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Watch: Stella Creasy trounces Austin Mitchell in a debate on the “feminisation of politics”

Austin Mitchell, who is stepping down as Labour MP for Great Grimsby at the next election, fails to defend his assertion that having more women in Parliament is a “worrying matter”.

Newsnight had Austin Mitchell on last night to defend his bizarre Mail on Sunday article, in which he attacked the Labour party’s “obsession” with all-women shortlists. Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow and a prominent campaigner on feminist issues, took him to task for his views, asking whether he really believed open selections are done on merit. (Only 23 per cent of MPs are women, barely more than one fifth. In case you needed reminding, women are just over half the population of the UK.)

Mitchell responded that it was “up to Conservatives and Liberals to seize the baton and have more women on their side. But let’s give it a rest for the time being, see if the barriers have been broken down enough”.

For some reason, the clip seems to have been removed from YouTube by Newsnight, but you can watch it here:

For reference, 16 per cent of Conservative and 13 per cent of Lib Dem MPs are women, compared with 33 per cent of Labour MPs. (See this report for further figures.) To date, the Labour party remains the only one to have used all-women shortlists, and the only party to have made significant progress in increasing equality in its parliamentary party.

Some more key quotations from the exchange:

Austin Mitchell: We're becoming more social workers than international statesmen.

Stella Creasy: What I recognise is the drip, drip, drip of discrimination and prejudice that women face in every single sphere of public life... 

AM: Oh Stella, don't hector me.

SC: Oh I'm sorry Austin, is the sound turned up? Because I promise you I'm not shouting. I'm just frustrated that yet again we're seeing women being put down in this way.

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SC: There are still now more men sat in parliament today than there have ever been women MPs... Tell me how many women is us doing our duty in a party that is designed to promote social justice, Austin? How many? Is there a particular number?

AM: Well, I mean, the proportion of women will be over 40 per cent if we were in power...

SC: Oh right, so about 40 per cent, so not parity, not equality, that's enough is it? We've got enough women have we?

AM: That's a good base to build on... I'm not suggesting we have a quota for old people.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.