Ruth Clarke reports on this weekend’s AGM
Labour Women Leading was established in 2016 by a group of women enthused by the radical policies of the then Party leadership. Over the years we have maintained a mailing list of 500, organised Party conference fringe meetings, training and policy sessions, and successfully supported CLP candidates for the Women’s Conference Arrangements Committee, the National Labour Women’s Committee and other internal elections.
We are keen to encourage activity among grassroots members and to promote the Democracy Review reforms, including the establishment of women’s branches. In January we ran an online information session “Get empowered – building more effective women’s structures” with background notes on the practical difficulties in some CLPs. We have active groups, who report regularly to the LWL National Committee, in the West Midlands, North-West and Eastern Region.
LWL has inevitably experienced a period of reassessment since the change of Party leadership. Energy was low and there were tensions between women who thought the organisation should focus on developing specific – and possibly controversial) policies – through internal discussions, and those who preferred to work collaboratively with others on the Labour left on issues on which we can all agree. Ultimately, and after much discussion, the second option was supported by the Committee.
Our online AGM on 20th November got off to a positive start, thanks to an inspiring contribution from National Executive Committee member Nadia Jama. She reminded us that left women still hold key positions on Party committees, including all the CLP places on the newly elected National Women’s Committee. There were 700+ delegates to this year’s online Women’s Conference, with lively debates and progressive motions passed. At Party Conference 55% of the delegates were women, many of them young women – and 78% of the Party membership joined after 2016 (that is, during the Corbyn leadership). Labour left women still have much to celebrate and plenty to fight for.
Online events encourage the participation of members with disabilities and those with caring responsibilities, and we must ensure that the face-to-face Women’s Conference, scheduled, we have just been told, for 19th/20th March 2022, is a hybrid event and as inclusive as the previous two conferences. Nadia confirmed that CLPs can now set up BAME branches as well as women’s branches. New structures and Codes of Conduct are under consideration, to address, among other evils, discrimination against disabled members, Afrophobia, and misogyny against Black women.
Publicity and training for grassroots members will be crucial, and left members of the NEC and National Women’s Committee will do everything possible to promote this. Nadia acknowledged that left women have legitimate concerns, but insisted that we remain strong in the Party. She encouraged us to stay, to be visible, to support one another, and even to stand for public office!
During the pandemic, LWL organised a series of successful online policy discussions, and our AGM was preceded by an informative session on the crisis in our schools. Professor Diane Reay opened with an analysis of the unfairness in the system, and the manner in which competition is encouraged between and within schools. Spending on a child in a private school is 3.7 times that on a child in the state sector. In 2020 the OECD placed the UK 69th out of 72 countries for student happiness, and the UK is bottom of the list for creativity and critical thinking: our system is increasingly about proscription, drill and compliance.
Frieda Schicker of the Socialist Educational Association pointed out that, shockingly, 91% of secondary and 30% of primary schools are now academies, with many academy chains controlled by Tory donors. Hildres Pancrace of No More Exclusions explained how school exclusions disproportionately affect children from minority communities and/or those from deprived backgrounds or with social and emotional difficulties. Institutional racism in schools deprives pupils of a sense of themselves, exacerbated by the Prevent programme and Stop and Search. We need to address the structural problems caused by academisation and return to a fairly funded, properly resourced, child centred system. Labour’s education policies are a sticking plaster and will do little to tackle the root causes of these problems.
There will no doubt be challenges ahead, but with renewed enthusiasm (and limited resources!) it is hoped that in 2022 the newly-elected Labour Women Leading Committee will initiate discussion and training on a range of policy areas and incoming party structures. More information about us (and a membership form) is available at email@example.com.
Ruth Clarke is Secretary of Labour Women Leading.
- Professor Diane Reay is the author of Miseducation: inequality, education and the working classes, Policy Press and Bristol University Press, ISBN 9781447330653.
- No More Exclusions is a grassroots coalition with a focus on racial justice in the education system, website: https://nomoreexclusions.com
- The Socialist Educational Association is a socialist society affiliated to the Labour Party, monitoring and helping to develop party policy, website: https://socialisteducationalassociation.org
Image: Party Conference 2021, by Emma Tait.
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