I was so down on Friday I couldn’t bring myself to post a guest blog. Sorry about that. It’s an absolute corker, too – super-sexy, as I’m pretty sure you’ll agree when I put it live tomorrow. I just didn’t want it getting lost in all the rage and sadness about Brexit. Anyway. I have a themed ‘two things’ for you this week – both of them relating to the Women’s Equality Party, and both of them bad, I’m afraid. Let’s get angry.
Bad thing the first: Women’s Equality Party’s Wednesday email
When the Women’s Equality Party announced their formation, I felt a little surge of hope. It was, I think, shortly after the Labour ‘pink bus’ incident, and long after a number of other tediously patronising things politicians had done to try and gather women’s votes – as if we’re a small yet significant bunch of swing votes which might nudge an election in the right direction, rather than a large and disparate group of individuals that make up half the population.
I liked the idea of a political party that analysed and highlighted the specific ways in which politics often ignored women, and fought for genuine change.
After what felt like a phenomenally short period of time, my hope turned into crashing disappointment. Alongside specific policies which I strongly disagreed with, I also felt – like Abi Wilkinson – that the Women’s Equality Party turned out to be more of a middle-class ladies campaign group.
It sounds harsh, but there is no neater way of summing up just how disappointing the Women’s Equality Party’s ‘non-partisan’ stance has been. By sticking rigidly to their ‘non-partisan’ stance, the Women’s Equality Party is tackling issues which, in general, no one argues with – at least not out loud. They’re a campaigning group that doesn’t want to bother anyone. A neat and polite rebrand of feminism that ignores the concerns of so many of the women they should be fighting for. Few politicians are genuinely arguing that women should be paid less than men, or that we need to tackle the not insignificant problem of violence against women.
These are easy wins. They’re warm-and-fuzzies (shout ‘boo’ to violence against women and there are few people in the crowd who won’t cheer along with you). They’re obvious targets. That’s not to say we shouldn’t defeat them: we should. But we need to look a bit further than the ‘boo to inequality’ message peddled by the Women’s Equality Party, and towards some genuine solutions. We need to examine how poverty and austerity hits women harder. We need to look at which of the parties in government are offering plans which will genuinely help to tackle them. Unfortunately, these things involve being partisan: they mean you actually have to state an opinion.
Women’s Equality Party: their stance on Brexit
So let’s move on to Wednesday’s email. The email they sent the night before the referendum vote. The email they sent because they believed they had influence over their member-base (and rightly, it seems – the Women’s Equality Party got 350,000 votes in the London Mayoral election), and wanted to use that influence for good. What did they say in that email?
“WE are leading the charge in making sure women‘s voices are heard in this vital vote.
“We bring our non-partisan stance to this campaign as a challenge to all the other parties to takeequality for women seriously, out of political point-scoring and into the field of essential human rights.
“Because we will only make progress when we break down the existing narrative that women‘sequality belongs only on a certain part of the political spectrum rather than a priority for all.
“In the media, the debate around Brexit has been dominated by male voices.
“But WE know women have a lot to say on EU membership.”
And it goes on like this for a couple more paragraphs. But if you read that, as I did, on tenterhooks – waiting for the conclusion on whether to vote ‘in’ or ‘out’, then I hope you weren’t holding your breath because it ain’t going to come.
Regardless of which way you voted, I hope you can agree that such a significant change to the UK, which will impact not just working law but equality legislation too, which will have a huge impact particularly on poorer women during a huge post-Brexit recession… for the Women’s Equality Party to take no stance on this whatsoever is not just disappointing, it’s utterly pathetic. It’s hopeless. The Women’s Equality Party is a campaign group so crushed under the weight of not wanting to upset anyone, that it ends up fighting for no one.
Bad thing the second: Friday’s Women’s Equality Party email
“This morning you will have felt, as I did, a jolt as Britain voted to exit the EU.”
What kind of ‘jolt’, WEP – give me a clue. A good one, or a bad one? Nothing?
“The old political parties are fractured and the electorate is divided. But if there is one good thing about this seismic shift it is this: when the landscape is flattened, everyone can be clearly seen. And now, even as the dust hangs in the air, those who care about equality have a chance in this new environment to be part of the rebuilding.”
There’s a clue here in ‘if there is one good thing about this seismic shift’ – that sort of implies they think the shift is bad on the whole. So why not say so when there was still time to influence people’s votes?
What’s more, why on Earth would we want you to have a hand in the ‘rebuilding’ of our country and our politics when you steadfastly refused to have an opinion on whether it should get flattened in the first place?
“Today must mark the start of a different kind of politics. Today has shown us the power of those parties not in Government to make political change. Today I believe more than ever that the only way for us to thrive is to work across divides and put the intersectional experiences of all women at the heart of our plans for growth.
“Bringing in the new means a lot of hard work. We must have women at the table. We must be brave enough to work collaboratively and embrace diversity. And we must never again endure the Punch and Judy politics of the referendum campaign, in which women’s voices were woefully lacking.”
Emphasis in that last para is mine, just to highlight the moment at which my jaw dropped straight through the floorboards. Women’s voices were lacking, you say? You, who remained stoically and uselessly silent on the topic? You, who have appointed yourselves the spokespeople for feminism yet who didn’t want to rock the boat and actually say something on the most important political decision in my living memory? Thanks.
Whatever you think of the Brexit I hope you can agree that this stance from WEP is so utterly, shamefully poor that they’re clearly not anything close to what they wanted to be: a party that fights for women’s equality. I thought I couldn’t be more disappointed in them than I was already, but these two emails pushed me further away than I’d previously thought possible.
A ‘new kind of politics’? They’re the same thing we’ve always had from UK politics: people who are happier to jump behind public opinion rather than make good, passionate arguments to try and shape it. Politicians who studiously avoid having principles in case those principles upset some of their key supporters.
Today they’re Nigel Farage distancing himself from the ‘£350 million’ lie, and Daniel Hannam saying it’s ‘not about immigration’. They’re Boris Johnson and Michael Gove offering a victory speech that sounds more like a eulogy. They’re Kelvin Mackenzie expressing ‘buyer’s remorse’ over his vote to Leave.
In short, they are exactly the same as everyone else: playing the games they felt were necessary to remain popular, then distancing themselves from blame when the whole thing crumbles around them.