It's not the House of Commons that's "a boys' public school", it's the Tory party

Claire Perry glosses over the problem that she and other Conservatives face when talking about women and politics - they voted for the policies that have hit women's lives the hardest.

Yesterday, Claire Perry attempted to make a robust defence of David Cameron's record on women after reports that Labour has a 13-point lead among them. What she failed to recognise was the reason why women are turning away from the Conservatives in droves. When women are being made to bear the brunt of deficit reduction, with three quarters of the burden coming from the purse rather than the wallet, they are going to be angry.

And the frustrating point is not just the excuse that the House of Commons is "like a boys' public school". But that Perry glosses over the problem that she and other Conservatives face when talking about women and politics - that they have actually voted for the specific choices Cameron and Osborne have made which hit women's lives the hardest.

I am not sure I agree the House of Commons is always like a boys' public school any more (although some elements still exist) but I would agree
that the Conservative Party is, considerably more at least than the Labour Party. The Conservatives did see an increase in their intake of
women at the last election, but still only 16% of Tory MPs are women. Labour currently has 34% women MPs and has increased the number of women
in Parliament through training and education processes, alongside positive action measures as part of a serious strategy to reach 50%
women in the Parliamentary Labour Party. In the shadow cabinet, women have achieved 45% representation - one of the clear reasons why their experience and needs remain high on Labour's political agenda. This contrasts with Cameron who last year sacked 0% of the men and 60% of the women in his cabinet, leaving just four women out of a cabinet of 25, and five departmental teams, including the Treasury, without a single woman.

The National Labour Women's Conference last Saturday at the start of Labour conference saw over 1,000 women join for an outstanding day of
policy debate and challenge. The numbers of women attending the Women's Conference has continued to rise - from 300 in 2010 to 1,000 this year.
Not only did the day put everyday sexism firmly on the political agenda, reinforced by Ed Miliband's leader's speech, but it comprised powerful debates about tackling domestic violence, childcare, women's jobs and income, equality in the workplace, women's representation in politics and the needs of older women.

What was particularly striking to me as someone who organised much of the first Women's Conference, and who chaired the final session this
year, was the range of women present. They were of all ages, all backgrounds. There were a significant number of women new to Labour and
to politics who have found a space in which they feel at home and can raise issues that they and women, like them, face. It is the most significant space in British politics now connecting the needs of women with politics and the processes of power, rather than only the process of protest. What the conference marked is that Labour is the party giving political expression to the new wave of feminism that is on the rise.

Yvette Cooper's speech made the case that the Tories' problem with women is not just historical with decisions made three years ago, but is ongoing.
Indeed, David Cameron even enforced this point at the weekend by announcing the Tories' new marriage tax allowance. The allowance will not benefit working mums, will actually penalise mothers for going back to work, or increasing their hours as a child gets older, and, according to the House of Commons Library, will be paid to men in five out of six cases. Paid to the man on his third wife, but not to the ex-wife he left behind looking after the children. Paid to the man with the ring on his finger, but not to the single parent working hard to make ends meet. That's the Tories for you - out of touch, and out of date.

The progress of women - politically, economically and socially - has to be a clear priority integrated into mainstream policy debates for all parties - how women are affected shouldn't be an afterthought in our national decision making. The Tories need to realise that their problem with women is not a failing of spin, but a failing of substance and policy on which Labour will continue to hold them to account in the House of Commons, in their constituencies and on social media.

Seema Malhotra is Labour MP for Feltham and Heston and PPS to Yvette Cooper (Equalities)

George Osborne and Michael Gove listen to speeches at the Conservative conference in Manchester. Photograph: Getty Images.

Seema Malhotra is Labour MP for Feltham and Heston and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.

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The SNP thinks it knows how to kill hard Brexit

The Supreme Court ruled MPs must have a say in triggering Article 50. But the opposition must unite to succeed. 

For a few minutes on Tuesday morning, the crowd in the Supreme Court listened as the verdict was read out. Parliament must have the right to authorise the triggering of Article 50. The devolved nations would not get a veto. 

There was a moment of silence. And then the opponents of hard Brexit hit the phones. 

For the Scottish government, the pro-Remain members of the Welsh Assembly and Sinn Féin in Northern Ireland, the victory was bittersweet. 

The ruling prompted Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, to ask: “Is it better that we take our future into our own hands?”

Ever the pragmatist, though, Sturgeon has simultaneously released her Westminster attack dogs. 

Within minutes of the ruling, the SNP had vowed to put forward 50 amendments (see what they did there) to UK government legislation before Article 50 is enacted. 

This includes the demand for a Brexit white paper – shared by MPs from all parties – to a clause designed to prevent the UK reverting to World Trade Organisation rules if a deal is not agreed. 

But with Labour planning to approve the triggering of Article 50, can the SNP cause havoc with the government’s plans, or will it simply be a chorus of disapproval in the rest of Parliament’s ear?

The SNP can expect some support. Individual SNP MPs have already successfully worked with Labour MPs on issues such as benefit cuts. Pro-Remain Labour backbenchers opposed to Article 50 will not rule out “holding hands with the devil to cross the bridge”, as one insider put it. The sole Green MP, Caroline Lucas, will consider backing SNP amendments she agrees with as well as tabling her own. 

But meanwhile, other opposition parties are seeking their own amendments. Jeremy Corbyn said Labour will seek amendments to stop the Conservatives turning the UK “into a bargain basement tax haven” and is demanding tariff-free access to the EU. 

Separately, the Liberal Democrats are seeking three main amendments – single market membership, rights for EU nationals and a referendum on the deal, which is a “red line”.

Meanwhile, pro-Remain Tory backbenchers are watching their leadership closely to decide how far to stray from the party line. 

But if the Article 50 ruling has woken Parliament up, the initial reaction has been chaotic rather than collaborative. Despite the Lib Dems’ position as the most UK-wide anti-Brexit voice, neither the SNP nor Labour managed to co-ordinate with them. 

Indeed, the Lib Dems look set to vote against Labour’s tariff-free amendment on the grounds it is not good enough, while expecting Labour to vote against their demand of membership of the single market. 

The question for all opposition parties is whether they can find enough amendments to agree on to force the government onto the defensive. Otherwise, this defeat for the government is hardly a defeat at all. 

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.