The party conferences – a woman’s verdict
Taking centre stage at the Liberal Democrat conference, Jo Swinson, minister for business and minister for equalities (pictured), called for a “modern workplace revolution” to “unlock the potential of women across our economy, at all levels”.
Her speech prompted The Spectator to pose her as a future leader of the party and as an answer to its “women’s problem”.
This was something also addressed by Jenny Willott, MP for Cardiff Central, in an article for The Telegraph.
“Conference again reminded me that the Lib Dems need to do much more to improve our female representation,” she said.
However, this is probably going to get more difficult to achieve. Willott revealed that changes to the Equality Act debated at conference mean the Liberal Democrats will now have to abandon its female quotas.
Meanwhile, a fringe meeting on body image saw men outnumber women in the audience, while another event focused on the impact of austerity on women.
Though this perhaps came across most starkly in the main hall, where a disabled female party member gave a speech in which she revealed that coalition cuts to her benefits have left her living on 50 pence a day.
At the Labour party conference the following week in Manchester, Ed Milliband may have focused on his “one nation” vision, but it was the impact of the cuts on women that was central to Yvette Cooper’s speech to the women’s conference.
The party’s minister for equalities highlighted how the ConDem government has “failed” women, with the rise in female unemployment, cuts to child care and refuge closures.
She then outlined the ways in which Labour would “improve women’s lives”, with the introduction of more flexible working, better child care and support for those caring for elderly relatives.
She also argued that it’s, “time for us to use the f word again”, defining a Labour Party feminism as one which is, “welcoming and inclusive” and that, “listens to the varied voices and supports the different choices women make”.
Although in her report for The Telegraph, Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow, warns, “just don’t call us Labour feminists butch…”.
Yvette Cooper continued to focus on women later in the week, when she spoke at the main party conference in her role as shadow home secretary, calling for urgent action to tackle violence against women.
Caroline Flint, shadow energy secretary, also addressed the main conference. This time there were calls for an “energy revolution”, to secure a “cleaner future”, as well as a “fairer… market” for bill-payers.
The conference was not without some controversy. A 16-year-old girl was heckled as she spoke in support of her academy school.
Then there was Deputy Leader, Harriet Harman’s attempts at comedy during the conference’s closing speech, particularly her impression of a Page 3 girl, leading model, Petra Todd, to defend her career choice the following day in The Sun.
As we reported last week, there was plenty for women to take from the Conservative party conference in Birmingham.
Then there was health secretary, Jeremy’s Hunt’s support for a reduction in the abortion time limit to just 12 weeks.
This followed comments made by Maria Miller, minister for women and equalities, who said she favoured a reduction from the current 24 week limit down to 20 weeks.
However, in her speech she maintained her support for gay marriage.
“The state should not stop two people from making the commitment to be married unless there’s a good reason. I don’t believe being gay is one of them,” she said.
Meanwhile, Teresa May, home secretary, used her speech to pay tribute to the two female police officers who were recently killed while on duty in Manchester.
The Tories also held a fringe meeting on women and austerity, with the “unequivocally pro-choice” Tory MP, Amber Rudd on the panel.
Reporting on the event, she said, “it covered most different aspects of women’s lives, from child care to flexible working, from sexual harassment to abortion. We really tucked in.”
In her article she also makes reference to the ‘Boris’ effect: “Recently the Conservative Party conference has begun to attract more women, but they are still substantially outnumbered. Except at Boris events.”
Though this is probably not something Conservative Future Women will rely on as they seek to increase female participation in the party.
Now have your say – click here to find out more about the Feminist Lobby of Parliament taking place on 24 October.