Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Monday, 8 February 2010

At Birmingham Fabians

I had the honour on Friday evening of visiting the Birmingham Fabians at the Birmingham & Midlands Institute to lead a discussion on women in politics and changing our politics to engage more with men and women. It was a fascinating debate, with almost thirty people present from across the West Midlands; from Hereford to Selly Oak to Edgbaston and beyond. It was a testament to the local Fabian group that they have managed to keep alive such a thriving spirit of exploratory discussion about politics, what it means in our lives, and what it can deliver for us. As well as a discussion about whether Labour does ‘Government’ but has not done enough ‘Politics’ over the last ten years, we covered why women, particularly younger women, are very much in a position of “don’t know” on political questions, why opinion is so divided on AWSs, why we should boycott the term ‘Blair Babes’, and why balanced political leadership is so vital for a thriving democracy. The issue of younger voters, particularly women, not feeling like they have a real opinion they feel confident about around the big political questions is a big reason to look for new ways to inform and educate, hence the importance of traditions like the local Fabian Societies. Yet ask them what they feel passionately about and most likely there will be a whole range of issues from the environment, to poverty, to international relations. The deeper point is not that women aren’t interested in politics, but that political systems have become disengaged from ordinary people’s lives and day to day activities. Movements like cooperative initiatives (and as if by magic, the Birmingham Coop movement was meeting in the room next door) and London Citizens are starting the fight back, reconnecting at a grassroots level to help give some anchoring and influence to life locally, countering the feeling of the distant state. Well done Rosa Birch for organising the evening, and inspiring so many new people from a wide range of life experiences for coming along.