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7 reasons why proportional representation is a feminist issue

Under a proportional representation system we would have more women MPs, global research has shown.

It is 100 years since women won the right to vote. Now, there are a record number of women MPs in the House of Commons. Our Prime Minister is a woman. But 2017’s general election marked only the first time the number of men elected did not exceed the number of women elected ever. It’s clear something needs to change.

Our electoral system is built on the out-of-date first past the post system, which in 2015 saw almost three-quarters of votes cast wasted. Proportional representation would make every vote count, and ensure the representation of parties in Parliament would match the number of votes they get.

But what many people don’t know is that proportional representation is a feminist issue, too. Here’s seven reasons why.

1. Get more women elected

Under a proportional representation system we would have more women MPs, global research has shown. Harvard found that in “plurality/majority systems” like Westminster, women made up one in ten parliamentarians on average, compared to one in five in proportional representation systems.

2. Get men out of comfy seats

In a first past the post system, parties tend to run an incumbent male MP again, research by LSE has found. This means the system is locked into looking like the previous Parliament.

3. Action on austerity

Austerity disproportionately hurts women, with black and ethnic minority women hit the hardest. Using the government’s own statistics, the Resolution Foundation calculated Britain is now facing its worst decade for wages since the Napoleonic wars. Under the current voting system, pro-austerity MPs in safe seats have no incentive to do anything to improve the life chances of some of the most excluded people in society.

4. Nothing about us without us

Having more women in Parliament isn’t just a good thing – it is the only way to make sure women’s interests are looked out for in government and our laws. Look at my colleague Caroline Lucas, fighting for compulsory PSHE lessons in schools, or Harriet Harman’s fight for paid maternity leave for MPs.

5. Climate action now

Women are more affected by climate change. Women make up the majority of the world’s poor, and are more dependent on natural resources for their day to day lives. Women make up somewhere between 50 and 80 per cent of the world’s food producers, and are often responsible for securing water, food, and fuel for cooking and heating – resources which are the first harmed in the event of climate disasters. Women also face social, economic, and political barriers that limit them coping with climate change impacts and moving or finding a new job.

6. Give peace a chance

Involving women in peacebuilding makes it 24 per cent more likely that violence will end within a year, research shows. Peace is more likely to continue long term if gender equality is central to all political decisions.

7. You might hear the word “tampon” in Parliament

With more women in the chamber, perhaps the men in the room will stop being too embarrassed to say “tampon” – as was the case for Sir Bill Cash who had to be forced to say the dreaded word by Stella Creasy.

Amelia Womack is the deputy leader of the Green Party.

 

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.