“It will be an opportunity to put pressure on the Labour leadership to provide the fighting opposition to this horrific Tory government that we so desperately need; and to set out a genuine alternative that can inspire women and meet our needs internationally, nationally, regionally and locally.”
Rachel Garnham, Vice-Chair of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, previews Labour Women’s Conference 2022.
Labour’s Women’s Conference takes place this weekend and delegates have the opportunity to discuss and agree the policies Labour needs to adopt to win women voters and address the multiple crises we face – including in relation to health, the cost of living and public services – in the interests of women.
It will be an opportunity to put pressure on the Labour leadership to provide the fighting opposition to this horrific Tory government that we so desperately need; and to set out a genuine alternative that can inspire women and meet our needs internationally, nationally, regionally and locally. And no doubt once again it will be inspiring to hear from delegates from CLPs and trade unions up and down the country and the experiences and challenges they face in their communities.
Delegates will also importantly have the opportunity to elect a new Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee (WCAC). The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, alongside Labour Women Leading, Jewish Voice for Labour, Red Labour, Labour Representation Committee, Labour CND, Welsh Labour Grassroots, Campaign for Socialism (Scotland) and North of England Labour Left are working together once again as Grassroots Labour Women to back Gillian Arrindell, Jean Crocker and Selina Norgrove as CLP reps.
These candidates are committed to building a democratic, inclusive Women’s Conference, working to maximise engagement with grassroots members. Jean has done brilliant, painstaking work over her four years on the WCAC so far, doing her very best to support members, ensure CLPs can be fully involved in the Conference and promote accessibility and inclusion. I hope she will be joined by Selina and Gillian who will make a formidable team in trying to create a more democratic conference where members’ voices are genuinely heard.
The build up to this year’s Women’s Conference has been, once again, unnecessarily chaotic and clearly under-resourced and under-valued. Deadlines have been unclear and prone to change, including the bizarre occurrence of motions being ruled out then back in on appeal but by this point too late to be entered into the priorities ballot so with nowhere to go! Delegates were informed at such short notice (and sometimes not at all it appears) of weekday daytime composite sessions that many could not make it and multiple CLP motions were consequently lost.
Some Shadow Cabinet members have been making their presence felt at compositing, backing up HQ efforts to keep motions as bland and unchallenging as possible. The deadline for emergency motions was so early that we cannot raise issues like the shocking demonstration of institutional racism with the police strip-search of a Hackney schoolgirl.
Nevertheless it appears delegates have done an amazing job in creating composites that tackle the issues that matter to women. Top of the agenda once again is Violence Against Women and Girls, where we have the opportunity to discuss the lack of progress in addressing this issue and what Labour must do in power. There will also be an important debate on Refugee Women and the need for Labour to support these women and children in crisis and oppose, and if necessary repeal, the Nationality and Borders Bill.
Public services and women’s position in the economy and the workplace will also be important debates, including the need to defend the NHS, in attempting to ensure Labour has an agenda that addresses the concerns of women across our communities. These discussions and more will once again undoubtedly be the highlight of our conference where there is no time better spent than listening to the experiences of women on the frontline in the areas we are discussing.
I’m also excited about the opportunity to debate rule changes (constitutional amendments) Several have been submitted that would either enable more engagement and discussion within the Conference or support women trying to organise locally and reduce those barriers. There are undoubtedly, many improvements that could be made to the rules of Labour’s Women’s Organisation so it will be good to discuss and make progress. The introduction of the new Women’s Committee last June should have meant an injection of ideas and leadership but it has been so under-resourced that members have not made the progress they would have liked to. For example, promises of a range of fringe meetings in the week prior to Conference have not materialised. Members of the Women’s Committee offered in January to facilitate fringe events on the policy areas debated at the 2021 Women’s Conference, but this was not taken up.
Starmer has broken the pledges he made to get elected as Labour Leader. His leadership has proved weak in fighting the Tories and is not sufficiently promoting the alternative agenda that women so desperately need. Let us hope that this weekend’s Women’s Conference can send a strong message about how we want to improve the women’s organisation and the policies we need to win women voters.