By Lara McNeill, National Executive Committee
Dave Prentis, Unison General Secretary, yesterday launched a remarkable attack on Jeremy Corbyn accusing the Labour Party of using all-women-shortlists as “bargaining chips” and suggesting that safe seats were being stitched up for “favourite sons”.
In the extraordinary letter, sent from Prentis to Corbyn and leaked to Buzzfeed, Prentis alleged that the Party risked returning to “the bad old days of back room stitch ups and women being pushed further away”; but is there any truth or basis to Prentis’ claims?
Back in 2016 Jeremy Corbyn appeared in front of the Women and Equalities Select Committee to give evidence on the under-representation of women in Parliament. During his questioning, Corbyn committed to achieving 50% women’s representation in the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) by 2020 and said that the “National executive will be considering this urgently at my request”.
The Labour Party NEC took heed of Corbyn’s request and acted swiftly, and less than 8 months later, following a General Election, women’s representation in the PLP had risen from 101 to 119, representing 45% of the entire PLP.
Shortly after that General Election, the Party set about selecting candidates in marginal seats in anticipation of a weakened Theresa May’s government crumbling. So far, we have selected candidates in 102 target seats, with 72 of those seats selecting women, up from 39 women candidates in the same 102 seats in 2015.
As for Prentis’ allegation of “favourite sons taking up the safest seats”, of the 30 most marginal of those target seats, 17 have selected women, up from 11 women candidates in the same seats in 2015.
On top of this, in the 9 “defector seats”, which were previously held by Labour MPs who defected to Change UK earlier this year and seen as highly prized because of their large majorities, we chose to make 6 all-woman-shortlists. This guaranteed an increase of at least 50% in women’s representation in the seats which previously only had 4 women.
If we apply similar scrutiny to Unison’s record on men replacing women, it seems all is not whiter than white.
When the NEC met to discuss open/AWS in defector seats, Unison reps supported both Stockport and Enfield North being Open despite having previously being held by women and then went on to support a man in Stockport. As Liz McInnes MP said yesterday, “maybe Dave needs to have a word with his own members as well as Jeremy”
Members will have to make their own mind’s up on Jeremy Corbyn’s record and Dave Prentis’ motivations, but could it be that his letter to Corbyn, which just somehow found it’s way in to the hands of the media, is just a “bargaining chip” in “discussions and negotiations” in advance of the NEC deciding the open/AWS allocations of seats, which Unison will surely be backing candidates in?