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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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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