Siobhan Corria sets out the arguments for having all-women shortlists for some Welsh seats.

June 14th, 2014

The Labour Party is again facing a public battle with a Labour ‘safe seat’ due to an All Women’s Shortlist for the parliamentary selection following Ann Clywd’s decision not to seek re selection.  The constituency labour party in Cynon Valley has decided it does not want an all women’s shortlist imposed, with echoes of Blaneu Gwent ringing in the ears of Labour Party members the length and breadth of Wales. Yet, this week the NEC has supported the shortlists, followed by a statement from a Welsh Labour representative defending the policy, which states, “The current state of affairs is not acceptable; women are vastly under-represented in parliament with Wales having just seven women MPs compared with thirty-three men”

So why are all-women shortlists so important for increasing female representation at Westminster and why are some Labour party members so vehemently opposed to selections being closed to men?

I am a proud supporter of all women shortlists, however, I also appreciate how sensitive it is for constituencies to have all women’s shortlists imposed by HQ. The statistics speak for themselves.  There have only been 13 female Welsh MPs in 96 years.  Unless something radical is done, female representation in politics will not increase.

All-women shortlists are important because clearly, women do not do as well as men in open selections.  Whilst many people who are interested in politics, would support the need to have  more representative politicians, are people able to articulate why this is some important?

The reason is that a diverse mix of politicians will create policy that is more reflective of our communities rather than if councils, the assembly and westminster are made up of white, middle class, middle age men.   The skill in creating reflective policy is to harness a diverse and rich conversion with people who are reflective of the UK, not to limit politics to a group of people who all think and act the same.

So why don’t women do as well as men in open selections?

The answer, which may be painful for some to accept is due to unconscious bias.  Whilst clearly, things have moved on in politics, women are still expected to act and behave in a certain way.  If you are a woman who challenges and seeks justification for decisions, you can be considered as a challenge by those who have been in politics for many years.

I have the political scars to prove unconscious bias. For challenging the status quo and sometimes decisions that seem to be based on personal preference rather than an evidence base or a steer from the electorate, I have a reputation for being ‘feisty’.  A term which is rarely if ever, used to describe men in politics.

So until men and women accept that unconscious bias exists and actively challenge ingrained stereotypes, we will struggle to select women into positions of political influence and all women shortlists are a must if we are to increase female representation in politics.

The reaction of the Cynon Valley constituency party demonstrates the need for people not to shy away from the conversation about challenging stereotypes and the need to do something radical to increase female representation in politics.  We should be regularly having the conversation not only within political structures, but with the people we represent about why women do not do as well as men in open selections and what is the experience of women who are in public life.

If party members are willing to have the conversation about selecting women over men in parliamentary selections, then there has to be a honest conversation about the criteria for constituencies having an all women’s shortlist imposed by HQ.  So, why have some winnable Labour seats not been women’s only shortlists but Cynon Valley is?  If party members are engaged in the decision to impose a women’s only shortlist and the decision is made consistently throughout all selections, we are on our way to developing a sound, well understood and supported system for increasing the number of women in politics.

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Siobhan Corria is a Labour Councillor for Llandaff North.

12 Responses to:“Why are all-women shortlists essential to increasing female representation in politics?”

  1. Barbara Jones says:

    Brilliant Siobhan, I couldn’t agree more, best wishes, Barbara

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  2. John R Walker says:

    Why is the IWA giving a platform to a supporter of gender discrimination?

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  3. Glen says:

    An all Welsh, working class short-list would make a refreshing change, but obviously that’s a step too far for Labours middle class, careerists.

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  4. R.Tredwyn says:

    The key sentence here is:” So, why have some winnable Labour seats not been women’s only shortlists but Cynon Valley is?” Cynon Valley has had a woman MP and a woman AM (the latter selected, I believe, from an all-women list) for many years. It has paid its dues to the worthy cause of gender equality. Surely if a certain number of constituencies are to be reserved for women, these should circulate and a restricted choice should not be imposed continually on the same constituencies.

    I have the impression that the gender bias in candidates in the Labour Party reflects the same gender bias in active members, in which case women have a partial solution in becoming active in greater numbers. However, that does not seem to be true for Conservatives where there is a higher proportion of women activists than women candidates. Are those perceptions accurate?

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  5. Gwyn says:

    The answer is very simple. Men and women are similar but different.

    Politics is about power which appeals to the masculine authoritarian mind. There are many men who are driven to control so push themselves forward. Fewer women seek to do this. However, much of the conduct of politics is very female in its social elements.

    It does perhaps say more about the attitudes within certain parties that women should do the tea and sandwiches and stay away from thinking. Women do think a different way from men. That does not make either better than the other but it should stimulate better analysis if the conclusions are different. However, we know what happens all too often.

    What really worries me is the growing concept that men will only vote for men, women for women, Asians for Asians, Africans for Africans and Europeans for Europeans. Constituencies may have to be redefined on ethnic grounds.

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  6. Mike says:

    I agree there is a woeful inequality in female representation,however it should also be pointed out that membership of political parties has dropped dramatically in the last 30 years, something that is article does not address. For example, what is the ratio in your average Welsh constituency? Is the ratio of women in Cynon than men? I agree there is injustice that needs to be addressed, however is is the lazy way, the wrong way, and perhaps the unjust way. Would it not be better for membership drives to be held to get more people engaged, in fact ordinary people. It bothers me that in Cardiff council there seems to be more folk who appear to work in the offices of local AMs and MPs, certainly more that it used to be. Grow your party, then educate them so that they will get involved.

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  7. Jack Rawls says:

    Glen is spot-on. But Labour think London first. They don’t see the Welsh element. However, as John R Walker rightly notes, they are comfortable with sexism. The anti-male bias is conspicuous. What an odd party they are; once you scratch the surface all manner of discrimination is exposed.

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  8. Anne Greagsby says:

    Labours Edwina Hart AM recently appointed the new south east Wales “city region” board which has 14 members and only TWO are women and there was no comment on that from Siobhan Corria who recently supported Phil Bale for leadership of Cardiff Council who has appointed a cabinet of 9 with just 3 women Siobhan lacks the support of other labour party women whose rule seems to be pull up the gangway and discriminate against other women. If labour are to have all woman short lists and greater equality then this should apply to all ‘winnable’ seats, positions and employment within the labour party.

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  9. Alun Williams says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful piece.
    ’The reason is that a diverse mix of politicians will create policy that is more reflective of our communities rather than if councils, the assembly and westminster are made up of white, middle class, middle age men.’

    We agree that a more diverse mix is required if our public representatives are to be more reflective and therefore more representative of their communities. However this does not only apply to gender – it applies to ethnic background, disability and social class. If we are genuinely seeking to be more representative then AWS is a poor tool. Has it improved the social mix or ethnic background or access for the disabled? I doubt it.

    ‘So, why have some winnable Labour seats not been women’s only shortlists but Cynon Valley is?  If party members are engaged in the decision to impose a women’s only shortlist and the decision is made consistently throughout all selections, we are on our way to developing a sound, well understood and supported system for increasing the number of women in politics.’

    Well not just some – the following seats have selected from open selections since 1997: CARDIFF WEST ; RHONDDA ; CAERPHILLY ; SWANSEA WEST ; ISLWYN; MERTHYR; WREXHAM; YNYS MON; BLAENAU GWENT; PONTYPRIDD; ALYN & DEESIDE; OGMORE; ABERAVON.
    So those of us in Cynon Valley are bound to ask why us and why now? And the party’s most recent decision to have an open selection in Aberavon while imposing an AWS on Cynon Valley leaves more than a bitter taste but a rather strong odour. No one has been able to offer any explanation or criteria which would justify an open selection where there has never been a Labour woman candidate for Parliament or Welsh Assembly and even replaced a longstanding male MP by another male MP as recently as 2001 and a male Assembly member by another in 2012!
    Cynon Valley Constituency Labour Party is reeling from the failure to be listened to and the inconsistency, intransigence and centralism of approach. There are those who believe that reliance on a system which would in any other area be unlawful is not just flawed but does not deal with the general failure to promote diversity in candidate selection. The Labour Party has said that it values the involvement of its grassroots members and yet in this procedure it is said there is not any right to appeal and even no right to a hearing by the committee that takes the decision.

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  10. John Winterson Richards says:

    The first thing any woman who thinks there should be more women in politics should do is put her own name forward. The basic problem with our public life today is that too few of the best women – and men – want to have anything to do with it. This leads to a vicious circle: the more high achievers see politics dominated by placemen – and placewomen – the less likely they are to want to get involved.

    Tokenism, of all sorts, makes this problem worse. It is an offence against the basic principle of democracy and also, incidentally, against the basic principles of feminism and equal rights. People should have the right to elect the candidate they feel will represent them best and candidates should be judged on merit, not group-membership.

    Apart from anything else, what woman of character could take satisfaction in office knowing that she had not earned it by beating the strongest competition available and that her right to be there was unproved? For the worst thing about such tokenism is that really strong women who have every right to office are tainted by association with so-called “Blair Babes” and “Cameron Cuties.” Surely such women should be entitled to enjoy what they achieve without wondering if everyone they meet is thinking “Is she just here to make up the numbers?”

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  11. jon owen jones says:

    Siobhan`s article ends in two open questions and it seems reasonable to suppose that she intends to imply criticism. Alun Williams makes clear where he thinks the process unfair and I suspect that Siobhan might agree.Unfortunately there is little tolerance for debate only taking sides.
    Whenever the Labour Party`s National Executive or its Welsh Executive have been given power to determine shortlists the expectation and justification is that they would do so in a fair and balanced fashion. Alun has been around long enough to know how much faith to place in that assumption. Comparisons with FIFA are over the top but you get my drift. Many examples come to mind but none more relevant to the Cynon Valley than deciding that Tyrone O ` Sullivan wasnt good enough to be an Assembly Member.

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  12. Jeff Jones says:

    A really radical party prepared to face the difficult challenges of a changing political world in the 21st century would go for the radical alternative. What is needed is a system of selecting candidates which will reconnect voters with politics. The last thing the Valleys also needs frankly is to be patronised for a start by nonsense about ‘ unconscious basis’. I’m surprised the author didn’t throw in that wonderful Marxist phrase ‘ false consciousness’ as well . If you want to radically change the type of individual selected by all parties to stand for elected office then the solution is the open primary. Instead of limiting the choice of potential candidate the Labour Party should be opening up selection to a wider selectorate. Who knows it might revitalise politics. It might even produce candidates who as Nye Bevan famously argued ‘In Place of Fear’ actually understand ‘the hopes and aspirations’ of those individuals they seek to represent in Parliament or the Assembly The Tories might now regret doing it in Totnes but it has produced in Sarah Woolaston one of the few really interesting MPs.

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