23 March 2009

Rebutting the rebuttal

Well, folks, we have ourselves a good old blogosphere argument: Kez has entered the debate on All-Women Shortlists. Now, I enjoy these occasions as it's an opportunity to take an issue and analyse the living crap out of it... possibly proof of my invocation of Holmesian sociolinguistics.

Firstly, I'd like to refute any notion of my previous posts on the matter being 'offensive tripe'. My foray into gender-based communication - i.e. the argument that the two genders communicate differently and as such hold distinct skills, all of which have their uses in our political system - was developed from a theory ('private speakers' versus 'public speakers') espoused by the likes of Janet Holmes and Miriam Meyerhoff - experts in the field of language and gender and definitely not misogynists! It is not offensive to suggest that men and women do things differently. It is only offensive when that suggestion carries the assumption that one of the groups is doing things wrong. Given my argument that the two genders have different communication skills that prove useful is different areas of political life - so acknowledging the strengths and weaknesses of both genders - I feel vindicated by my suggestion that it's now an automatic reflex to brand someone challenging the idea of the AWS as sexist. Even when it's blatantly obvious that they are not. To label me a misogynist for my views on gender and communication is to accuse Professors Holmes and Meyerhoff of self-loathing.

Anyway.

"...The Labour Party's current policy - led by Harriet Harman - is that all seats where the incumbent Labour MP is standing down should be all women shortlists."

Is Gregg McClymont, the Labour PPC in Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East (where Rosemary McKenna is standing down), a woman?

"Each Constituency Labour Party elects its own candidate. It is simply untrue to say that you piss off your activists with an AWS."

Tell that to activists in Blaenau Gwent and East Lothian.

"I'm fed up hearing that democracy has somehow been overted by the imposition of an all women shortlist."

If I were being pedantic, I would point out that 'overt' is not a verb, but even if it were, it would surely mean to open something up which is the Great Assertion in favour of AWS! My guess is that Kez was trying to dismiss the idea that democracy is subverted by the concept. Well, let me spell this out: it is artificially restricting the pool of potential candidates in an election. It is not using merit as the first consideration for whether or not someone should be able to stand. The first question now used to vet potential candidates is "Do you have a penis?", and anyone who answers in the affirmative is ruled out of the running. That is certainly not meritocratic, and it's not democratic either: if the boot were placed back on the other foot (where it resided either in law or in practice or both for centuries) there would, quite rightly, be an outcry. Kez will just have to get used to hearing this line... only the people discussing it will, I'm sure, use real verbs.

"Nobody in this debate seems capable of addressing the fundamental issue which is that of the decline in the membership of political parties. Of what ever political colour and ilk, people just simply do not join political parties in the same way any more. Yet those that remain decide who represents their party and often in a safe seat, who represents that constituency in Parliament.

"To be brutally honest, there's something not quite right about a room full of 100 people selecting the candidate to represent 75,000 people.
"

I agree. But two things spring to mind: firstly, where is the evidence that AWS has arrested that decline, and secondly, surely that is an argument for open primaries, rather than an AWS?

"I'd love to know how many SNP people took part in the selection of George Kerevan in Edinburgh East? I'd love to know how many Lib Dems voted for Fred MacIntosh in Edinburgh South. Was there even a contest? Or simply a right of passage?

"Until we reignite the fire behind party politics or change the way we select our candidates - nobody is on solid ground to argue that all women short-lists are undemocratic.
"

I would imagine that the Edinburgh SNP selection was arranged rapidly: in preparation for the election that never came. What I know for sure is that following the 2003 candidate selection debacle, the rules changed so that under normal circumstances, candidates were chosen by OMOV: this has happened to select the SNP's European Candidates: the shortlist was narrowed down at Conference - where every delegate had a vote - while the final ranking determined by the enitre Party membership, and every candidate had an equal chance of coming first regardless of incumbency. This is in stark contrast to Labour, where the candidate ranked third actually outpolled the top two, but was prevented from overtaking them simply because they are sitting MEPs.

Now consider that: Mary Lockhart has been held back in third place despite outpolling 'first-placed' David Martin. That does make a mockery of Labour's gender equality mission, doesn't it?

And of course, while I'm not sure how we widen political participation across the board (though giving the most popular candidate first place on a Party list might help), I have every right to call an undemocratic process undemocratic. I might not be sure how to move forwards but I can at least recognise a retrograde step and oppose it.

"Let me be clear again - nobody is getting parachuted in from anywhere! The Labour Party takes great pride in the importance of a constituency link."

So Maggie Jones wasn't parachuted? So John Reid, whose Hamilton seat disappeared, wasn't parachuted into Airdrie? What link did Tony Blair have with Sedgefield? What link did Peter Mandelson have with Hartlepool? How did Donald Dewar end up in Aberdeen? How did Taysider Mike Watson end up in Glasgow? What connection does Ed Balls have with West Yorkshire? And Anne Moffat's connections with East Lothian were at best ancestral - so her candidacy would be like me seeking election in Paisley!

"Imposing a woman?! Who says the woman in Airdrie and Shotts wont be local?"

Here's the thing... the Party rules as set out by Harman (though disregarded for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East, I note) are imposed centrally on a constituency. HQ has told local activists that they can pick any candidate they like as long as she's a woman. That's imposition. Of a woman. By the centre. Regardless of the woman's address she has been imposed. And if she's local, then there is no reason why she can't tan the hide of any male candidate in a fair contest.

I am not disputing the argument that the number of women (and LGBT, and BME) candidates and parliamentarians is woefully short of what it should be. It is.

I am not disputing that we need to do something to open up politics. We do.

But I do not believe that just because AWS is something, we should do it. That's an approach straight out of the Jim Hacker School of Politics.

And I do not believe that AWS is the way to equality. It is, at best, the way to parity and those two are very distinct concepts. The idea that any individual, whatever their profile, should be ruled out from consideration for office simply because they might skew the demographic balance is, to me, utterly abhorrent. But that is the risk with the search for parity and it is, unfortunately, an integral part of the AWS process.

Well-meant? I'm reasonably sure of that. Wrong? Absolutely.

9 comments:

Malc said...

This is a cracking debate...

Will said...

It is! I'm enjoying it... in fact, we should have them more often, though it'd be more interesting to see one which cut across Party lines.

Of course, I think Hell will freeze over before that actually happens, but we all have to have something to hope for...

Grogipher said...

I'm tempted to get on my cheerleaders' outfit for that post hehe

*ruffles his pompoms*

scunnert said...

What about the transgendered? Hmmm?

Kezia Dugdale said...

“Kez will just have to get used to hearing this line... only the people discussing it will, I'm sure, use real verbs.”

Harsh! Yes I made a mistake – but it clearly took somebody with a degree in linguistics to point out it… everybody else knew what I meant!

A few further points of quick rebuttal:

I’m pretty sure Cumbernauld, Kilsyth & Kirkintilloch East have had their candidate in place for well over a year now…? The policy, as I said in my post, was devised and implemented by Harriet Harman fairly recently.

The policy is different for by-elections. The whole process for selection is different in by-elections. It’s not a loop hole… It’s not an attempt to fix things. It’s just the way it is and everybody in the labour party with a sense of rationality accepts that.

“And I do not believe that AWS is the way to equality. It is, at best, the way to parity and those two are very distinct concepts.”

- I agree, but I’ve still to hear any suggestions or sparkling ideas from you or your fellow opponents to AWS as to a truly progressive, radical alternative? One designed to produce results with the speed of progress we need. ERS and other organisations say at this rate of progress it will take 200 years to reach gender equality in parliament? Can we wait?

Can I also say that I should not have used the words “offensive tripe” – that in itself was offensive. It just suited my mood – woman’s prerogative and all that! ;)

All grammatical and spelling errors entirely deliberate of chourse

Grogipher said...

You're asking the wrong people why women aren't in Parliament Kez - you should be asking your fellow girls, rather than Mr MacNumpty.

As I've already said 'til I'm blue - simply treating the symptom is not the same as finding a cure to the problem.

Political Dissuasion said...

Why is that those in favour of AWS paint those against as sexist, when it say who are actively trying to limit the opportunities of one sexual grouping?

How can these people not be forced to have the words 'double standard' tattooed on their foreheads?

Said it before, willl say it again, ridiculous!

Will said...

Actually, Kez, I didn't find the phrase "offensive tripe" all that offensive... I've used harsher words than 'tripe' myself in the past and it's all good fun. The 'offensive' bit just baffled me as I failed to see why suggesting that men and women look at things differently could be offensive.

I'll hold my hands up on the timing issue re AWS and Gregg McClymont (and just be grateful I re-drafted my wording for that point - you do NOT want to know what I was originally going to put there!). Though given the present policy I would simply say that you're in danger of skipping half a generation of new talent and potential simply because that's the half with the wrong anatomy. That was both idiotic and disgraceful when your half was the "wrong" one, and it's equally pathetic now that it's apparently my half in that position. What was wrong one way a couple of decades ago is still wrong the other way now.

That said, I think we really are coming at this from two completely different angles: you're aiming for parity and I agree with PD in that I really don't see that as being synonymous with equality. I'm less interested in parliaments being precisely 50:50 than I am in making sure that everyone gets a fair chance at standing... and having representatives that can speak for all their constituents. So as a gay male, I'd be happy to have a heterosexual woman (my opposite in both elements of gender and orientation) as my representative as long as I knew that I could make my case to her and she would hear me out. Conversely, if I found myself in Alan Duncan's constituency, I'd have no hesitation in voting against him at an election.

As long as the procedures are clear and unbiased, we have the possibility of women making it on the ballot paper in ever increasing numbers should they wish. But if we try and artificially force things in the direction of parity then we move away from equality as the prcedures are based on a prejudice.

There's also (and I wish I raised this in the body of my post) the question of promoting this idea at the actual election... what do you, as a Labour supporter who wants more women in Parliament, do when the Labour candidate is a man but the Tory or SNP candidate is a woman? Party or Parity? Who did you want as US Vice-President: Joe Biden or Sarah Palin?

(I'm being cheeky here - I know the answer but the point stands as it would be great to see a woman on the winning ticket for the White House but - ye gods! - surely someone could have found a better woman for the role than Palin!)

So I remain to be convinced - and "do you have any better ideas?" isn't an argument I find persuasive. I freely admit that I haven't a scooby on this one but I think that AWS is not the way forward. Though as I say, we have different visions of equality: equal opportunities versus equal outcomes.

PS Putting my descriptive linguist's hat on, you did in effect make 'overt' a verb... but I still think it means 'to open up'! :)

PPS Grogipher... no need to don the cheerleader outfit on my account. Seriously, there's just no need. ;p

PPPS Scunnert - that's a good point. Though that could be a rather extreme move for the ambitious Labour-supporting man!

Anonymous said...

Interesting that Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East is mentioned here. I understand that the SNP managed to select a female candidate for that particular without resort to an all woman shortlist.