Is Blue Labour anti-women?

A senior Labour MP criticises the project for "harking back to a Janet and John era".

Today's Mail on Sunday suggests there is a row developing among senior Labour MPs over the Blue Labour project. It quotes Helen Goodman, the party's Justice spokeswoman as having criticised the "all male clique", which includes the academic Maurice Glasman, currently arguing for Labour to adopt a programme of (small-c) conservative values centred on "flag, faith and family".

Specifically, Goodman criticises a passage in the recent Politics of Paradox, a collection edited by Glasman and his fellow academic Jonathan Rutherford, that praises a "patriarchal social order" and alleges this has been disrupted by "the growing independence of women". In her response, a pamphlet titled "Tradition and Change" (PDF), Goodman writes:

If Glasman thinks we will all greet this with an ironic post-feminist smile, he is wrong. How can we in a country where 1,000 women are raped each week? He seems to be harking back to a Janet and John Fifties era.

The MoS is keen to spin this as an ill-tempered political squabble and describes Goodman as an ally of the "arch-feminist" Harriet Harman. However, Goodman has produced a more sustained and thoughtful critique of Blue Labour than this would suggest. By taking case studies from her own constituency of Bishop Auckland, Goodman argues that too strong an emphasis on localism and community values overlooks the need for government to act on a national and international scale.

The MP told Liberal Conspiracy of her fears that Blue Labour "will be hijacked by those whose real agenda is to destroy the welfare state on which so many people depend".

Crucially, Goodman also comments on Blue Labour's appeal to nationalist sentiment, and highlights a passage by Rutherford that claims:

Individual self control, hard work and willingness to delay or forego reward and gratification provided social glue and the purposefulness of a national, imperial destiny!

Goodman describes this as "drum and trumpet jingoism". She argues we must understand the full implications of four centuries of Empire - and how it has led to our present multicultural society - if we are to ensure social, economic and political rights for all citizens of this country.

It's worth reading Goodman's pamphlet in full. Are her criticisms valid? Do they go too far - or not far enough?

Daniel Trilling is the Editor of New Humanist magazine. He was formerly an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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