I drafted this following the announcement of Labour's London Mayoral candidate and I'm editing it after announcement of Labour Leadership & Deputy results. In response to many tweets bemoaning the male clean sweep of the posts.
Women make up just over 50% of the population, are underrepresented in most spheres of influence and are overrepresented in most disadvantaged groups. I read an article based on research that suggested that when people see a TV programme or a conference where 17% of the participants are women, they perceive this as equal numbers of men and women. When women comprise 34%, this is perceived to be female domination.
These perceptions are backed up by numerous comments I have observed over the years eg someone declaring in 1997 that, right, there are enough women MPs, we don't need any more, when there were barely a hundred out of a total 650. Even now, there are more current women MPs than there are women former MPs going back a hundred years or more.
In the 2015 General Election the Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates in my constituency were both women, and the Labour candidate was male. I voted Labour, for political and ideological reasons, and no one suggested I should choose either Tory/Lib Dem on gender grounds.
I apply a similar logic to posts at the top of the party. In the Mayoral contest I voted for Christian Wolmar, then Diane Abbott, knowing they would be eliminated early and the contest would be a two horse race between Sadiq Khan and Tessa Jowell. I picked Sadiq, because on balance, he is closer to me on policy grounds than Tessa, and Tessa was supported by people with a very different vision for the Labour Party than mine. In the end I voted with my head for Yvette Cooper despite serious reservations (eg a reluctance to oppose austerity) rather than my heart for Jeremy Corbyn (I'm very pro-EU, and I worry that Jeremy is too influenced by what feels right rather than what is evidenced - his support for homeopathy is a tiny example but a huge symbol of this). I didn't vote for Yvette because she is a woman, but I have followed her career closely partly because of that.
There are still too few women MPs, and, despite some all women shortlists, too few women are selected for 'safe' seats where the incumbent (usually male) is retiring. All women shortlists are a decent attempt to tackle this, but not enough.
To have more women vying for the top offices needs a greater supply of women at all levels. There's been some talk of north vs south of England, and much debate about the over-concentration of candidates who are graduates of just one or two universities. And, as it happens, there were equal numbers of men and women in the leadership race, and the Mayoral front runners were one of each.
Now people are talking about Keir Starmer as the favourite for the next Labour Leader, based upon his ability to bring his experience of being a former Director of Public Prosecutions, and his lawyer's ability to speak clearly. I was about to write, but there aren't women with equivalent experience - except of course that his successor as DPP is a woman. but I think my point stands.
Many MPs, male and female, start off as councillors but local government is still male dominated, even though active users of council services are disproportionately female. That women remain statistically the prime carer of children explains to some extent why there are fewer women, but many councillors are retired or semi-retired from their day job (and thus presumably their children, if they have some, are grown up), and roughly half of women of child bearing age don't have children. When I was a woman councillor in my 20s I was a statistical freak. Not unique, but rare outside trendy politicised metropolitan areas - and I found myself subject to unwanted sexual advances from male Labour councillors at gatherings such as Local Government conference.
The process for selecting council candidates favours people with skills that are categorised as male - standing up and speaking confidently in front of a room of people and being seen to be an active campaigner in visible settings - and downplays the characteristics categorised as female, such as building and nurturing relationships, listening and empathising. Of course, these skills are not actually exclusive to either one or the other gender, but we are socialised in a society that tries to genderise such attributes.
I can't target individuals on Twitter and ask them what they have done to encourage women into politics: knowing my luck I'd target someone with good credentials. And I have done very little in recent years.
But it's like the board of a company or a government department. You can shout loudly about encouraging more women to be directors, even imposing quotas, but it misses the point. If there were equal numbers at the next level down, and the level below that, the law of averages means that the best person for the job is just as likely to be a woman as a man, and proportionately likely to be BAME. But when there are obstacles that deter women from getting onto the lowest rung, you're losing a lot of potential. And, often the women that do rise above that level have all the same faults as too many men - ambitious, and determined to be in position, but not necessarily with the right skills and experience to do the job.
It's better than 20 years ago, in politics and in workplaces. Prior to 97, young women MPs (and especially BAME ones) stood out for their rarity. I'm getting older, so 'young' is a relative concept, but every few weeks I come across some young woman MP I hadn't been aware of, and older women too. I sense there are more women councillors, including relatively young ones at least in areas I notice.
But it's not enough just to encourage or role model and mentor. There are artificial obstacles - the criteria for selecting councillors aren't those that make a good councillor - and it's a truism that women are hesitant to brag and project themselves. The political ambitions that drive politicos - and I include my former self, because it's not a gender split - do not make a good councillor or MP . These require relationship building and insight at the casework and 'pothole' level, and analysis and scrutiny at the strategic level. I was fairly good at the latter back then, and would be even better now, but I was hopeless at the former and probably worse now. You rarely see prominent politicians praised for their relationship building (unless it's tactical, building up favours and loyalty) or their skills at challenge, and perhaps if more excelled in these area, politics would be different.
The skills that make a good politician aren't the skills that win votes. Policy areas with big challenges, such as Social Services don't win votes, and doing the right thing is often an unpopular vote loser.
And I don't know what the answer is, other than a gradualist increase in women participating at all levels.