David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions last Wednesday. Photo: AFP
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Mumsnet petitions to overhaul PMQs

More than 46,000 signatures and counting.

A petition launched by Mumsnet to overhaul PMQs has almost reached its 50,000 target in less than a week.

Justine Roberts, chief executive and founder of Mumsnet, created the petition after a survey of 1,200 members of the online forum revealed the level of disaffection British mothers feel with politics.

In a damning indictment of Westminster culture, when asked which characteristics would be advantageous in politics, 94 per cent of respondents said ambition, 92 per cent cited social connections, 86 per cent said ruthlessness, 84 per cent said being well-off, and 78 per cent said being male.

Nine out of ten Mumsnetters said they feel that the political culture in SW1 is sexist, while two thirds believe success in politics is all down to what school or university you went to and the "old boys' network".

Nearly two-thirds of respondents on the parenting site, which is 97 per cent female, thought that more women in top political jobs would mean politicians had a great understanding of their concerns.

Eight out of 10 do not believe that MPs conduct themselves well or that PMQs is effective. More than three quarters think it is “unprofessional and outdated”, while half think the weekly 30-minute session damages the reputation of Parliament.

The online petition at change.org describes PMQs as “one of the biggest turn-offs”. The petition states:

The Hansard Society have proposed a new kind of politics: a new, engaging way to conduct PMQs which can help rebuild trust in politics and politicians. This could include introducing rapid-fire Q&As, more open questions, taking questions directly from voters via social media, and penalties for MPs who behave badly... Join me in calling on David Cameron to pilot changes to PMQs along the lines proposed by the Hansard Society - before the next election.

It has received more than 46,000 signatures in less than a week, almost half the 100,000 needed for a petition to be formally considered for debate in the House of Commons.

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

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Labour is a pioneer in fighting sexism. That doesn't mean there's no sexism in Labour

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

I’m in the Labour party to fight for equality. I cheered when Labour announced that one of its three Budget tests was ensuring the burden of cuts didn’t fall on women. I celebrated the party’s record of winning rights for women on International Women’s Day. And I marched with Labour women to end male violence against women and girls.

I’m proud of the work we’re doing for women across the country. But, as the Labour party fights for me to feel safer in society, I still feel unsafe in the Labour party.

These problems are not unique to the Labour party; misogyny is everywhere in politics. You just have to look on Twitter to see women MPs – and any woman who speaks out – receiving rape and death threats. Women at political events are subject to threatening behaviour and sexual harassment. Sexism and violence against women at its heart is about power and control. And, as we all know, nowhere is power more highly-prized and sought-after than in politics.

While we campaign against misogyny, we must not fall into the trap of thinking Labour is above it; doing so lets women members down and puts the party in danger of not taking them seriously when they report incidents. 

The House of Commons’ women and equalities committee recently stated that political parties should have robust procedures in place to prevent intimidation, bullying or sexual harassment. The committee looked at this thanks to the work of Gavin Shuker, who has helped in taking up this issue since we first started highlighting it. Labour should follow this advice, put its values into action and change its structures and culture if we are to make our party safe for women.

We need thorough and enforced codes of conduct: online, offline and at all levels of the party, from branches to the parliamentary Labour party. These should be made clear to everyone upon joining, include reminders at the start of meetings and be up in every campaign office in the country.

Too many members – particularly new and young members – say they don’t know how to report incidents or what will happen if they do. This information should be given to all members, made easily available on the website and circulated to all local parties.

Too many people – including MPs and local party leaders – still say they wouldn’t know what to do if a local member told them they had been sexually harassed. All staff members and people in positions of responsibility should be given training, so they can support members and feel comfortable responding to issues.

Having a third party organisation or individual to deal with complaints of this nature would be a huge help too. Their contact details should be easy to find on the website. This organisation should, crucially, be independent of influence from elsewhere in the party. This would allow them to perform their role without political pressures or bias. We need a system that gives members confidence that they will be treated fairly, not one where members are worried about reporting incidents because the man in question holds power, has certain political allies or is a friend or colleague of the person you are supposed to complain to.

Giving this third party the resources and access they need to identify issues within our party and recommend further changes to the NEC would help to begin a continuous process of improving both our structures and culture.

Labour should champion a more open culture, where people feel able to report incidents and don't have to worry about ruining their career or facing political repercussions if they do so. Problems should not be brushed under the carpet. It takes bravery to admit your faults. But, until these problems are faced head-on, they will not go away.

Being the party of equality does not mean Labour is immune to misogyny and sexual harassment, but it does mean it should lead the way on tackling it.

Now is the time for Labour to practice what it preaches and prove it is serious about women’s equality.

Bex Bailey was on Labour’s national executive committee from 2014 to 2016.