Harriet Harman

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

Women's Conference - Manchester - 20/09/2014

Harriet Harman
September 20th 2014


It’s often a cliché to say we meet in historic times.  But at this moment that is exactly what it is. 
We've had the historic vote in Scotland to stop the UK breaking up and
next May we've got the chance to make history by making this just a one term coalition and getting Labour back into government


Thanks Gloria - congratulations on taking over as Shadow Equality Minister following the trail blazed by Yvette.  It is a joy to work with you secure in the knowledge that you listen to women and you will fight for them. 

It is incredible to be here with you all.  To see you all. For us all to be here together.
1200 of us over the course of today
And we're all coming to this women's conference today because
*we believe in the rights of women

*we believe that Labour is the party for women

*and because we hate what The Tories are doing to people in this country and we want to kick them out.

1,200 of us over the course of today.  If we could have had a bigger hall it would have been more. But 1,200 women together in one place is clearly a massive health and safety risk.....not least to the body politic!


We're here together today to

*listen to each other, to hear the voices of women from all around the country and from all different ages and backgrounds. (ck youngest oldest, furthest north furthest southwest, unemployed cleaner? lawyer? need to give examples of range of people coming)

*we're here to strengthen the elbow of our leading Labour women.  They deserve and need our support.  I am so proud of them so let's massively admire them today.

* we're here to tell it like it is about what the Tory/lib dem government are doing to turn back the clock on women's advance and social justice

*we're here to make our demands for change and say what we expect a Labour government will do

*we're here because we are proud to be women who are Labour women fighting for and speaking up for women in this country and around the world
*we're here to wrestle with the issue of how we address the financial struggle and political alienation felt by so many women

* and we're here to fire up our absolute determination to get a Labour government in and kick the Tory/libdem coalition out.

And that is all completely straightforward and I know at the same time you'll be getting texts from children who can't find their pe kit, or need money, or from your elderly mum who's worried because the carer hasn't turned up....or the husband asking whether you've managed to get the washing machine mended yet.

But that shouldn't be a problem.  We can change the world while multi-tasking!


I've come straight from Scotland where I've been with so many of you for the referendum campaign.  Scotland is staying and Britain is staying together.  But make no mistake; there has been a political earthquake which has changed the political landscape. 

And there was a massive gender divide in the vote on Thursday.  With men voting "Yes" and with women voting "no". 8% more men voted to leave the UK than to stay.  14% more women voted to stay in the UK than to leave.  And that massive 22% gender divide cut across all ages.

I think that though disaffection and alienation felt by men was felt by women too, every bit as much.  But women were not prepared to take the leap in the dark. They were not prepared to take risks with their children and grandchildren's future. And they were not swayed by Alex Salmon's macho style.

But things will not go back to what they were. Nor should they.  There are too many people - women and men - who believe that politics is out of touch and politicians have no idea about their lives and don't care and that we are all the same.  That goes not just for the "No"voters but the "Yes" voters too.  And it’s there not just in Scotland but in England and Wales too.


That is felt in the deprived communities in and around London - but it is magnified for every mile you go further away from London and the further down the income scale you are.  So we need to think hard about this.  Its a time to really listen and to recognise the scale of the change we need.  None of us individually has the answer but together we can work it out.  And we'll get it right and take the action we need not by promulgating the answers from the centre but letting the answers emerge from the regions and from the people who feel alienated. 


And women in Scotland, even thought they voted "No" to separation are not supporting the status quo.  Women in Scotland, have the same concerns and problems as women in England and women in Wales.

We're all concerned that for all the progress that we made when we were in government-

*women are still second class citizens at work - the lowest paid, the most undervalued

*too many women - and their children live in terror because of domestic violence - men beating up their wives or partners or even killing them - is still commonplace in Britain today

*and it's still a real headache for working women to look after the children and hold down a job, or care for grandchildren and older relatives.  

So for all the progress we've made and which we are really proud of, we have miles further to go. And to make that happen, two things are necessary


*we've got to have a Labour government and
*we've got to have a strong presence of women in the PLP backing up a strong presence of women in that Labour government.


And that means no going back on all women shortlists.  So when we remember what the Labour government did which helped women, and we castigate the Tories for still being hopelessly male dominated we've got to remember that it just would not have happened with the sort of male dominated PLP we had before women only shortlists. 

No-one likes All Women Shortlists.  It feels really uncomfortable to rule out men from a selection. 

But we tried everything else.  We tried a woman on every shortlist....ending men-only shortlists - well that caused a huge row and made no difference still it was the men on the shortlist who were selected  We changed the rules so that the shortlists had to be half women.  an even bigger row. and still nothing changed and it was the male half of the shortlist which got selected.  So we were driven to the conclusion that it would have to be women-only shortlists. 


But they are still hugely contested and controversial wherever they are proposed. 
So here's five key points to arm yourself when you need to defend All-women shortlists 

*We are a representative democracy.  Our Parliament needs to be representative and All women shortlists make parliament more representative - with half the country being women its a democratic imperative to get more women into Westminster

* its not just about getting women into parliament for the sake of it - important though that is - its the difference they make in parliament and our women have changed not just the face of parliament but the political agenda in this country.

*without all-women shortlists you will have a male-dominated parliament which will never understand women's lives or deliver for women

* if you're against All women shortlists you're supporting inequality - defending a status quo in which men in the PLP still outnumber women 2 to one. 

*Its rubbish to say women from all women's shortlists are not as good as women who come in on open shortlists.  Look at our terrific Labour women in parliament....Gloria, Yvette, Caroline, Rachel, Mary, Angela, Margaret Curran. And all the fantastic PLP women. You can't tell which came in from all women shortlists and which came in from all women shortlists and they are all twice as good as the dreary Tory men MPs


So for each of us here today, we've got a card to have in our handbag. Showing how without All Women Shortlists the Tories and the Libdems are still in the dark ages.  And showing what Labour women in Parliament have done for Labour women in the country and didn't happen till we got women in Parliament. 
Childcare, doubling maternity pay and leave, tougher laws domestic violence and on equal pay.Keep it with you - in your GC, in the pub.  You'll need it.  Because whether its from Wales, Scotland or the Regions of England.  We are going to have more All women shortlists and we are going to have more Labour MPs and more of them will be women.


Our chance of making that happens depends on every one of us in this room.  We've got to make sure that our manifesto delivers for women and we have a campaign that reaches women and men.  We've got to make sure that we get our amazing women parliamentary candidates elected - and they're in every region of England, in Scotland and in Wales

Together, all of us will be make sure that come next May there are more Labour women - in parliament to open up opportunities, tackle inequality, fight against discrimination and - as Labour women - we will not stop till Britain is a fairer place and women are equal to men. 

That's our rights as women and that's our values as Labour.



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