Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

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In an historic first today women MPs from 5 continents and 100 countries met in the Mother of Parliaments as we mark 100 years since the first women in this country won the right to stand for election to parliament.  

Women have fought their way into nearly every parliament in the world.  But we are not yet on equal terms with men in politics. Women MPs around the world want not only to be in parliament but to share power equally and to be able to make change for women in our countries.  As only relatively recent arrivals in politics women MPs are still pioneers in male-dominated parliaments.

We got together at this unique event to share our experience, our successes and setbacks. We determined to fight yet harder to get equality for women in our countries.  We made links so we can work together in the future. We strengthened our resolve to fight the backlash against women in public life and to get yet more women into parliaments, and shared experience of how to deliver for women in our countries, to end violence against women and girls, counter harassment and abuse, balance family and political responsibilities.   

Women in politics are a new force for change. Out of this conference comes a powerful global network of committed women who can work together for progress for each of our countries and all of our people. The sisterhood is global. 

This historic conference was co-hosted with the Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt MP, the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom MP, the Foreign Office, British Council, Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Wilton Park.

Prime Minister Theresa May hosted the conference opening reception in Downing Street last night. 

Follow on Twitter at: #WomenMPsoftheWorld

Harriet Harman speech to open the conference in the House of Commons Chamber:

I will start by introducing myself. Sorry for the layout of the House of Commons, which means that I have my back to so many of the sisters here. I am Harriet Harman. I have been a Member of Parliament since 1982, so for 36 years. [Applause.] I represent a constituency in south London, Camberwell and Peckham. I have three children and one grandchild. So that’s me.

I extend huge thanks to Penny Mordaunt, our Secretary of State for International Development and Minister for Women and Equalities, for the commitment that she and her Department have shown in bringing us all here together. Thank you so much, Penny. I also thank Andrea Leadsom, Leader of the House of Commons. We had to have a special vote in the House of Commons to allow you to come and sit here—[Applause.] Andrea, as Leader of the House of Commons, led on that. On behalf of all of us, I thank Theresa May, the Prime Minister, for the reception last night in Downing Street—[Applause.] It was a wonderful event.

I thank all of you for coming: a huge warm welcome to Westminster. As Penny said, these benches with all of you here look very different from how they normally look. It is a pleasure to see you. We have here women Members of Parliament from 100 different countries and from five continents. We are all from very different countries with very different backgrounds, but our goals are the same: we want nothing less than equality. We all share things in common. We are all pioneers. We have all made a lot of progress, but we are still women in politics trying to make progress in what is largely a man’s world. We also look after children and elderly relatives, and we break down barriers. 

When I was a girl I was brought up with the idea that the most important ambition was to get a good husband and, once I had achieved that lofty ambition, to be a good wife to that good husband. Daughters were in households where the father was the head of the household or wives’ husbands were the heads of the households. We have all said, “We don’t agree with that. We do not think women are inferior. We do not think women should be subordinate. We think women should be equal and we want an equal say in decision making. We are not happy with the idea that men make the decisions, but women abide by them.”

We have all made progress. When I was first a Member of Parliament in 1982, it was 3% women and 97% men and women’s voices were not heard. Democracy is about representation. It is not a proper democracy if women’s voices are not heard, so no one is doing us a favour by letting us into Parliament. We are a democratic imperative—[Applause.] We are necessary. Now we are 30% in the UK Parliament, but we are still outnumbered by men. I talked to many of you last night and none of us is happy just to get into Parliament. We want to be on equal terms with the men in Parliament. We are not happy with a situation where it is the men who get selected to sit on Committees; the men who get the resources; and the men who get to speak. We have to not only be in Parliament; we have to be there on equal terms. If you think about it, all those countries where there are more women going forward are the countries that are clearly looking to the future. Imagine a situation where all the governing people are men. That is like the past. That is backward. We women in politics are the future.

It is important for us to be in Parliament because we want to make progress for women in our countries. We want equality for women in our countries. Today I hope to hear about your ideas, what you have been doing and what has worked for you. We want to hear about your successes. What have been your setbacks? How have you overcome them?

I want to give one example of something that we have done here in the UK that has made a difference. We have always known that women at work are paid less than men. Let us be clear about this: that is not because men are cleverer than women or because men work harder than women. It is because of discrimination and inequality. We introduced a law—it came into effect in April this year—that every organisation has to publish their pay gap between men and women. Whether they are private companies or public organisations, every year they have to publish what they pay their men and what they pay their women, so that we can see the gap and can narrow it. It is no surprise to us that eight out of 10 employers pay their men more than they pay their women.

That is one thing that we have been doing, and we are obviously all trying to work hard to tackle the scourge of domestic violence. When we bring forward ideas, nobody says, “That’s a good idea. That’s challenging inequality. That’s an interesting policy. We’ll implement it.” No. We have to fight for it. Nobody says “Come into Parliament and exercise power on equal terms.” We have to fight for it. That is another thing that we have to have in common—we have to be resilient. Over the years, girls are encouraged to be emollient, accommodating and nice, but we have to be really tough. I always say that, if you are not having a row, you are probably not doing enough. To make progress for women, you have to be tough and persistent and press forward.

We also have to work very closely with women on the outside of our Parliaments. The women’s organisations outside our Parliaments are what sustain us in here and enable us to make progress. As Penny alluded to, we all face a backlash, because, deep down there, the attitude of some is: “Why are women out there speaking in public? Shouldn’t they be at home looking after their husband? Shouldn’t they be in the kitchen? Why are they in Parliament?” There is always a backlash of threats and verbal threats, but also abuse on social media and in the mainstream media as well.

I think it is important that we say to ourselves and to one another that that is not something that we should just expect, or that is normal or an occupational hazard. We should say that to attack us as individuals is not only wrong but an attack on democracy, because we are elected. Our voters have elected us, and they are entitled to our getting on with our job without let or hindrance and without looking over our shoulder. Sometimes, if we are threatened or attacked, we feel that we cannot speak out about it because we do not want to look weak or as though we are preoccupied with ourselves. However, we have to speak out about it, because they are attacks not only on us but on our democracy.

We have to challenge the backlash. Every time women make some steps forward, there are people trying to push us back, so we have to remain persistent. We have to work with women’s organisations outside and within our own political parties. However, we also have to work across parties. As women, if we work together across parties, we can make more progress than we can on our own. We also have to work with men who are prepared to support us. When I was first in the House of Commons, there were virtually no men who supported women’s equality. However, there are now men who understand the importance of women’s equality and who are prepared to support that agenda. When I say support, I mean support—not lead, but support the agenda—[Applause.] We have to be the leadership, and they can support us. There has always been the idea that it is natural for a woman to be deputy to a male leader. We need to engender a culture among men that it is positive and progressive not necessarily to stand forward as leaders themselves, but to support a woman leader. That will take some work, I think—[Applause.]

I hope everybody has a productive day today. I am eager to hear from all of you about your experience. What I would like to see—this echoes what Penny has said—is ongoing discussions among us all. We all see the pictures of men at the global summits. Imagine the pictures from a normal global summit. It is all men. The international network of men is well-established. We need to establish that international global network of women parliamentarians to work together. I hope we will be able to do that after this conference. I hope that we will have this conference somewhere in the world every year—[Applause.] Who would think about hosting it next year? We will not finish the job today. We will make good progress today, but we need to make progress year on year. Thank you so much for joining us. The sisterhood is global. Thank you—[Applause.]

Watch all of the speeches by the women MPs in the Chamber:

Session 1 - Women in Parliament: Celebrating progress, shaping the future: https://we.tl/t-JJLyM1AXmD

Session 2 - Policy focus - how women in parliaments shape the political agenda to tackle inequality: https://we.tl/t-yvQT7BXQSe

Session 3 - Changing the future for women in parliaments - commitments and actions: https://we.tl/t-WsfUhlV9Om

Women MPs of the World Conference - House of Commons 2018

In an historic first today women MPs from 5 continents and 100 countries met in the Mother of Parliaments as we mark 100 years since the first women in this...


Today I joined with the Speaker and Lord Speaker at an act of remembrance in Westminster Hall to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War to remember the Parliamentarians and House staff who died.

The act of remembrance was led by the Speaker’s Chaplin Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin.

Wreaths were laid at the War Memorial in Westminster Hall and after the service I signed the book of remembrance.

Commemorating the centenary of the end of the First World War at the House of Commons

Today I joined with the Speaker and Lord Speaker at an act of remembrance in Westminster Hall to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War to...


On Thursday 8th November Parliament will be holding the first ever Women MPs of the World Conference in the Chamber of the House of Commons, attended by UK women MPs and women MPs from every parliament in the world, as part of our events to mark 100 years since the first women in this country won the right to stand for election.

Women have fought their way into nearly every parliament in the world.  But it’s not enough for us just to be there, we want to exercise power on equal terms with men in parliament and make a real difference for women in our countries.  As only relatively recent arrivals, women MPs are still pioneers in male dominated parliaments.

It’s always hard to make change if you are just a small minority.

At this historic conference we will get together to share our experience, our successes and setbacks. We’ll determine to fight yet harder to get equality for women in our countries.  We’ll make links so we can work together in the future. We’ll strengthen our resolve to fight the backlash against women in public life and to get yet more women into parliaments. 

The women MPs of the world will be bringing all their ideas and experience to London to share with us and each other. Imagine how it will look when the green benches of our House of Commons are crammed with women from over 100 countries from Sierra Leone, to Nigeria, Pakistan, Kenya, Indonesia, Colombia and New Zealand - all looking very different from how our Commons usually looks.

UK speakers include Secretary of State for International Development and Women and Equalities Minister, Penny Mordaunt MP, Leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom MP and shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott MP. International speakers include the first woman speaker of the Bangladeshi parliament, Shireen Sharmeen Chaudhury; German Children and Families Minister, Anne Spiegel and the Colombian vice-president, Marta Lucía Ramirez.

I will be eager to hear what they are doing in their countries as they push forward for women.  Many of them are drawing up new rules to deal with sexual harassment in parliament.  In India they are using a Girls’ Parliament to ensure girls get the idea that politics is for women too.  The Girls’ Parliament is elected and has its own PM and cabinet!  This is a brilliant idea and I’m going to propose to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women in Parliament that we set one up in the UK!  One of the issues we’ll be discussing at our conference will be how we get more women elected as MPs.  

Our countries are very different but as women parliamentarians our goals are the same.  We want equality for women and nothing less.  The sisterhood is global and this will be a historic event.  

Members of the public and community organisations are being invited to the public gallery to watch the debates.  So put the date in your diary..!

Follow the # to find out more!  -  #WomenMPsoftheWorld   

House of Commons to hold first ever meeting of women MPs from every parliament in the world

On Thursday 8th November Parliament will be holding the first ever Women MPs of the World Conference in the Chamber of the House of Commons, attended by UK women MPs...


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I’m delighted to have been invited to give this lecture. It is a real honour. In the day to day hurley burley of Westminster and constituency life it’s good to be asked to do a “lecture” as it makes you step back and think longer term, backwards and forwards. And that’s what I’ve done, thinking about the massive progress women have made in British politics, how on earth we managed to do that, but also to face up to how far we still are from equality and what we have to do to get there.  

The past 100 years have seen nothing less than a transformation in our legal rights, in our role in the home and the family, our involvement in the world of work and our participation in politics. It’s been a social, economic, political and personal revolution. So, first, a massive pat on the back for women. This didn’t just come down with the rainfall. But this wasn’t a natural process of evolution. We had to fight for it. So, first, a massive pat on the back for us as women.

We have gone from a situation where a woman was defined solely by her marital status in a household headed by a man - either the daughter in her father’s household, the wife in her husband’s household or, perish the thought, a spinster.

For the married woman, her primary role would be in the home, supporting him and in particular caring for children and older relatives. Many women did work outside the home but their employment was regarded as for “pin money”. Most professions were barred to women and though women were allowed to stand for parliament the percentage of women MPs remained stuck at 3%. Women were wholly absent from the public policy decisions which affected their lives.

We are now in a situation where women, and most men, believe that women are equal with men, not inferior or subordinate to them, that marriage should be a partnership of equals, that women should be treated equally at work and should have an equal say in decision-making.

But just because there’s broad agreement now on the principle of women’s entitlement to equality, that shouldn’t blind us to the fact that this progress did not happen by amiable agreement. Far from it. It came from a hard fight over decades by women working together in the Women’s Movement which gathered force in the 1960’s, 70s and 80s. Those women who fought against oppressive laws and attitudes of men, against patriarchy and male violence and for equality at work were not listened to by a respectful and responsible establishment. Far from it. Obstacles were thrown in their path. They were vilified as subversive, dangerous or, worst of all, unnatural.

Women arguing for childcare were “harming children” by encouraging their mothers to go out to work. Women setting up refuges for women fleeing domestic violence were “undermining the family”, fermenting the notion that a woman could leave her husband. Women arguing for equal pay were “undermining men at work” by challenging the notion that he, as the breadwinner, was entitled to the “family wage”. So while we should be gratified by how far we’ve come, we should never be grateful. It was a fight. And we were only ever fighting for what should always have been ours - our right to equality.

We have learnt many lessons from this decades long fight.

*Change is possible.

*it needs resilience and persistence.

*Change is never accepted with equanimity by those who hold power.

*There will be backlash which is often very personal and threatening in nature.

*It is not possible to make change as a woman acting alone. It is the solidarity of women working together which has forced progress.

*Women have not progressed by having a few inspirational leaders but by working together.

*Change, no matter how well argued for and justified takes years to achieve.

*Don't stand around waiting to be popular. Women who propose change will be criticised as awkward, aggressive and abnormal.

*But women sticking their neck out for change will always have the support of millions of women who, like them, rail against unfairness and face discrimination in their own lives.

Now, not only have attitudes changed but there are women working and making progress in every field of endeavour. Women in engineering, in law, on the shop floor and in the board room. Women in the arts and the sciences. Women are now 32% of MPs. But though women have pushed their way into what were hitherto men only spheres, we are as yet not on equal terms. We’re there - but we’re still in a minority and that needs to change as numbers matter.

Though gratified by how far we have progressed we should be realistic about how much more still needs to change before equality becomes a reality. And we should never be diverted. First it was “don't rock the boat”, then “you’re right, you’ve won, you’ve made so much progress so you need to stop going on about it now”. Then “women have made so much progress it’s now elitist to go on about women. You should be tackling inequality on class/race/disability.”

And ultimately women will stop campaigning for equality and demanding change. But not until the job’s done! And that is not yet.

Tough action to tackle pay gap

Women are still discriminated against in terms of pay. We need further progress on that. When the gender pay gap reporting provisions of the Equality Act 2010 came into effect in April this year no one could carry on denying the extent to which women remain unequal in the world of work. It was clear that 8 out of 10 employers still pay their men more than their women. That this is the case in all sectors including those such as retail which would not exist without women’s work. It is the case in trade unions the organisations who are pledged to fight for equality for their women members still do not pay their own staff equally. Unite, our biggest union pays their men employees 30% more than their women and the teachers union, NASUWT pays their men 40% more than their women. The situation is even starker when it comes to the payment of bonuses. In Facebook UK the men get bonuses which are 60% higher than the women.

It is vital that now, workplace by workplace the pay gap is now exposed. The pay transparency provisions were designed to do 4 things

*empower women employees

*galvanise managers

*spur trade unions

*and arm government

Most women always knew that pay’s unequal but if they raise it were fobbed off, told they’re imagining it or - worse still - labelled a trouble-maker. By exposing the facts in each workplace women are empowered to demand change. It robs employers of the ability to block change by denying the existence of the pay gap. It strips away the secrecy on which discrimination thrives. Women employees will be able to see if their managers are, year on year, making progress to tackle the pay gap and at what rate. They will be able to compare their own organisation’s progress year on year and compare it with other similar employers.  

Managers who want to make progress on the pay gap now have the measurements. They can set targets and judge - and pay - managers based on the progress they make in narrowing the gap. The CBI supports equal pay. They should be actively following that up.

The unions back equal pay. And tackling unequal pay is a way of tackling low pay since women are the majority of the low paid. Now with the extent of the pay gap laid bare Trade Unions need to push it right up the pay bargaining agenda, negotiating targets and holding employers to account. And at the same time they must urgently address their own pay gaps.

But it’s not just for women, management and unions - it’s also for government. It has been a public policy objective for successive governments to narrow the pay gap and now government can see its extent there’s no excuses. They should set targets for each government department. And across the public sector. Levelling up costs. But austerity is over so they should get on with it now.

They should gear up the machinery to tackle it in the private sector. So, I’d want to see the Equality and Human Rights Commission crawl all over the pay gap information - the government would need to reverse the cuts they’ve imposed on the EHRC and give them more resources, The EHRC should set targets for progress for different sectors, for different organisations. I’d want to see the government give the EHRC clear new powers to levy fines if those targets are not met. It was never going to be good enough for the government to show women the extent to which they are underpaid - they need to do something about it.

A percentage of GNI for refuges - like international development

We need further progress on tackling domestic violence - which is underlined by the excellent report of the Home Affairs Select Committee - and in particular the scourge of domestic homicide. There has, rightly, been a big focus - not least in my own constituency of Camberwell and Peckham - on the lives of young men lost to gang violence. In London out of the 101 homicides this year, 22 were gang-related and 21 were linked to domestic abuse. The spotlight is rightly shone on gang violence but the loss of women’s lives at the hands of the men they live with is not remarked on. As if it’s just something that has always happened and will keep on happening. But it isn’t. We need a major drive on prevention. Domestic homicide rarely happens out of the blue. Public services and agencies need the focus and resources to respond to the warning signs.

And we need properly funded refuge provision. Funding of domestic violence refuges is precarious. It’s a fiercely independent sector - and rightly so. That doesn’t mean it should struggle for funds. But it always has done. Even when we were in government and there was much more funding in the system - for councils, for voluntary organisations as well as in benefits and central government programmes - refuges still lived from hand to mouth, never able to plan beyond the next year. We’ve got a Domestic Abuse Bill coming up. We should do for refuges what we’ve done for international development and in that bill set a legal obligation on the government to spend a % of GNI every year on refuges. It would be a drop in the ocean of the public finances but stability for a vital service.

More women MPs and on equal terms with men

We need to ensure that women are not only in parliament in equal numbers but that we are, as MPs, sharing power on equal terms. We need that to be able to deliver the progressive change that women in our country needs.

At the outset of the women’s movement, the push to increase the number of women MPs was predominately a left of centre political endeavour. As feminists, we made our political home in the Labour Party, which we saw as the party of women and equality. And indeed when it came to 1997 our policy of women-only shortlists for selection in constituencies which we expected to win delivered over 100 Labour women MPs and changed not only the face of parliament but also what was seen as the political agenda. So demands for childcare and for the tackling of domestic violence advanced onto the political agenda but they are still not mainstream.

As we press for further progress and draw on our experience, we recognise that new times bring new issues and offer new opportunities but also bring new challenges.

Protecting our democracy from attacks on women MPs

In the age of the internet, social media offers great opportunities for women to campaign together. A woman at home with a baby can talk to women all around the country. Women assaulted in the film industry in the USA can mobilise support from women all around the world. But social media is also a new vehicle for misogynists organising against women, intent on threatening and abusing women who have the temerity to venture into public life.

In the past when we were subjected to threats, we were reluctant to complain. We were trying to prove that women could be in politics and feared that if we complained we’d be seen as weak, only concerned about ourselves, not about our constituents. And anyway we had no confidence that our concerns would be taken seriously.

But threats to women MPs are not because we are weak and they are not just unwarranted attacks on individuals. Nor are they an expression of free speech. They are an attack on our democracy. Voters are entitled to elect whoever they want. Once that person has been elected they should be able to get on with their job without let our hindrance.

I think there is still a reluctance among MPs (men as well as women) to reveal the full extent of the abuse and threats they - and their family - are subjected to. I think it’s even more prevalent than we realise. I think this is the sort of thing which could best be addressed by a Speaker’s Conference to consider how we draw the line against harassment of our political representatives and protect our democracy.

New opportunities for cross-party working

Women’s engagement in Parliament has had two phases so far and I think we’re on to our third. First a handful of Labour women sustained by women outside parliament. Second, a critical mass of Labour women in parliament working together. And the question is whether we can now make progress with the third phase - women in parliament working across party.

In the 1980’s, when I was first an MP one of only 10 Labour women (in total there were 22 women) there just weren’t enough of us to make an impact just working together. As a feminist I couldn’t have survived in the hostile male-dominated world of Westminster without the explicit and vocal support of the Women’s Movement backing campaigns for childcare, against domestic violence and for more women in parliament. Then, after the huge leap forward from the All-Women Shortlists with over 100 Labour women we were able to be a critical mass, a real force for change in parliament. But there was not a body of feminists on the Tory side for us to work with. For a start, there were hardly any women on the Tory side, and those who were there were certainly not feminist. I was used to being in combat with Tory women and certainly not in collaboration with them.

But there’s been a big change. The success of feminist ideas has meant that there are now not only more women on the Tory benches but that many of them are avowed feminists. They have been brought up by women who espoused the notion of equality for women. Many of them are what I describe as the “daughters of the women’s movement”.

And the 2015 election brought in 20 SNP women. They were doctors, lawyers, journalists and with many of them being new to politics had less instinctive acceptance of the traditional divisions between parties in the Commons. And they are feminists. From Wales, we see Liz Saville Roberts and from the Greens we have Caroline Lucas. From Northern Ireland we have Emma Little- Pengelly and Sylvia Hermon.

The big question is, now that we are here, in numbers, on all sides and with a common philosophy can we notwithstanding our party loyalties and division between the parties, work across parties on issues of concern to women. I’m confident that we can. I’ve already experienced this first hand working with Maria Miller, Jo Swinson and Hannah Bardell to get maternity leave for women MPs. Collaborative cross-party working between women is cemented under Maria’s leadership on the cross party Select Committee on Women and Equality.

We have already seen it on the work that Stella Creasy has led on extending abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland. Maria and Andrea Leadsom are working with Valerie Vaz, Dawn Butler and Jess Phillips to rid parliament of sexual harassment.

As “Mother of the House”, I’m working seamlessly with Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt on our conference which will bring women MPs from 100 parliaments together in Westminster. If you’d have told me even 10 years ago that I’d have women allies in the SNP, the DUP, in the deputy leader of the Libdems and in the Tory Cabinet I’d wouldn’t have believed it. But that is now the case and in a parliament where loyalty within parties is now unprecedentedly fragmented, the 209 women in parliament have the potential - where we can identify issues of common concern - to work together as a truly coherent force to push further change for women.

But as we forge new cross-party alliances, we can’t forget about the progress we still need to make in our own parties. Though now 45% of Labour’s MPs and half our shadow cabinet are women, we can’t rest on our laurels. We still have male dominance in the leadership of the Labour Party. We have a male leader and deputy and men lead the party in Wales and in Scotland. We have never had a woman Labour Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister. That is an embarrassment for a party which espouses equality - particularly when the Conservative party have managed not just one but 2 women leaders and Prime Ministers. The next leader of the Labour Party simply must be a woman and there are many brilliant and committed women in parliament for the party to choose from. There are many brilliant and committed men in the PLP too - and one of them can be deputy.

New allies for women in parliament - men MPs

There is new opportunity in the changing attitudes of men. The attitude that women should be subordinate to men and should stay at home to look after the children is, mercifully, far less prevalent. We have a new generation of men who have been brought up by mothers who believe in women’s equality, mothers who have gone out to work. These men are “sons of the women’s movement” who, in turn, support their wives as they go out to work and believe they should play an equal part in the home. We now have that generation of “sons of the women’s movement” in parliament and we see, for the first time a cohort of men MPs for whom it is second nature to back up and speak up on causes led by women.

The global sisterhood

The women’s movement has always been internationalist in outlook and we are in solidarity with our sisters around the world who have the same commitment to equality, who face the same obstacles as us and often many more. We must strengthen those links and that solidarity as we all make progress.

And that, with the support of Mr Speaker, and Penny Mordant and Andrea Leadsom, is exactly what we will be doing next month in the House of Commons Chamber. Women have fought their way into nearly every parliament in the world. But even when they get there they are still pioneers in a man’s world. And they’re not satisfied just to get in, they want to exercise power on equal terms with men. On 8th next month we will have women MPs from over 100 parliaments round the world coming to meet in our Commons chamber. We’re all trying to work out what’s the best way to tackle domestic violence and unequal pay. We’re all trying to work out how to deal with sexual harassment outside and inside politics. And how you sort things to ensure women MPs who are pregnant can still cast their vote in parliament. And we’ll admire each other and learn from each other and form bonds to work together in the future.   And think how amazing the green benches of the Commons will look when instead of men in grey suits its women from all over the world.


As we mark the centenary of the first British women winning the right to vote and stand for parliament, we still face many of the old battles and also some new ones. But

*we are emboldened by the progress we have already made.  

*We have new allies and opportunities.  

*We have new global networks.

The women’s movement has been one of the most successful movements for change in modern times. We have won the battle of ideas. Now we must win the battle for the reality of the change.

Speaker's Lecture Series 2018 - Women in British Politics - Where Next?

***Check against delivery*** I’m delighted to have been invited to give this lecture. It is a real honour. In the day to day hurley burley of Westminster and constituency life...


Monthly report - September/October 2018

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Great turnout for the borough-wide, all women campaign session in Rye Lane today. Thanks to Cllr Jasmine Ali for organising and to all Cllrs and members who came out to talk to local people about the issues affecting them. 

Rye Lane Campaining

Great turnout for the borough-wide, all women campaign session in Rye Lane today. Thanks to Cllr Jasmine Ali for organising and to all Cllrs and members who came out to talk to local...


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Thank you very much for inviting me to deliver the Crosland Lecture. It is a great honour.

And it’s a real pleasure to be here with Mel Onn, my colleague and your MP. And to accept her invitation on your behalf to deliver this lecture.

I remember when I met Mel as your candidate, in the General Election campaign in 2015.

Austin Mitchel, who won the seat for Labour after the untimely death of Anthony Crosland in 1977, had been a huge figure all my decades in the PLP and was so identified as Grimsby MP. As a young woman, and a lone parent, Mel, born and raised in Grimsby, seemed such a contrast to Austin. Grimsby had changed massively in the decades since Austin became your MP. And now there was to be a big change in the MP. And it was a tough campaign. We’d hoped to get into government...but it turned out our backs were against the wall. And we were far from confident of winning here in Grimsby.

But as we went out and about chatting to people in Grimsby it was evident how completely confident she was of her Labour values and how direct she was with the people we met. She had a natural air of authority.

Since then, in parliament, Mel has become one of our bright hopes for the future - now being shadow minister in the Housing team an issue which is going up the agenda of concern here in Grimsby and something for which she has a deep personal understanding, having been brought up on housing estates and experienced homelessness as a teenager.

Our Labour Party, and our democracy is all the better for the arrival in parliament of Mel and alongside her, the new cohort of young women. They are forthright, admirably resilient. They expect to be on an equal footing irrespective of their gender. They do not expect to defer to anyone or anyone. They don’t expect to apologise for being young, for being a woman, for being a mother. Nor should they.

We just need to be in government so that Mel can speak from a position of power not from opposition. And one of the driving reasons why we need to be in government is the scourge of inequality. When you mention inequality everyone agrees that it’s a bad thing. For most of us the main reason we are in the Labour Party is because we detest inequality and see Labour as the way to fight it. But though we all agree that it is a scourge - it’s worth spelling out why, why progress to tackle it has been uneven and what we still need to do about it.  

Inequality is a breach of human rights

Every young person is entitled to fulfil their potential, to follow their chosen path as best they can, to have a decent life. The fact that it is harder for that to be the case for a young person from a low income background and easier from a young person from a wealthy family is anathema to the Labour Party. It makes us fume with indignation and burn with resentment against the injustice to any and every child who suffers from inequality. The opportunities for a young person should not be greater for someone from a wealthy family and fewer for a young person from a low income family. Being born in London should not be a social or economic advantage compared to being born in the North. Inequality is a breach of an individual’s human rights

The individual needs the state to create a level playing field

It baffles me that the Tories are regarded as standing up for the individual against the state when in fact it is the state that needs to act to ensure inequality does not blight the lives of individuals. The state does not hold back individuals, state action is necessary to hold back the inequality which blights the lives of so many.

So it should go without saying that inequality is bad for the individual if you, as that individual are restricted in your life chances because of the family or region you are born into. And you need more of the state, not less.

Inequality can take many forms: no hierarchy of inequality

Inequality can take many forms. It can be because you are black or Asian, or because you are a woman, or because you are gay, or disabled or old. Inequality is bad whatever it is rooted in. No-one should be discriminated against because of their gender, or subjected to homophobia or racism or written off because they are past 60. That is poisonous stigma based on prejudice that sees only the category and not the individual for what they are. And there should be no hierarchy of inequalities. It is not worse to be discriminated against if you are black than if you are a woman. It’s not better to be stigmatised because you are disabled than if you are gay. Whether what is the basis for your being oppressed its wrong. And anyone who fights against any inequality is doing something important. So I firmly resist the “what about” tendency that says well, you might be fighting against gender inequality but “what about class”. Or you might be fighting against class inequality “but what about racism”. Whatever discrimination the struggle is against it is combatting discrimination and inequality and I applaud it. All those who are fighting for equality should respect and support each other, working on the different front-lines of inequality. The solutions to different strands of inequality are different. The policy that will liberate a white lone parent - like childcare - will not help in the fight against racism. But it’s worth striving for. Fighting against racism will not of itself liberate women - of any ethnicity - but it’s still worth doing. There are plenty of oppressors so we need to turn our fire on them - not on each other. It is pointless and a distraction to compete about which sort of inequality is the worst - when it’s all bad and there’s plenty of it.

Inequality is bad for the economy

Inequality is bad for the economy. Structural inequality is the opposite of meritocracy. Where there is opportunity for enterprising people with initiative to set up their own businesses, the economy thrives. When companies have a talent pool to draw on their business grows and so does the economy. Inequality holds back and economy. The economy loses out if business overlook people because of their ethnic background. Half the talent of the country is wasted by discrimination against women. Think of all the scientists, artists, engineers, entrepreneurs whose contribution has been lost to this country because they are women. Now, this is widely recognised in international development - that discrimination against women holds back the economy. But somehow it seems to be easier for some people to recognise the truth of this abroad than to act on it at home.

Inequality is bad for society

Societies which are more equal are more harmonious, less conflicted, more at ease with themselves. That seems obvious. We instinctively draw back with unease when we see gated communities - people having to lock themselves away for fear of those who live beside them. But greater equality also means better health for all - and not just for those on lower incomes. The figures show clearly that more equal societies are healthier. So tackling inequality ought to be seen as part of any public health strategy.  

Equality is the foundation of our democracy

Strangely, for a society which remains so unequal, equality is the principle on which our democracy is founded. That each person has just one vote - that the vote of a millionaire is no more important than the vote of someone who’s unemployed. And we want the government to be based on the will of the people, not on the influence of money so we have laws (often put under considerable strain) to regulate election spending to try and prevent money trumping our democracy. And we look across to the USA with horror about the extent of the influence on politics of big business and wealthy lobbies - such as the National Rifle Association.

The struggle for equality

But though it seems to us self-evident that equality is a good thing and inequality is a bad thing, making society more equal is a struggle. No-one says “oh thank you for pointing out about sex discrimination. We’ll stop it right now and put women on an equal footing”. Far from it. Racial inequality has been documented for years. But it is still prevalent. Charting and exposing inequality is necessary but it doesn’t, of itself, stop it. Winning the arguments for equality doesn’t mean it happens. Entrenched privilege is hard to shift. Those who have a vested interest in the status quo are not quick to give up their privilege. It’s not called the struggle for nothing. And if we want change, that’s what we have to do. Not only did we have to struggle to get into government - and that took us 18 long years from 1979 t0 1997, but I had to struggle to implement policies to tackle inequality even when we were in government.

The pattern of inequality in the UK

When we got into government in 1997 we embarked on programmes to tackle deprivation and poverty. We tackled pensioner poverty - which was the biggest group of those in poverty. We set targets for tackling child poverty and put it into law. We put resources into tackling in-work poverty though the tax credit system. We introduced a National Minimum Wage. We began the work which would start to halt the growing gap between rich and poor as well as programmes to tackle discrimination against women, minority ethnic communities, the disabled, the elderly and on the grounds of sexual orientation.

To take things further our 2005 manifesto promised to bring in a new Equality Act. When I was elected Deputy Labour Leader in 2007 Gordon Brown appointed me Minister for Women and Equality. I thought it was essential to include inequality on the basis of social class in the new Act - and to that I had to press on past those who said it was not in my remit and that I should stick to gender, race, disability etc.

To lay the basis for action on class in the Equality Act, I pressed for a Royal Commission on the Distribution of Income and Wealth - like the Royal Commission which was set up in 1974 under the Labour government of Harold Wilson. It produced 5 reports between 1974 and 1979 but - unsurprisingly - one of the first things the Tories did when they got into government was to abolish it!

Despite my best efforts, I didn’t succeed in getting agreement to a Royal Commission. Some of my colleagues in government feared that as we had been in power for 10 years a Commission might show us in a bad light, might show that inequality was still prevalent - which of course it was. My argument that we had made progress but we needed to show the extent to which further progress needed to be made, and embark on it, did not win out. But I fought on and did ultimately in 2008 get agreement to establish a more modest version - a National Equality Panel - chaired by the highly respected academic, John Hills of the LSE. The panel’s findings were striking:

  • That before Labour got into government in 1997 the gap between the top and the bottom was growing
  • That when we got in we succeeded in halting that gap growing
  • But more needed to be done if we were to begin to narrow the gap
  • That - and this is obvious if you think about it - the bigger the gap between the top and the bottom, the wider the gap between the rungs of the ladder, the harder it is to climb up that ladder. So a more equal society is more meritocratic and allows for upward social mobility in a way that a very unequal society doesn’t.
  • That class trumps ability and by the age of 7 the bright working class child is overtaken by the less able middle class child.

Clause 1 Equality Act

So, armed with the findings of the National Equality Panel that more needed to be done and by government, we drafted, as the first clause of the Equality Act a new law to propel action against socio economic inequality - inequality rooted in class background. What Clause One says is that every public authority must, in every decision they make, consider whether it would widen or narrow the gap and take action to narrow the gap. It was to apply to every government department, every council, every university, and all our health and education services. What it would have done is put at the heart of all the actions of every part of the public sector the drive to end class inequality. It would have made the Treasury be clear about how each budget was contributing to narrowing the gap. It would make the Transport Department ensure that transport infrastructure narrowed the equality gap. It would stop the Department of Communities and Local Government cutting funds to councils in deprived areas while sparing councils in wealthy parts. It would have made all decisions by every Council, whether on housing, planning, or children’s services, part of a huge drive to make the public sector an engine to tackle class inequality. It would narrow that egregious gap between rich and poor and between richer and poorer regions. But we lost the election in 2010 and again, predictably, one of the first things David Cameron did was to say that he would not bring Clause One into force. So it’s there, on the statute book, but not implemented. 

Implement Clause 1 - My challenge to the Prime Minister

Theresa May, in her first speech as Prime Minister on the steps of Downing Street, spoke of how she was determined to tackle what she called the burning injustice

"that if you’re born poor you will die, on average, nine years earlier than others......If you’re a white, working class boy, you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.

"If you’re at a state school, you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.”

She’s right on that. The fact that by the age of 7, children with a higher social class background but low assessed ability overtake those from a lower social class background who were initially assessed as having high ability is nothing if not a burning injustice!

But under her government it’s getting worse. And, as has always happened with a Tory government, the possibility of those born at the bottom to rise up the ladder is becomes more remote. The chance of the bright working class 7 year old to achieve their potential diminishes, while the not so bright middle class child forges ahead. That is downright unfairness and the very opposite of a meritocracy.

So my challenge to the Prime Minister is, if you mean what you say about tackling those burning injustices, if you are genuine in wanting to tackle lack of social mobility then implement Clause One. It’s no good saying that you want to tackle inequality and while leaving Clause One lying dormant. The Scottish government have implemented it. It came into force there in April this year. In Wales, they’ve already done something similar, placing a legal duty on public bodies to set out annually how they are progressing in terms of achieving equality and are considering whether they need to go further and fully implement Clause One.    

Class inequality cuts deep scars across England. Clause One has been consulted on and legislated. Model guidance of how to implement it has been drafted and consulted on. David Cameron chose not to implement it - but now Theresa May is prime minister and unless she implements it, it will be evident that her concern for those “burning injustices” are just crocodile tears.

The next Labour government

To make any real progress in tackling burning injustices rather than seeing them grow worse, we need a Labour government which will once again embark on the quest for equality. The agenda for tackling inequality is the essence of our Labour values across the piece, whether it’s

  • strengthening and supporting trade unions to empower people in their workplaces
  • tackling the exploitation of zero hours contracts and the gig economy
  • universal free childcare to liberate parents from the expense and worry of juggling home and work
  • a muscular regional strategy. Resentment in regions which felt left out of a London-centric economy and politics lay behind the views of many who told me they were going to vote Leave
  • requiring Universities to take bright children from state school and end the imbalance highlighted by MP David Lammy
  • ensuring the Equality and Human Rights Commission have the money and powers they need to be rigorous enforcers of the equality agenda.
  • playing, though our international development agenda, a major part in the fight against global inequality.

These are policies driven by a moral purpose but they also take us forward in the direction of a modern dynamic economy and harmonious communities. And whether up here in Grimsby or down south in my constituency of Camberwell and Peckham, they are at the very heart of Labour’s DNA.

The Battle Against Inequality - The Anthony Crosland Memorial Lecture 2018, Grimsby

**Check against delivery** Thank you very much for inviting me to deliver the Crosland Lecture. It is a great honour. And it’s a real pleasure to be here with Mel...


Monthly Report - August/September 2018

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To mark the 100th anniversary of the first women in this country winning the right to stand for election to parliament, we will be holding the first ever women MPs of the world conference on Thursday 8th November.  And MPs have agreed that it will be held in the historic chamber of the House of Commons.  

Women have fought their way into parliaments in nearly every country in the world.  But we are still only relatively recent arrivals on the political scene, still pioneers in male dominated parliaments.  We are all pushing for the same things and facing the same obstacles.  Women are now in parliaments but are not yet on equal terms with men.  Women MPs around the world want not only to be in parliaments but also to be able to share power equally and to be strong enough to make a real difference for women in our countries.  It’s not good enough to be in Parliament.  It’s very much what you do which counts.

So at our conference we’ll be discussing policy ideas for helping women and girls.  I’ll be telling them about our new laws to make organisations publish their equal pay gap every year.  We’ll be discussing how we make sure that women MPs are as powerful as men and how we change our rules to reflect that women are in our parliaments too.  I’ll be telling them about how we’re introducing a system of proxy voting for MPs who go on maternity leave.  And we’ll be discussing the backlash that faces us.  Challenging the idea that we must just expect to get death threats and that we should be awash with insults and abuse on social media.

I will be eager to hear what they are doing in their countries as they push forward for women.  Many of them are drawing up new rules to deal with sexual harassment in parliament.  In India they are using a Girls’ Parliament to ensure girls get the idea that politics is for women too.  The Girls’ Parliament is elected and has its own PM and cabinet!  This is a brilliant idea and I’m going to propose to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Women in Parliament that we set one up in the UK!  One of the issues we’ll be discussing at our conference will be how we increase the number of women MPs.  It’s always hard to make change if you are just a small minority.

The women MPs of the world will be bringing all their ideas and experience to London to share with us and each other. Imagine how it will look when the green benches of our House of Commons is crammed with women from over 100 countries from Sierra Leone, to Nigeria, Pakistan, Kenya, Japan, Peru, Australia and the USA - all looking very different from how our Commons usually looks. 

The visual impact alone will be stunning and the images will race around the world.

And it will show that as we celebrate the progress towards equality made by women in the UK, we recognise that women are striving for the same progress in every country in the world - and we support them.

We want to make lasting connections.  So we will use the conference to initiate an online forum of women MPs so the discussion kickstarted in Westminster can continue.

This historic conference is backed by the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom MP, the Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt MP, the Foreign Office, British Council, Westminster Foundation for Democracy and Wilton Park. Speakers include shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott MP and shadow equalities secretary, Dawn Butler MP. And Prime Minister Theresa May has been invited to participate.

The sisterhood is now global. Already as word about the conference spreads, the Japanese House of Representatives has been in touch to share ideas on how we can make it easier for MPs who have had a baby or adopted a child to carry out their duty to vote on behalf of constituents in parliament.   We have so much to learn from women MPs in other parliaments.  And they have much to learn from us and from each other. This promises to be an historic event. The public gallery will be opened up to the public and community organisations to watch the debates.  So put that date in your diary..

Tweet us & find out more at #WomenMPs🌍  #WomenMPsoftheWorld  @HarrietHarman

This article originally appeared in Southwark News, 20th September 2018

UK Parliament to hold first ever Women MPs of the World Conference

To mark the 100th anniversary of the first women in this country winning the right to stand for election to parliament, we will be holding the first ever women MPs...

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