The FWN was delighted to host Angela Rayner, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, in a wide-ranging discussion as part of the FWN Wonder Women series of online events, focusing on women in the labour movement.
In a truly inspirational session, chaired by Kelly Grehan, Angela touched on topics old and new: from the continued need to secure women’s full and active representation and participation within the Labour Party through all-women shortlists, to very recent issues: lockdown, zoom calls, homeworking, and what we can take from that experience as a way to help women participate in the party at all levels in the future.
Angela began by setting a challenge for everyone listening: to think about what you want to achieve then to think of the target you are going to set yourself in order to do it. It could be something quite simple or it could be ‘I want to be the female PM for Labour’.
She returned to the challenge at the end and also encouraged everyone to text one phenomenal woman they knew with one positive comment about them. ‘It’s not about platitudes. Deeds not words as the suffragettes would say. We all need to think about what we are going to do with what we’ve got. It’s not about me, it’s about our movement, about all of us. If you can, pay it forward.’
Angela talked about her first meeting with Labour Leader Keir Starmer and of being his deputy in every structural sense and how he had given her the power and mandate to be that. A new Inclusion and Diversity Board will have clear, hard targets, she said and will work to address the imbalances that persist as a result of unconscious bias, party structures or prejudice.
‘Unless we have those hard targets, we’ll never achieve anything. I’m sick of jam tomorrow and I don’t want to be seen as the tokenistic, working-class girl. There’s no point in having me there if I can’t get any one of you to come with us – especially in local government where representation of women at all levels is really quite woeful. There is so much more work for us all left to do. We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve been the token gesture in the room. I’m not the token gesture in the room and me and Keir have a really constructive relationship and professional and respectful one. And I know that after him he wants to see a woman taking over the Labour Party leadership.’
Questions from the audience included how best to engage Labour heartlands with poor voter turnout; how lockdown will change campaigning; Boris Johnson and his attitude to women; and policy areas we should be championing. Angela also spoke at length about the abuse she suffers on social media and how she copes with it, and with the need for a kinder politics.
‘We need to be kinder to each other. Within our movement we need to be more respectful when we disagree and not pile on. We need to reflect on that. Personal attacks can be off-putting. People have joined the Labour Party, they’re not Red Tories, they’re in the Labour Party. It’s really toxic and unhelpful to label people. Don’t pigeonhole me either. I’m Labour. I want to see a Labour Government. Stopping labelling people would be a really great start.’
Whilst not minimising the challenges ahead for Labour, Angela was also optimistic for the future as we emerge from lockdown. ‘We have the opportunity to rebalance the economy and could really transform what’s happening in our towns across our nations. Lockdown has shown us that women don’t have to be physically present at a meeting to contribute. We have to seize this opportunity to be more inclusive in everything we do.’
Guin has been a member of The Fabian Society for several years and was mentored on the FWN mentoring programme in 2015. She is a novelist and her first novel was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel award in 2016. Her second novel The Year Without Summer, has recently been published by Two Roads Books and is available now.