Michael Crick suggests that there’s a right brouhaha on the horizon in Airdrie and Shotts, the Scottish constituency of John Reid.
John is standing down at the next election, and a new candidate needs to be found. However, CLP Chair Brian Brady is warning of a “Scottish Blaenau Gwent” in the seat – a pretty safe one for Labour, with a majority of over 14,000 – if an all-women shortlist is imposed.
The reference to the identical case of Blaenau Gwent really turns the knife – the South Wales seat once represented by Nye Bevan and Michael Foot is still very much an open wound, for people on both sides of the row.
Yet for all of the bluster about “local party choice”, I cannot sympathize with Brother Brady. Our Party has decided that there should be more women MPs and candidates; that postive action needs to be taken to encourage this to happen; and that all-women shortlists are the way to achieve this.
This decision was reached democractically. In the case of Blaenau Gwent, I know because I was there – the Welsh Labour Party conference in 2002 voted more than 2 to 1 to have all-women shortlists, when I was a young and impressionable first-time delegate.
I was impressed by the arguments then – having been agnostic on the issue before – and I haven’t changed my mind since. However, once the party’s collective will has been expressed, what this is about is the ability to show solidarity with fellow members and adhere to collective decisions.
I’m sure Comrade Brady wouldn’t mind if there were any number of all-women shortlists in unwinnable seats in the South East – but what would be the point in that? The point in having them is to increase women’s representation in the House of Commons; to this end, it matters whether there is a woman candidate in Airdrie and Shotts or Blaenau Gwent in a way that it doesn’t in Surrey Heath or Witney.
This requirement to balance representation in the House, and not merely across all seats, requires central direction – particularly because, dare I say it, many CLPs in Labour’s heartland areas are far more traditional in their attitudes to candidate selection than are other seats.
As for Mr Brady’s bizzare conspiracy theory that there is some connection to Harriet Harman – I mean, come on! I’ll admit to not being the biggest fan of our deputy leader, but this stereotype of Harriet Harman as the great devil of aggressive gender equality is both wrong and uncomradely.
For all this, I hope that Airdrie and Shotts find a candidate they are genuinely happy with. However, they shouldn’t rule out candidates before the selections have even begun, and they should embrace our drive for greater equality in Parliament.