Monday, 9 March 2009

Women can and do win on open short lists

Last year, I was selected as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate in a seat that Labour has held for fifty out of the last fifty-five years. Despite the initial expectation that this seat would be an all women shortlist, just before the selection started the party decided against it. At this point, I was advised by several friends that I should consider other seats where there were all-women shortlists. I was told in no uncertain terms by these same friends that I didn’t stand a chance in an open shortlist.

Needless to say, I was furious. I was interested in the selection because I wanted to represent my hometown in Parliament regardless of the selection procedure. However, this reaction nearly shook my confidence. Politics is to a large degree about perception. If my friends didn’t think I would be considered as a serious contender, wouldn’t local party members be of the same opinion?

Anyone reading this who has been through the tough, gruelling and extremely personal experience of a parliamentary selection will understand the importance of retaining one’s self-confidence. Lose that and you are done for.

Fortunately, I had other supportive friends who encouraged me and gave me much better advice. I got my head down, worked hard, managed to turn my background and experience to my advantage – I have local roots as well as national experience of Government. After a lengthy process of many ups and downs psychologically, I won to the amazement of several onlookers but not to the surprise of the more perceptive and astute amongst them.

I don’t want to go into the arguments for and against all women shortlists. Although, I could quite happily write several pages on the subject.

The purpose of this posting is not only to recount my experience but to encourage women reading this to go for open selections. My fear is that open shortlists are being considered as the preserve of men. Even with all-women shortlists, women will still not make up fifty per cent of Labour MPs in Westminster. Achieving that parity in representation is our objective and we should not shy away from working single-mindedly towards it.


  1. Emma, I agree. I have become increasingly worried in recent months that the AWS system - which is both effective and necessary - is being used as a means to discourage women from standing in open seats. If the anecdotal tales are correct, this is a real concern.

    The picture is even more concerning if the 'logic' is applied more widely. For example, Trevor Phillips has called recently for All-BME shortlists: an interesting idea, but one that is currently short on detail.

    But if the AWS experience shows there is a tendency to confine women to AWS seats (rather than to guarantee women a minimum number of winnable seats), the effect for 'BME seats' would surely be even more draconian. Presumably, BME seats would be limited to 5-10% of the overall seats, in proportion to the overall population percentage. How worrying, then, if all non-white candidates were de facto restricted to only really 'having a shot' in such a tiny proportion of seats.

  2. I think your point about self-confidence is well made. Can I step this up to "self-belief"? In particular the belief that you are up to the job of leading a campaign and of standing up to the brickbats (thrown by all sides including your own), is hard when you are on your own. My advice to aspirant women. Gather friends and like-minded people around you to keep doubts out. Keep busy. Network for tips and stories of how women have got through. I came through an Open Shortlist after 5 selection processes - each differently awful - and have been collecting stories of how to win the fight. When we have 70% women in parliament I'll be satisfied. Let's aim for critical mass not simple representative parity. Chingford Cath