woolas any day.

At 9:03 am , Blogger Unknown said...

Karen Buck is standing for Chair of the DWP Select Committee, Dawn Primorolo will be Deputy Speaker. Not sure whether any new MPs like Margaret Curran or Cathy Jamieson would stand for Shadow Cabinet now, though both should in future.

Yvette Cooper should be a cert for re-election under any system.

Not sure if Joan Ruddock and Margaret Beckett might retire at the election - but I could be wrong and that shouldn't rule them out anyway - there's an important job to be done in opposition.

On that note, one problem may be that the people who get in now will be the incumbents and then they might just stay, thus preventing some of the people you mention working their way up.

I'd actually prefer a few to hang in there for a couple of years to give us time and space to develop the next generation.

Also - Harman is proposing that we reduce the number of places elected to 16 to make it 8/8, not that half of the 22 have to be female. There are always some appointed places on top of the elected ones.

At 9:15 am , Blogger donpaskini said...

The Old Politics - that's brilliant.

Daniel / Nick - fully agree that we could find 8-9 excellent female shadow cabinet ministers, but I don't think those are the most likely people to end up in the shadow cabinet. Agree on Jowell instead of Woolas, though!

At 1:36 pm , Blogger Unknown said...

Actually, I was at least partly agreeing with you Don, or at least suggesting a more nuanced approach.

It's hard to argue we don't need more women in the shadow cabinet, but at the same time it's hard to argue that the working class women who really bear the brunt of inequality weren't better off with John Healey as Housing Minister than Hazel Blears.

We've also got a lot of work to do to recruit and involve more women at a local level, especially outside London. Terrifyingly, the PLP is actually now fairly representative of the party membership in terms of gender. (Though not ethnicity, I think.)

And for all that the progress on gender and race have been excruciatingly slow, we're actually now going backwards on class.

At 6:49 am , Anonymous Daniel Blaney said...

i don't know anything about select committees, deputy speaker and who thinks they're too old for the shadow cabinet. doesn't change my point at all.

my point was that in principle there is no reason the shadow cabinet cannot be filled with talented progressive women. yes john healy was a good housing minister but so what? why can't he be in the shadow cabinet? saying working class women were better of with James Callaghan over Margaret Thatcher completely misses the point: why wasn't Barbara Castle Prime Minister?

side issue: it may be the first time in history such a senior devolved minister as Cathy Jamieson has entered westminster. in such circumstances, if they're among the most talented, they should immediately jump to the most senior positions on the front bench. these aren't inexperienced new politicians. cathy jamieson and margaret curran basically ran scotland and that should be recognised and respected. they shouldn't be patronised with assertions they need to serve time at westminster on the backbenches first.

At 1:22 pm , Blogger Unknown said...

"my point was that in principle there is no reason the shadow cabinet cannot be filled with talented progressive women."

Of course there is more than half a shadow cabinet full of talented progressive women but I think that Don's point was that firstly they would be unlikely to stand and secondly they would be even less likely to win.

Perhaps the PLP will give me a pleasant surprise, but they rarely surprise me a pleasant way.

Though as I said we should bear in mind that Harman's proposal was actually only for 8 elected women, which is only an advance of one or two on having a third of the total cabinet, so may not be as big a deal as hoped/thought.

Side issue: I'd have been happy if Cathy stood for leader, let alone shadow cabinet, but it doesn't really matter what I/you think, it's up to her whether to stand and the other Labour MPs whether to vote for her.

And this is the real problem and my real point - we're talking about fixing things by changing rules from the top down - that has its place but ultimately we need to change the reality from the bottom up.

At the moment people seem to shy away from those wider problems, and I have a slight worry about a future in which a line up of identikit white middle class southern men parachuted in to seats from Oxbridge via SpAdery are replaced by a gender balanced group of white middle class southern graduate ex-SpAd parachutes but everyone thinks there's no problem any more.

Still, hey ho - the future is what we make it after all.

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