he party needs charisma and confidence about what it can do for women in Brexit Britain. It’s time to reach out to women voters across Britain, and show them how Labour will lift them up.
Capturing the spirit of the times: if you can pull it off, it’s a good way to carry the public with you and build public consensus. “Blair’s Babes” did just that. After the 1992 General Election, just 9% of MPs in Parliament were women and just 37 of Labour’s MPs were female. In 1997, that all changed: the Labour landslide swept in with it 101 female Labour MPs, bringing the proportion of women MPs up to 24% in the Parliamentary Labour Party and 18% in the House overall. Some of the most powerful and prominent women in British politics today won their seats in that 1997 General Election. Harriet Harman, Julie Morgan, Diane Abbott and Yvette Cooper: they all hit the ground running as Labour MPs in 1997, and have been running for elections ever since.
The snapshot of “Blair’s Babes”, as the 101 Labour women MPs who came to power in 1997 were called, standing on the steps of Church House in Westminster, captured the public mood and resonates now as it did then. It reflected an era when women were reaching, building and progressing in every aspect of public life.
Now, Corbyn’s Labour party faces a different era. After seven years of austerity, the Conservatives’ cuts have reduced women’s financial means, as well as their access to public life. How Labour addresses the question of women’s rights must necessarily have moved on.
When I wrote about what Labour needed to do for women in 2013 for LabourList, the Conservative cuts were beginning to bite. Last month, Labour’s analysis showed how 86% of the burden of Conservative cuts since 2010 have fallen on women, costing women a total of £79 billion since 2010 against £13 billion for men. Women’s wages still lag behind men’s, and Unite estimates that 54,000 women each year are sacked because they are pregnant.
After seven years of austerity, Conservative policies have reduced women’s financial means, as well as reducing their access to public life. On the one hand we have a woman Prime Minister and First Minister of Scotland, as well as the new Women’s Equality Party. On the other, the Daily Mail still screams sexist with lines like: “Never mind Brexit – who won Legs-It” and the Tories still defend unpalatable policies like the “rape clause” in relation to social security payments.
As Blair’s Babes did in 1997, Labour MPs today need to reflect the public mood and lend their voices to women across Britain. Part of this is about adequate female representation, and Corbyn’s team have been sensitive to this so far: 10 out of 13 prospective Labour candidates chosen last week were women, and we will secure more female PPCs in the days to come.
It’s not just women’s seats, but women’s votes, that will count for Labour in the 2017 General Election. The latest YouGov poll shows that the party has its work cut out to persuade women to vote for Corbyn’s Labour. Labour’s female-friendly policies, including enhanced nursery provision, will help woo women voters. The profile of Labour’s female MPs, from Yvette Cooper MP to Tulip Siddiq MP, will help too.
In 1997, Blair’s Babes captured the spirit of the times. In 2017, Corbyn’s Labour needs to do the same. The party needs charisma and confidence about what it can do for women in Brexit Britain. It’s time to reach out to women voters across Britain, and show them how Labour will lift them up.
Elen Griffiths is a Young fabians member, a member of the Society of Labour Lawyers and former Campaigns Officer for London Young Labour. Follow her on twitter at @artforexample
The Young Fabians provide policy analysis for the left. If you are interested in campaiging for the Labour Party, and raising these issues on the doorstep, please volunteer at http://www.labour.org.uk/volunteering