Equalities, Reports, Women

NW Labour Women’s Conference – Member Reports

North West Labour Women’s Conference, Radisson Blu, Liverpool
3 March 2018

Reports from Karen Bellion, Pauline Gibbons and Lena Šimić, Walton CLP members

 

Karen Bellion, Walton CLP Women’s Officer

I attended the conference held in Liverpool. Louise Ellman MP welcomed us to the event and the opening keynote was given by Debbie Abrahams, MP Shadow Minister for Works and Pensions who highlighted the Inequalities and the Social Security System.

This was followed by workshops:

  • ‘Brexit Will It Change our Lives for the Better or Worse?’ by Theresa Griffin MEP & Alison McGovern MP
  • ‘Women and Mental Health’ by Barbara Keeley MP, Shadow Minister for Mental Health and Social Care
  • ‘Getting Your Voice Heard’ by Cllr Jeannie Bell
  • ‘Setting up a Local Women’s Forum’ by Eileen Walsh, Liverpool Women’s Forum

During lunch fringe events were held on:

  • ‘History of Women in the Labour Party’ by Nan Sloane, Labour Women’s Network
  • ‘Violence Against Women & Girls’ by Emily Spurrell, Deputy PCC
  • ‘Women in Trade Unions’ by Lyne Morris (Chair North West TULO)
  • ‘Digital Campaigning’ by Debbie Caine

This was followed by the ‘Sexism is Politics’ with Lyne Collins (TUC), Nan Sloane (LWN) and Councillors Nina Killen and Carla Thomas.

The afternoon finished with ‘Women in Politics’ panel discussion with Arooj Shah (BAME Labour Women), Brenda Warrington (Leader of Tameside Council), Diana Holland (Assistant General Secretary of Unite) and Margaret Greenwood MP (Shadow Employment Minister).

Closing keynote was delivered by Anne O’Byrne, Deputy Mayor Liverpool City Region.

Observations:

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers on holding the event in Liverpool. I looked forward to meeting several members across the region; this was a valuable opportunity to do so while celebrating International Women’s Day. I was extremely happy that several women from my CLP were able to attend this event.

Having attended and presented at several conferences in my work life and represented my CLP at National Conference, I would have hoped that this Liverpool Conference would have been at least north-centric if not Merseyside centric and included more input from local Labour CLPs and BLPs.

I felt that the logistics of this programme had excluded those who may be attending for the first time and that it would have been beneficial to have more engagement with new members given that this was a celebration for International Women’s Day. The programme seemed to be aimed at the academics or more installed labour party members who understand the process and the political environment.

I attended the event ‘Getting your Voice Heard’, presuming this would support local engagement but found this to be aimed at supporting your careers within the Labour Party.

I felt that the target audience was not inclusive. For example, I noticed that there were several young people at this event and I felt that terminology and support through the workshops and seminars was lacking. There was a lot of terminology that could exclude many without clarification being used.

Ticket pricing could have excluded some. I did mention this as a labour party supporting other women we should at least offer a few places as a bursary as many of our communities are struggling and the small prices for tickets may have still been out of some women’s reach. In my day job working within communities I know that many women suffer not only from financial but digital exclusion and the event was only advertised on line and could only be booked on line.

Logistically I didn’t get a chance to attend the fringes as I was busy getting something to eat. There was also a lack of seating area at lunch time and a place for the women to come together during lunch to network.

The timing allowed for Q & A was also very short weighted to the speakers. Possibly having the opportunity to submit questions prior to the event to assist people to reflect on what they feel they need to ask but this would mean having the sessions and workshops confirmed in time.

Given that this was my first local Labour conference I would hope that Liverpool could support a more inclusive event; moving forward it’d be great to also link in with our own Political Education and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Officers.

Pauline Gibbons, Walton CLP Vice-Chair (membership)

I attended the Women’s conference for North West on 3rd March. Many of the speakers were very inspirational and every one of them encouraged the women in the audience to stand for positions in the Labour Party. Many of the speakers gave often amusing accounts of their own experience of standing for councillor and MP positions and told how they overcame some of the barriers they encountered.

Nina Killen gave a very funny account of her ‘accidentally’ becoming a councillor when she stood in an impossible to win seat. Margaret Greenwood recounted how she beat Esther McVey in Wirral West after selection from an AWS (All Women Shortlist). Debbie Abrahams gave us lots of information about the devastating effect of austerity and benefit cuts on women in particular.

I went to a workshop on ‘violence against women and girls’ run by Emily Spurrall.

There was the opportunity to share experiences about sexual harassment, FGM and domestic violence, as well as other issues, in smaller groups which were then fed back to the facilitator. It was really informative and I learnt a lot from other women talking about their experience of stalking and harassment.

My overall impression of the day though was that women gaining equal number of positions of power within the organisation was the ultimate goal and Labour women members need to strive for this goal and support each other to get there. Many said that Labour’s record of having over 40% of women MPs was good but we need to get it to 50%.

I found it frustrating that issues like ‘keeping guards on our trains’ was ignored by the facilitator even when fed back after the discussion. Practical steps like opposing DOO (Driver Only Operated trains), which I consider vital for women’s safety, were ignored and treated as secondary to women climbing up the career ladder.

It made me wonder why women want to be in a position of power if they don’t use it to support practical policies that actually help keep women safe from sexual harassment. I think some career women are doing other women a disservice if they don’t support the railway guards in dispute with their employers over this important safety issue.

As a working class woman, success for me will be when more than 50% of our councillors oppose DOO and when more than 50% of our MPs refuse to abstain on Tory benefit cuts. To me, what matters more than the gender of a councillor or MP, is their commitment to making things better for working class women.

Lena Šimić, Walton CLP Political Education Officer

I enjoyed Councillor Ann O’Byrne’s impassioned closing speech. She told us that the Eastern Europeans have now been made scapegoats by the Tory government for lots of the ills in this society similar to how the single mums were back in the 1980s. She quoted Madeleine Korbel Albright, a Czech-born American politician, who said there was a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women. As a feminist pedagogue, scholar and colleague, I couldn’t agree more. However, in Labour Party politics, in the short time I’ve been a member, I quickly learnt: it is not only about women supporting women, it is also about making sure you follow your mind and heart in relation to the Labour Manifesto and its policies. You also better stay in alignment with certain kind of internal shifts within the party; often times that means a simplified declaration of where you stand.

I joined the Labour Party in 2015, in order to support Jeremy Corbyn for leader. I was so excited at the prospect that this was truly possible: a socialist leader for a mainstream UK party. I celebrated that summer, and the summer of 2016 too. I watched in disbelief as the Parliamentary Labour Party rebelled against him, despite a massive surge in members. In the 2017 General Election, I took to the doorsteps of Wirral West, but also campaigned with the #Artists4Corbyn banner in marginal seats around the North West.

Following an exhilarating election result, I found myself embroiled in local Labour politics. I started attending Walton CLP meetings and socials. I met some brilliant local activists and members, people who were excited to be a part of the social movement that we were now becoming, a movement that will deliver a more just and compassionate society. I ran for the Political Education Officer position (CLP level) and got it. I ran on the instinct that Walton, and particularly Everton where I live, could benefit not only from my pedagogical skills and experience but also because of my immigrant perspective – I am both Croatian and British.

In my ‘real life’ I am a full time academic and artist. I am a feminist scholar and publish around motherhood and arts practice. Oddly enough, Labour Party politics never attracted me from a feminist/women’s perspective. I knew the old argument that mainstream politics usually attracts a certain kind of women who seek power. No wonder we had Thatcher and now suffer from May. I read Mary Beard’s book Women and Power (2017). She writes: ‘You can’t easily fit women into a structure that is already coded as male; you have to change the structure. That means thinking about power differently. It means decoupling it from public prestige.’ I always defined myself primarily as an engaged, political, feminist artist, always a part of social movements, an activist attending rallies, marches, and demonstrations. I have always enjoyed women’s energy in these contexts.

I’d like to offer a few personal thoughts on the attendance and participation in NW Labour Women’s Conference. The closing plenary ‘Women in Politics’ finished with some advice. Margaret Greenwood MP (whom I met when campaigning in Wirral West) said: ‘Be yourself!’ That rang true. Another two pieces of advice were about ensuring we share our experiences with other women and offer solidarity, and finally not to be afraid to disagree. I will try to follow that advice.

I am a European. I am an immigrant. I live in the Walton constituency, which voted to Leave the EU by 53.8%. Overall, Liverpool voted to Remain by 58.2%. These were voters’ views, not necessarily those of Walton CLP, nor Steve Rotheram, the MP at the time of the Brexit vote. I attended a workshop session called ‘Brexit: Will it Change our Lives for the Better or Worse?’ ran by Theresa Griffin MEP and Alison McGovern MP. They were both very much pro-Europe and even mentioned the possibility of reversing Article 50. They encouraged us to have Brexit as a topic in our branch and CLP meetings, to pass motions expressing support for the UK to remain in Europe. I was surprised about this. I understood that Labour’s policy has now changed to stay in the Customs Union, but didn’t know that the Labour Policy is also to keep EU membership on the table. Am I to press my Walton MP Dan Carden on this?

The majority of Waltoners want to leave, or rather, to be more precise, voted to leave on the basis of the 2016 Leave campaign. As someone who ran a couple of ‘Women of Europe’ events in my home where I gathered a group of foreign/European women living in Liverpool, I knew that we had all ‘resigned’ ourselves to the will of the British people to leave the EU.

Now, following that workshop, what do I think? Can I fight against Brexit even when within the Labour Party itself this is seen as a kind of centrist/Progress position? Would I want to be aligned with Alison McGovern MP, chair of Progress, who’s been critical of Jeremy Corbyn? Can I gauge enough energy to think about Brexit amidst enforced austerity and such palpable inequalities in the community where I live? Surely this is also why Waltoners voted for Brexit – nobody wanted the status quo. Following the Women’s Conference, I did write in my Labour notebook that I should suggest bringing in a speaker on Brexit to our next CLP meeting. I am still unsure about this, but certainly it would be important to check the temperature within the room. How pro-Europe is Walton CLP?

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