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.
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.