Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Friday, 13 March 2009

The Day the Tories said Goodbye to the Women's Vote

(This blog was also posted on LabourList today)

The attacks on Harriet Harman at Business Questions were the most vicious and sexist I have heard for a long time. She was right to not dignify their questions with an answer.
It is beyond me why valuable time in Parliament, at a time of recession and a need for hope and confidence in our country, that the Tory frontbench finds it is more productive to talk about the shoes that women MPs are wearing.

If the Tories want to talk about their record on women in political life, then yes, let’s have that debate.

They talk about having had the first woman Prime Minister. So what was her record?
At which point did Margaret Thatcher have six or more women in her Cabinet, which we have seen almost consistently under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown? At which point, under and since Margaret Thatcher, did the Tories have the majority of women in the House of Commons? Currently women make up more than 50% of the population, but 19.4% of MPs. After the 2005 election, the Tories had 17 women MPs, and the Labour Party had 98. Even the Liberal Democrats are hot on their tails with 10 women MPs.
So maybe we should take a look at local councillors. At 2008, we had 30.8% of women councillors. 0.8% of councillors (149) are ethnic minority women. Of these 149 heroines of our nation, 20% are in the Tory councillors, and 64% are Labour councillors.

Perhaps we should move to the positive action measures the Tories have in place. The A list? Say no more.

No, yesterday was truly the day that Cameron’s Conservatives showed themselves to be what they really are – and how stuck in the past they are. And the point is that individual Tory women MPs may want to see things change, but they will never have the critical mass of numbers of women at the top in the Tory Party that research shows any organisation, public or private, needs in order to turn things around and shake up the deeper cultural issues that hold back progress.

The demonstration of the Tories at Business Questions of the kind of Yah Boo politics that turns women off politics. Their performance was about playing to their schoolboy chums on the back benches, not about playing a public role in the nation’s political life.
Politics should be about principles and about debate. Not a debate about women’s attire that would be more appropriate for the sort of debate Parliament might have expected 200 years ago. If there is such disrespect for women politicians on the side of the Tories, how can women ever expect that they will be defenders of their needs and rights in Parliament.

Yesterday was truly the day that the Tories said goodbye to women’s votes. Every woman (and principled man) should listen to the debate and spread the word