Is Harman’s cabinet proposals different to all-women shortlist proposals?

Today, Harriet Harman repeated her argument that Labour should change its rules so that the cabinet is split 50:50 in terms of women and men representation. This lead me to think about whether this would be different to all-women shortlists.

I don’t agree with all-women shortlists – they are unhelpful, make out women need some sort of ‘special’ treatment, take attention away from the policies that need to happen to help women enter politics (better childcare for example), and it actually reinforces instead of undermining the culture they seek to challenge. Where Harman’s proposals, for the cabinet to be more representative, differ is that the women have already been elected, so they have the democratic right to take office. It is not plausible to argue that there would not be enough able women to form half of the cabinet. 

However, maybe this is contradictory to my opposition to all-women shortlists? Is it just another form of ‘special treatment’? Is it really fair for a law to bind the government to positively discriminate towards women? Is this just forced democracy? In the same way that all-women shortlists are artificial producers of democracy, maybe the same applies to Harman’s proposals?

It is a tricky call. I am yet to decide. Part of me agrees with Harman, as it is pure discrimination and undemocratic to only have 4 women in the cabinet. But is binding 50:50 split via law going to really help? Will it just create envy towards the women’s movement, or will it result in long-term cultural change? Or should we just wait until the women’s movement progresses further to help increase women in the cabinet without legal assistance? Or am I being too utopian in thinking to imagine a time when there would be a culture where women are equally represented in politics?

Too many questions, but important questions which require debate and deliberation.

Update: Question Time convinced me that Harman’s proposals are much the same as all-women shortlists and thus, I have come down against them.


4 thoughts on “Is Harman’s cabinet proposals different to all-women shortlist proposals?

  1. Surely in any job, the position should go to the best person for the job, regardless of gender, race, sexuality etc. Unfortunately, Harman is promoting ‘positive discrimination’ which is essentially still discrimination. Perversely, I can imagine time when her 50/50 cabinet dream becomes a reality, but then a position comes available when a female MP would be best suited. So as not to alter the balance, should that position go to a man just to preserve the status quo? Of course not, it’s ridiculous. Sadly, most of what passes for thoughts in Harman’s mind is just as stupid.

  2. Andy,

    I agree with your reservations, it just got me thinking into whether it is different as there should be no reason for any woman MP to be any less qualified than a man MP to be a cabinet minister as they have been fairly elected as competent enough to represent their constituency. Its a hard one really.

  3. I don’t actually think there is a difference between this and the shortlists.

    “make out women need some sort of ‘special’ treatment” and “it actually reinforces instead of undermining the culture they seek to challenge” – obvious, as all positive discrimination does this.

    “take attention away from the policies that need to happen to help women enter politics (better childcare for example)” – certainly, as a cabinet post is a very different sort of job to being a back-bencher, and would presumably raise an even greater need for these modes of support that are still being held back.

    I don’t really see how any strict quota would work, as Andy makes clear. A cabinet post is not really predicated upon one’s democratic mandate to represent their constituency, though. It’s about being involved in things in parliament. Perhaps it’s that more women cannot manage to take part in these “extra” things that make demands on time that they might not have. Or women approach the role differently, being more ‘constituency-focused’ than men (this is certainly true of the female politicians I’ve met…)

  4. I agree now haha, i have updated my blog after watching Question time.

    I think it is not a simple positive discrimination solution – it just temporary made me question whether it was different, but quickly come back around against it lol!

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