Not a long ago tale of suffragette struggle but a dystopian story from the Liverpool City Region today, expressed as a heart warming seasonal song, via The Handmaid’s Tale.
Much more of the song later, first let’s talk.
Now I’ve got no particular problem with men. I’ve been one, at first a boy version of one, all my life. Furthermore I’m perfectly happy being who I am. Having said that, I’d never try to run anything or take any important decisions in my life without asking the women that I know. This would feel not merely wrong but also deeply unwise and self-defeating. Ignore half the people I know with all their knowledge, opinions and feelings? As if.
Which brings me to the problem I want to write about. Devolution to regional city authorities and the exclusion of women from nearly all of their leadership groups. There’s a good article here at the New Statesman you might want to read for the full national picture on this. In summary, all of the head elected jobs as ‘Mayors’ in the devolved authorities are held by men. Then the article shows figures of 94% men having a vote in their running, with just 6% women.
In the Liverpool City Region, yes I’m mainly writing about Liverpool as ever, the percentage figure for men has been rounded up to an easy to comprehend 100%. Yes, no women. A City Region of around 1.5 million people, and therefore around 750,000 women, being run by a small group of men.
“Never mind” I can hear you thinking “the City Regions are such new bodies, such a new idea, that such an obvious imbalance could be easily fixed, couldn’t it?”
Well you’d think so, dear intelligent and inquisitive reader, wouldn’t you?
But sadly “no, no and no again” has been the response to some of the intelligent and inquisitive women of the region, from the Women’s Leadership Group, who are asking for this clear wrong to be put right. Here are some of the reasons and excuses they’ve been given. Listed in a humorous song they’ve been making up as part of their campaign. A humorous song none of us who are concerned are finding all that funny.
You’ll notice that they’re using (credited) imagery from The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s recently televised story of the total subjection of all women to an imaginary regional government of ruthless men. Given the shocking brutality of that you might have thought using its imagery in a re-written ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ was a bit much. Then the gagging started.
Inviting themselves to a public question time of a meeting of the Liverpool City Region and trying to put a few questions to the group, they found their questions heavily edited and were, in any case allowed to ask only one of them.
Here’s what they would have asked.
Well written you women. And poor show, all you men.
Anyway, let’s be practical here and see what could be done?
Now of course none of this is anyone’s fault in particular. Hands being tied and all that by the ways the Westminster government has set up the devolved regional bodies. So no one can really do anything can they, in Liverpool or anywhere else?
Well let’s just speculate that a few people in this region could. And let’s list their names:
- Mayor Steve Rotheram
- Joe Anderson, Liverpool
- Phil Davies, Wirral
- Rob Polhill, Halton
- Ian Maher, Sefton
- Andy Moorhead, Knowsley
- Barrie Grunewald, St Helens
So, addressing each of you directly. All of you are the voting members of the top team of the Liverpool City Region. Now I know you’ve all been elected to your positions as leaders of your borough and that’s why you’re in this group. But imagine if a few of you were prepared to step down from the regional authority and be replaced by elected women from your boroughs? Our problem might soon be solved mightn’t it? And solved easily. So why not just do it to get us moving, and then we can start the longer business of constitutional change so this imbalance doesn’t happen again.
I’m not saying that a group of men can’t represent the interests of women. I’m sure you do your best. It’s just that when we try to do this we can easily miss what women think, feel, know and would prioritise. Because we’re not women are we? It’s good, by the way, to see Ann O’Byrne attending regularly from Liverpool as Joe Anderson’s deputy. Now let’s sort fair representation for all, and for good?
Finally from me, about devolution itself. I’m not at all sure about it as a regional political strategy. It could turn out to be the meaningful and practical transfer of real powers from central government to our regions and cities as it’s been presented. Or it could represent a cynical shifting of national responsibilities onto regional shoulders, along with reduced austerity budgets that therefore compromise our abilities to deliver what our populations need, couldn’t it? Either way we need all of our best brains working on it to give us the best chance of devolution succeeding, including an equal representation of women and men as voting members of the team leading it all.
Otherwise half of the population of Liverpool City Region can justifiably feel that they don’t really count. And that would be just wrong wouldn’t it?
Thanks to everyone involved in the Women’s Leadership Group @WomensLGroup for what you do, what you say and who you are. Set up ‘to tackle the lack of diversity in decision making structures in Liverpool City Region.’