Earlier this summer I was given a fantastic opportunity. I was selected as a delegate for the constituency of Holborn and St Pancras at this year’s Labour Party conference in Manchester.
I was very excited at the time – it’s always nice to be chosen – but it all seemed a long way off. Something that would be happening some time in the distant future.
Yesterday I booked my tickets for Manchester and also attended a briefing held by the London Labour Party for delegates. Tea (in Labour Party mugs) and biscuits were on offer and it all felt quite cosy.
We were briefed by Emily Thornberry, MP for Islington South and Finsbury, and now a member of the shadow cabinet. She basically warned us to avoid journalists – “you don’t want to become the news” – and also described conference as like a ‘big family party’. Again, quite cosy (albeit with a bit of an edge).
I have no desire to talk to journalists. Years and years of working in and around media people have taught me that this is a big mistake – unless you have a product to sell or a massive axe to grind. I have neither. So I will avoid the journalists. Especially in the bar when I might be a bit loose tongued. I will keep my rants under wraps until I have time to write them down – I definitely plan to blog from conference. It is the golden opportunity.
We were also briefed about the possibility of making a speech in one of the debates. This both thrilled and scared me. Thrilled me, because as you all know, I have quite a lot to say (never) and think it would be amazing to speak up in front of a huge audience. It scared me because I’m scared of television. If you speak, you end up on television. I know how television works. Only. Too.Well.
This got me thinking about what I’d like to say – if I had the opportunity. I want to talk about women. We are the forgotten 50 per cent (or thereabouts). We are strong, we are talented and so many of us are wasted.
When we are young, free and single, we get great jobs and great exam grades. Then we have children and it all changes. We make compromises, we take pay cuts or we end up opting out of employment all together. We end up on benefits because life doesn’t always go to plan. We make bad life choices and end up – literally – holding the baby.
Society scapegoats us and we think it is all our fault.
As I may have mentioned before, I am a passionate anti cuts campaigner. I am proud to say that I have helped keep both a nursery and play centre open. I fought for these because they are a lifeline for working parents – especially women. Affordable childcare allows us to take part in the economy and strengthens both families and communities. It’s so bloody obvious.
I want to say all of this at conference – if I get the chance. I want to speak out and say how much I think it would help women if childcare was more available and even better if childcare was free. Especially for women on low incomes. I think Sure Start was one of the best things that the last government did.
OK, I think it was bloody brilliant. Labour should be shouting – nay screaming – about this fantastic initiative that brought affordable childcare, advice and support to millions of families. Blair and Brown may have been flawed but they did tons for families and if Ed ( who has young kids himself) has any sense he will acknowledge and build on this. Yes, money’s tight, but if women have the support to participate in the economy then everyone will benefit. On a cynical level, it can only be a vote winner. But that’s not why I want Labout to step up. Because it’s the right thing to do – as opposed to the right wing thing to do.
The Tories aren’t helping women, as it was rightly pointed out at the TUC conference and I think Labour has a fantastic opportunity to gather the votes of the forgotten 50 per cent.
Yes, women come in all shapes, sizes, colours, religions, classes, socio-economic groups and so on and so forth. There is an argument to be had that suggests that focusing on gender is a form of identity politics that trivializes other issues such as class.
That maybe so, but after reading Fay Weldon’s iconic book (found on a Crouch End charity shop raid) I have unleashed my inner She Devil. It is time to put women’s issues firmly on the agenda once more. Childcare liberates us and is good for society and good for the economy. If Labour can take the initiative, the only way is up.