Let’s not take a backward step

21 Sep

By Josephine Grahl

In May 2018 a record number of woman councillors were elected in Newham – 28 in total – as well as a woman Mayor, Rokhsana Fiaz, who then went on to appoint a majority female Cabinet and a woman Deputy Mayor, Charlene Maclean.

This was achieved thanks to a Labour party selection process which determined that, where a council ward was already represented by two female councillors, or where a male candidate was stepping down and creating a vacancy, Labour party branches would be asked to select at least two women for the three available seats.

Essentially this meant that eight of the twenty council wards would have all-women shortlists (AWS) for two of the three available seats, with the remainder having to select at least one woman.

The exception was Royal Docks, where the three incumbent men were reselected; if a vacant seat becomes available in that ward, one would hope it would be filled through AWS.

Boleyn was a ‘two-women ward’, where the suspension of Cllr Obaid Khan from the Labour party created a vacancy and the local Labour party selected sitting councillors Veronica Oakeshott and Harvinder Singh Virdee and new candidate Genevieve Kitchen to contest the ward.

It was a surprise, therefore, when Labour party members in Newham were informed that the candidate selection for the Boleyn ward by-election – where Cllr Veronica Oakeshott is stepping down – would be open to both male and female candidates. Historically, open selections in Newham have almost always led to the selection of male candidates, so it looks all too likely that this will be a backward step for gender balance in Newham Council.

When asked why the selection was not an AWS, the London Regional Labour party cited the party rulebook, namely Appendix 4. B. i. b: “In winnable wards with two or three members at least one candidate must be a woman.” But there’s nothing in the letter of that rule which suggests that an all women shortlist can’t be used in Boleyn – and the spirit of that rule is the encouragement of wider participation by women in standing for elected office, here being undermined.

Newham Council has had a solid Labour majority for decades, often with sixty Labour councillors out of sixty, and with only minor and short-lived incursions by other parties. This makes the Labour party’s selection process for council candidates key to the make-up of the Council. It’s disappointing, therefore, that the party has opted not to require that an outgoing woman councillor be replaced by another woman – and will be even more disappointing if the Boleyn by-election leads to a reduction in the number of women holding local office.

Josephine Grahl is writing in her personal capacity, not as chair of West Ham CLP.

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One Response to “Let’s not take a backward step”

  1. Robbie Gordon September 28, 2018 at 08:26 #

    Bolyen. Is now officially an ALL women short list .All male applicants rejected . What was the point of opening it up to all members when it was already decided to be women only. Get a grip London region. 60 councillors 1 woman 1 man and 1 another .That’s equality.

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