On International Women's Day I was proud to be out canvassing with our great Labour candidate for the mayoral election in Doncaster, Sandra Holland. That election falls on the same day as the European elections in which I am a candidate. Women will make up half of the Labour Euro candidates this year. Contrast that with the number of women Conservative MEPs: two after the 2004 election, down to one now, and she is standing down in June!
This weekend, events took place across Europe as part of the Party of European Socialists' day of action for gender equality. To coincide with International Women's Day it was a chance to highlight the common issues that we will be campaigning on in the run up to the European Elections on 4th June.
The Party of European Socialists manifesto http://www.pes.org/downloads/PES-Manifest_EN.pdf , highlights important issues like human trafficking and sexual exploitation that blight our society and can only be addressed at the European level. Only the PES manifesto, not those of the Conservative or Liberal groups, specifically addresses gender equality issues.
I am relishing this opportunity to contrast our agenda with the record of the UK Independence Party's Godfrey Bloom, one of Yorkshire's MEPs. On being nominated by his UKIP colleagues to sit on the Women’s Committee in the European Parliament, he said; "I just don't think they clean behind the fridge enough". He added; "I am here to represent Yorkshire women who always have dinner on the table when you get home. I am going to promote men's rights", and pointed out that “no self-respecting small businessman with a brain in the right place would employ a lady of childbearing years.”
As they say, the problem with political jokes is that sometimes they get elected. But we cannot afford for the political needs of women to be treated as a joke.
David Cameron can't be allowed to position himself as the family-friendly party leader on the side of women. We cannot allow the Tories back into government to fulfil their pledge to withdraw Britain from the European Social Chapter, so undermining the legal framework which protects maternity and paternity rights, the status of part-time and fixed-term workers, and gender equality legislation. We must call them on it.
We will have no excuses if that “nice”, free market and eurosceptic Mr Cameron is allowed to sneak into Downing Street without women knowing what the Tory agenda would really mean for them. There are lots of women voters still to talk to. We have plenty of work to do.