In June 2021, I was delighted to be elected as one of the Constituency Labour Party Representatives on the Labour Party National Women’s Committee. On 9th September 2021 we were able to hold the committee’s first meeting.
Members of the Committee
- Solma Ahmed
- Ekua Bayunu
- Mandy Clare
- Tricia Duncan
- Pamela Fitzpatrick
- Chlöe Hopkins
Socialist Society Section
- Nan Sloane
Parliamentary Labour Party Section
- Karen Smyth MP
Trade Union Section
- Sonya Davis
- Ruth Hayes
- Linda Hobson
- Beverley Momenabadi
- Emily Rowles
- Jean Sharrocks
- Ann Henderson
Association of Labour Councillors Section
National Executive Committee Co-Vice Chairs for Women
- Ann Black (role share)
- Jayne Taylor (role share)
We began the meeting with the election of the NWC Chair. Ruth Hayes was nominated and seconded, and elected unopposed. Ruth then took nominations for the Vice Chairs, with two positions available. Three members were nominated – Ekua Bayunu, Pamela Fitzpatrick and Jean Sharrocks. Given the difficulties of counting the votes in the meeting, including weighting Ann Black and Jayne Taylor’s votes as they share a single vote between them, it was agreed that the Vice Chairs would be elected via an online ballot. This will be held from noon Friday 10th September until midnight Sunday 12th September, with results expected on Monday 13th September. I intend to cast my votes for Ekua Bayunu and Pamela Fitzpatrick.
Following these electoral matters, Ruth allowed all members to make a brief introduction to one another. There is a real breadth of experience and knowledge on the committee and I feel very honoured to be in my position and able to work with many incredible women. In addition to the members of the NWC present, we were also joined by members of the NEC Women’s sub-committee and Labour Party Chair, Anneliese Dodds MP.
With introductions conducted we moved on to discussion of our responsibilities under our terms of reference and our priorities for work as a committee.
It was quickly raised that the rule book specifies our committee may have at least 3 meetings a year with potential for more meetings as needed, whereas the terms of reference only specified 3 meetings. It was felt by all that there should be opportunity for more, especially given the workload.
We also discussed how the work of the NEC women’s sub-committee should be primarily moved into being the responsibility of the NWC, with that sub-committee only meeting as necessary on an ad hoc basis in future. A member remarked that this should help facilitate more opportunities for NWC meetings as it would free up some staff time. We also discussed ways to hold our meetings, whether online, in person or as hybrid setups. The Chair agreed to work with the National Women’s Officer to facilitate future meetings, including looking at ensuring all members had sufficient access.
I raised the point that as well as working with the Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee to deliver the National Annual Women’s Conference,we as a committee had a broader responsibility to follow up on the motions passed by National Women’s Conference. Given that the rule book says NWC has responsibility for leading the political work of women in the party, I asked about how we could ensure we had someone championing those motions in the National Policy Forum and whether in future Clause V meetings we could have any input into the Party’s policies for women. Staff agreed to look into how our relationship with policy formation will work and how we can continue to push forward the democratically decided motions of the Labour National Women’s Organisation.
Those motions, which I consider to be the basis of our democratic mandate, are under the following headings: Women’s Equality After the Coronavirus Pandemic; Women and the Economy; Women and Climate Justice; Social Care; Women and Palestine and the Middle East; Early Years and Education (1); Early Years and Education (2); Working parents and Carers’ Rights; and Violence Against Women and Girls. Two of these will be sent to Annual Conference – Women’s Equality After the Coronavirus Pandemic and Violence Against Women And Girls.
We also asked about the role of NWC members at the Annual Conference. This year NWC members will receive passes to attend – but as visitors, not in an ex-officio capacity. We suggested it would be better in future if the rules could be brought up to date on this, especially as ideally the two motions from National Women’s Conference which are going to be heard at Annual Conference should be moved by members of the NWC.
On our original agenda we were going to hear an update from Marsha De Cordova MP, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. Unfortunately she was unable to attend. However, it was noted that under this item members had wanted to discuss issues raised by the case of Apsana Begum MP – both looking at the question of how complaints are handled but also party culture more generally. It was agreed that an explanation of the new complaints process would be brought to the NWC at the next meeting.
We then heard a report on this year’s National Women’s Conference. This opened up our discussion on what worked well, what could be improved and how we could work towards future conferences. We discussed ways to improve the diversity of delegates to National Women’s Conference, including better monitoring of characteristics. We also asked about how to ensure there was absolute clarity for CLPs on delegate selections.
I raised my concern that any future in-person conference should not lose the accessibility we gained with this year’s online access and voiced support for a hybrid model. It was noted by another member that this may be difficult given costs involved and how to deliver a genuinely accessible National Women’s Conference will certainly be a key part of our role. I also said that with most CLPs being able to send their delegates using monies returned from the EU levy it was crucial to consider costs to CLPs. Another member pointed out that with Annual Conference, Women’s Conference and yearly Regional Conferences those costs could become prohibitive and we should not allow that to mean some members or some CLPs are excluded, especially given the limits of fundraising available for CLPs.
The Party is currently looking at options for National Women’s Conference 2022, and this will be a topic of discussion at the next NEC meeting. Once the NEC has approved the timetable, full planning can get underway and I’m very keen to work with WCAC on delivering for members.
We moved on to discuss Women’s Branches. At the moment we have only 23 fully established Women’s Branches, so I asked about how we could proactively encourage CLPs to have a women’s branch, including asking CLPs why they did not have a women’s branch and what they would need in order to establish one. I emphasised the importance of the Women’s Branches democratic role. Other members raised similar points on how to ensure Women’s Branches are able to fulfill that role, including in the context of candidate selections. It was also raised that signing off on Women’s Branches is currently under the purview of the NEC Equalities Sub-Committee not the NWC. Staff agreed they would look into how to transfer that responsibility to NWC. Several members discussed making training available to members to help explain how to establish their Women’s Branch locally. Given the amount of work needed to look at supporting Women’s Branches we agreed that a sub-committee was needed to oversee that area.
We received a report from Anneliese Dodds about the question of All Women’s Shortlists. Unfortunately the party is facing a situation in which the gender parity of the Parliamentary Labour Party means we will not legally be able to continue with All Women’s shortlists for MP selections. Several points were made. Firstly, it is very important that members and CLPs are aware that in areas where we do not have parity with the wider population, including the selection of local councillors, All Women’s Shortlists are still very much permitted and necessary. Secondly, we need to address how to best maintain the gender parity we have achieved in the PLP without AWS. AWS is a tool to achieve a goal, not an end in itself – and to that end it is imperative that we think creatively because, as one member noted, we know there are women who will stand, the crucial thing is ensuring they are not held back. Finally, we can stress that if in government Labour will change the law to ensure positive action is not forced to cease as parity with the population is achieved. It was agreed that this subject should be an ongoing agenda item for future meetings. I have passed on my thoughts to the chair that we might consider this in conjunction with looking at how women are supported in candidates’ programmes at future meetings.
The Chair and National Women’s Officer agreed to work together to produce an updated schedule of meetings for the NWC, which will need to be run by the NEC to ensure there is staff time available.
The meeting closed with much work for the future, but I believe a general sense of satisfaction with how we have begun. I certainly hope we can be very productive for members.
If members would like to contact me, you can get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org I will be checking the inbox once a week. I would also urge sisters to sign up for the Labour Women’s Newsletter here.