Labour must listen to women: Labour Conference Preview – Rachel Garnham, CLPD


“The downgrading of Women’s Conference fits with the current Leadership’s Blairite cosplay and is a return to the bad old days of Women’s Conference being reduced to a mere fringe event; completely out of line with Labour’s rulebook.”

By Rachel Garnham, Campaign for Labour Party Democracy

Despite the best efforts of elected CLP and trade union reps on the National Women’s Committee and Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee (WCAC), who have been systematically under-resourced and ignored, this year’s Labour Party Women’s Conference demonstrates just how little value Labour’s Leadership places on women, and on equalities more broadly. It underlines the Evans doctrine that members are a nuisance who should be seen (door knocking and leafleting only) and not heard. 

Women’s Conference, which takes place on Saturday 7 October, should have been a two-day event in the spring. No reasonable excuse has been made for this downgrading. There has been some suggestion that it was better to hold it after July’s final National Policy Forum meeting. Of course the opposite is true, and the delay and downgrading means less opportunity to influence Labour’s Policy Programme.

Elected reps have made a strong case for a hybrid conference, voicing the concerns of grassroots members. But this has also been ignored, with no acknowledgement of the barriers to engagement of geography, disability and caring responsibilities many ordinary women face.

The downgrading of Women’s Conference fits with the current Leadership’s Blairite cosplay and is a return to the bad old days of Women’s Conference being reduced to a mere fringe event; completely out of line with Labour’s rulebook. A two-day standalone Spring Women’s Conference would have had plenty of time for policy-making, discussion, networking and workshops, instead we have three hours of policy debate interspersed with keynote speeches – totally inadequate.

Communications have left a lot to be desired – despite multiple requests from the WCAC, visitor tickets went out late and sold out quickly; and it was never properly communicated that motions should explicitly refer to women resulting in multiple motions being ruled out despite being quite obviously relevant to women. It has even been suggested that, outrageously and out of line with all democratic norms, the “NEC” via delegated powers, over-ruled the WCAC on this matter. This and Labour right organisers Labour to Win clearly having accede to topic groupings in advance of delegates raise serious questions about Conference organisation.

Despite Scotland and Wales having separate women’s organisations and an ongoing campaign to recognise this within Women’s Conference, motions from the devolved nations have not been included. And even had they been, they would have been given the same status as a CLP motion – hardly appropriate for the motion from a whole nation!

Outside of the Conference, there remains a lack of support for Women’s Branches, both in the Conference process and more broadly, as a crucial building block in engaging women with the Party and feeding into the policy-making process. There also appears to be no recognition of the difficulties caused by boundary changes to Women’s Branches – once again women’s organisation is, at best, an afterthought.  An approach underlined by the selection of so many white male prospective parliamentary candidates with limited life experience, and the lack of challenge to the all-women shortlists legislation.

Of course this dismissal of Labour’s diverse membership, and the value of hearing under-represented voices from across our nations and regions, is even worse when it comes to other equality structures. The NEC has decided to ignore the rulebook and not implement conferences and committees for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic members or for Disabled members. It has gone even further in its recent decision to remove BAME, Disabled, LGBT  and Youth Officers as voting members of ECs – raising the unedifying proposition in some CLPs that the only Black or Disabled person on the EC essentially has their vote removed. Quite sickening.

Austerity, Covid and the cost of living (or cost of greed) crisis have hit women, and particularly Black and Disabled women, hardest. Under-funding of our public services, particularly education, local government and the NHS have hit women as both workers and users of these services. Wages are failing to keep pace with inflation and too many women are really struggling with a lack of affordable housing, childcare and social care.

Meanwhile women face increasing misogyny, violence and abuse, demonstrated so tragically recently with the horrific murder of 15-year-old Elianne Andam. This in the context of open misogyny on GB News underlines that the position of women in society is moving backwards.

Labour’s policy response is completely inadequate. The framework appears to be a repeat of 2015’s austerity-lite offer, which didn’t go down so well with voters. Apparently there is money for war and nuclear weapons, but not to scrap the deeply regressive two-child cap on benefits. Motions addressing this important issue and on the need to commit to the decriminalisation of abortion have unfortunately been maneuvered off the agenda but I hope that women will still have the opportunity to raise them from the Conference floor.

Labour cannot afford to take women voters for granted or to ignore women members, even if it were right to do so. The campaign to have women’s voices heard continues!

What can you do:

  • Attend the CLPD Women’s Conference fringe meeting, Friday 6 October, 5-6pm, Quaker Meeting House, Liverpool L1 3BT.
  • Attend the protest at Women’s Conference, 9am, Saturday 7 October, Conference Centre entrance near Pizza Express.
  • CLP delegates attending Women’s Conference are encouraged to vote for Zoe Allan, Claudia Boes, Chloe Hopkins, Juliet Miller, Helen Smith and Cecile Wright for the National Women’s Committee.

Featured Image: Conference hall at the Labour Party Conference 2016

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