Putting Feminism at the heart of Labour

Lauren Milden

On Tuesday evening, Westminster’s Committee Room 17 was abuzz with over thirty women - proactive, engaged and concerned about Labour’s policy - and one Jon Cruddas.

Jon Cruddas MP is, of course, the co-ordinator of Labour’s Policy Review and he met with The Fabian Women’s Network (FWN) to discuss why “One National Labour” must be feminist if Labour is to win the next election and how this could be achieved.

There was much discussion during the evening about the impact on women of current Government spending cuts, and the FWN challenged Labour to do much better at safeguarding women’s interests. Partnering with Shifting Grounds, the FWN set up the evening forum to enable engaged women to ensure the issues that are important to them feature at the heart of Labour’s policy.

Together with Diane Abbott MP, Shadow Minister for Public Health, women including Karin Christiansen, General Secretary of the Co-operative party, Polly Billington, PPC for Thurrock, and leaders from the public and private sectors and NGOs spent an hour with Mr Cruddas. As Mr Cruddas, MP for Dagenham and Rainham, noted, this was but the beginning of a dialogue. Mr Cruddas, who was appointed by Ed Miliband to lead the Labour Policy Review in May of this year, opened the event by noting that Labour had arguably suffered one of their worst defeats, and it was time to “build a sense of hope not managed decline”.

Issues raised at the event included ensuring that the UK’s foreign policy protects women, ensuring that Labour has a concrete alternative to the current welfare reform regime and the importance of devising a robust social housing policy. Speakers noted the critical importance of addressing violence against women and gender stereotyping and did not want Labour to shy away from branding themselves as the party tackling these issues. Many wanted schools to encourage females to enter science, engineering and technology courses and for women who entered into higher education to be adequately supported.

Many of those who spoke were seeking childcare policies that were conducive to women in the workplace whilst ensuring that child minders are respected.

Women reminded Cruddas that, as the Obama campaign demonstrated, it cannot pay to ignore the female vote or to frame ‘women’ solely as mothers.

Cruddas, who holds a PhD in industrial and business studies from Warwick University, emphasised that the Labour team was and would continue to work hard to get insight from individuals across the UK. He noted that Ed Miliband was keen to drive forward a robust policy review and that no issues were off the table whilst considering the future policy framework of the party.

The Fabian Women’s Network is part of the Fabian Society, Britain’s oldest political think tank. Founded in 1884, the Society is at the forefront of developing political ideas and public policy on the left. Members have included Oscar Wilde, Emmeline Pankhurst and every Labour Prime Minister from Ramsay MacDonald to Gordon Brown.

Launched in January 2005, The Fabian Women’s Network reports to the Fabian Executive. It established Fabiana magazine in 2011 as a way to champion feminism and lead debates on women and the future of the UK.

If any of the above made you want to ponder/act/ponder acting, do visit Fabianwomen and follow @fabianwomen.

Jon Cruddas noted at the end of the meeting, “Labour is back in the ideas business”. For politicos, it will be interesting to see exactly what those ideas turn out to be in the coming months.

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