Open Letter to John Lansman on women’s political representation

Dear John Lansman

I have attached a copy of a response you sent to a feminist friend of mine after she requested reassurances from you, as a candidate for L.P. NEC elections, on the burning issue of womens political representation within our movement.

Your response appears rushed and quite confused and I hope this is because of your busy schedule rather than the priority you attach to the issue. I thought now, following the closure of ballot, it would be a good time to tackle your response and the concerns many Labour Party women have with your position and as such the reflection it is of a position of the wider movement.

You say you think it is a problem the L.P. has “not adequately reflected in its structures non binary identities”. What does this even mean? Women in the L.P. requested a reassurance from you of our place at the heart of our movement. You can only be confused by providing that reassurance if you think non-binary people will take the place of women.

You then suggest, and I do hope that this is a drafting error, that because of under representation of women in the party trans women can be treated as women. If you mean trans women can adequately represent the experiences and political and social battles of women for reproductive rights, for instance, or equal pay or for services to protect women from violence and harm or for adequate childcare services or adequate womens health care services I would respectfully suggest to you that you are wrong and you should urgently re-think. Only womens mass participation in the L.P. can ensure the party adequately represents women and only by encouraging women into membership and leadership of the party will we ensure we have a socialist party fit for purpose.

You go onto support the notion of self identity as the basis for categorizing “gender”. I have to hope that you support the idea from a position of ignorance as you have, in a single move, obliterated the sex categorisation protections upon which UK equality law is constructed. Have you consulted on this basis? Do you really think women in the party think this cavalier approach to our rights is acceptable? Women only shortlists exist on the basis of single *sex* exemptions, womens officer roles exist on the basis of sex. The reason for this are sound and remain urgent; it is to ensure the elevation of more women into the political life of the party. I do hope you continue to consider this a worthy political goal?

I am taken aback by your reference to “professional, white, middle class women” as if they are some sort of over represented, domineering group in politics. This is not true. By making such a reference you are in reality suggesting sexism does not exist, implying the battle for womens representation is over, that some women have privilege over men. It’s a very revealing passage in your response and I think motivates your approach to the whole question; you do not seem to think women further require protections or suffer sex discrimination. If that is your position you are wrong.

We agree that more trans people could be involved in the Labour Party. But I think that might involve men standing aside rather than womens political structures and organisation being obliterated. Why did you not even make a nod to the problem of the over representation of men in our political culture?

I do hope that the Party and the movement you represent understands this is an issue over which socialist women feel strongly and over which we will stand our ground. The reality is that one hundred years after the suffragettes the question of womens equal political participation and representation is not settled.

Ruth Serwotka
Convenor Socialist Feminist Network