I left a swirling ball of rage – how had I been tricked in to almost voting for them?!
A report back from Cardiff Hustings 2015 – What will parties do to help women achieve and prosper in Wales?
On 24th February in a lecture theatre at Cardiff University, Chwarae Teg in association with NUS Wales, invited representatives from some of the main political parties to present their party’s vision for increasing women’s participation should they win the 2015 General Election. WWAWM sent me to be there to experience the discussion; jaw-dropping face-palms and all. Here is what I learnt from good- to bad- to worse….
The representatives (in left to right seating order)
UKIP – Anthony Raybould
Conservatives – Tracey West
Green Party – Chris von Ruhland
Labour Party – Jo Stevens
Plaid Cymru – Martin Pollard
Liberal Democrats – Eluned Parrott.
- The audience was about 70 in number (a reasonable turnout for a talk about women that starts at 6pm on a school night) and had a relatively even mix between genders.
- Lib dem candidate Eluned Parrott used her 2 minute presentation to discuss specialist software which anonymously analyses a company’s payroll to determine if there is a gender pay gap present. She is for the enforced publication of such data for medium to large companies and would introduce extra free nursery places. When asked a question about the Lord Rennard scandal, the candidate gave a well-rehearsed answer which although did little to absolve the party of fault in their response, at least recognised wrongdoing and promised a change in party policy. Is this enough? Watch this space.
- Plaid’s candidate Martin was easily the most politically savvy of the evening and was genuinely convincing when talking about his party’s commitment to end zero hour contracts (an idea the UKIP candidate was surprisingly also in favour of), introduction of the living wage, an end to the ‘bedroom tax’ and an extra year of free nursery places. Martin later went on to correct the UKIP candidate when the latter managed to imply that a man who had previously been in a relationship with a woman cannot be guilty of harassing her. It won Martin a well-deserved round of applause from an audience, at this point weary of the increasingly worrisome comments made about women, but too polite to heckle.
- Labour’s candidate Jo Stevens is a trade union solicitor and gave an excellent account of herself and her party’s policies including the abolition of community- based resolutions by way of an apology in instances where violence in the home as occurred. Jo deftly batted away any criticism of Labour’s dismal election result in 2010 and it was clear to see why she is tipped as a rising star in the party. In fact, it was surprising to learn that she is a first time candidate as she was so en pointe with her retorts to the Coalition candidates’ argument that Labour ‘wasted’ money on welfare. She was believable and convincing in her statements that she is an advocate for social justice and has entered politics in order to improve society. She may well end up convincing disillusioned former Labour supporters in Cardiff to return to the fold.
- UKIP candidate Anthony Raybould largely stumbled through his opening speech but managed to throw in a few crowd pleasers with easy winning platitudes; pointing out that he is ‘for’ equal pay, but against violence and child abuse. How thoroughly modern! During his largely rambling and shambolic speech it was tempting to look off stage and imagine a giant hook wielded by Farage, prepped to yank him off. To give the candidate his due, he later went on to partially redeem himself by stating that he believes in marriage equality and an end to the Welfare Reforms as they leave too many excluded. Look, a ‘kipper with a heart!
- The Conservative representative Tracey West was suspiciously absent from any of the promotional literature and stated several times throughout the evening that she could not comment on various questions (austerity measures, welfare reforms, childcare) because she ‘was not a member of the party’ when they were introduced. She clearly had not been briefed to toe the party line (she only mentioned Osborne’s soundbyte ‘long term economic plan’ once!) and was by far the least polished of all the candidates. Her inclusion in the evening and indeed as an election candidate (she is standing in the almost unwinnable Blaenau Gwent) felt uncomfortably tokenistic. In a bizarre response to a question about parental leave, Tracey stated that she had ‘difficulty empathising’ with parents because she has no children. One wonders how she would cope with Disability legislation, anti-racism legislation et al. The answer, I suspect would be, ‘not very well’. Tracey finished on an unintentionally comedic moment when she was asked by an audience member why she was standing as a Conservative candidate and she responded by saying she had discussed it with her father and husband who both thought it was a good idea! Sigh.
- Chris von Ruhland of the Green party had a shocker of an evening to round off a terrible week for the party (I’m referring to THAT radio interview about social housing) and I SO wanted to like him. I don’t have an allegiance to any particular party but I agree with a lot of the Greens’ policies and until this week, genuinely thought that a vote for the Greens might shake up the political landscape. I mean they are so progressive, right? BIG MISTAKE. The candidate Chris began by making an argument for implementing mandatory quotas to ensure 40% of board members and directors are women. This suggestion was roundly rejected by the Liberal Democrat candidate who fired off a list of reasons why she doesn’t think they would work. Personally, I am undecided on quotas but Chris, just sat, mouth agape like a stuffed mullet and was unable to defend his position. Ok, so I know this is hardly ‘Question Time’ but he is a veteran candidate and considering that this was the policy he decided to prioritise and discuss first; I was more than a little taken aback that he had not thought ahead of ANY POSSIBLE RESPONSE to any criticisms that might be levelled at the fairly controversial policy. More crushingly disappointing moments flowed throughout the evening when he veered from one disastrous comment to another, most notably when asked a question about the lack of women MPs, Chris meandered around the issue and ended on a toe-curlingly inappropriate comment about how ‘women talk so much more than men anyway’. To gasps of astonishment from the audience, he then attempted to pacify them by yelling ‘It’s a scientific fact’ to the chorus of jeers. Did I mention this candidate is AN ACTUAL SCIENTIST? He is a Doctor of Biotechnology at Cardiff University. We all know that STEM subjects have historically had a problem with welcoming female participation in the field – it makes you wonder how this is ever going to improve with attitudes that belong in the Jurassic period. Maybe someone should remind Chris that we do not have gender parity in Parliament, the workplace, the media or indeed any other such structure? So actually, it’s clear that women have less of a voice than men. I for one, am tired of hearing middle-aged white men on the left decrying that we don’t listen to middle-aged, white men. Chris did not appear to have any insight in to this at all and as I saw his eyes dart lustfully towards the exit, I can’t have been the only person wondering what he was doing here. Just when he thought his salvation had come, he was then asked a strongly worded question from the audience by a former Green Party hopeful who, despite being an experienced and willing candidate, didn’t ever make it to selection. She felt that she had experienced exclusion at the hands of the male members of the Party and wanted to know if this behaviour had changed. Chris looked dumbfounded at the question and repeated several times that his Party was a very small party and as such didn’t have those ‘kind’ of issues. The audience member persisted and cited several examples about meetings held in public houses in evenings which she was unable to attend due to childcare problems. Again, Chris looked bemused and repeated that he doesn’t think the Greens have a problem with this. Failing to grasp that it’s not always apparent to men that they may be in a privileged position and that, by continuing to ignore this, he was actually denying a woman’s lived experience and her right to question her ill treatment. As the pièce de résistance to his tomfoolery, he ended with another question from the audience (concerning measures parties will take to help end violence against women), by ever-so-helpfully pointing out that some men are abused by female partners. How this was intended to answer the question, I really do not know but I’m sure it was an insightful reminder to all present how men really should be at the centre of everything. Not. I left the lecture theatre a swirling ball of rage, if this is the candidate the Greens voluntary send to discuss women’s issues – what on Earth are the others like?! And how had I been tricked in to almost voting for them? I swiftly came to the conclusion that despite the fact the Greens are led by Natalie Bennett and have a relative gender mix in their Executive body; a vote for them surely only benefits men.
Thank you to the organisers for holding the debate which continued on twitter under #cthustings – it is great to see women on the agenda.
What would you have liked to have been discussed at the Hustings? Let us know in the comments.
by Leanne Teahan