Yvette addresses Labour Party annual Women's Conference 2015 in Brighton

Published at: September 26, 2015 5:05 PM

Below are extracts from Yvette's address to Labour Women's Conference in Brighton on 26th September 2015/ 



Thank you –

We wanted to start this year’s conference with a special tribute

To someone who has done so much for women’s equality, and for the Labour party

But as she would say herself even more importantly to the wider achievements of women that she has made possible

Here as we stand at the women’s conference Harriet reinstated 5 years ago

More women have joined our party in the last month than are members of the Tory party altogether

More women on this platform than there are women Liberal Democrat MPs

More women councillors than ever before

More women candidates than ever before

We can be proud of the changes Harriet and our party have made for women’s equality across the country
For me it’s good to be back - after a rather busy summer of hustings and rallies and selfies and smiles, and people stopping you to chat in stations and on the street.

It was on Thursday I realised things were back to normal.

I was on the tube with Ed and a man came up to me waving his smartphone

Another selfie, I thought? But, no. He just wanted me to take a photo of him and Ed

He was really nice about it afterwards though, he said, "I think you're doing a really good job, especially for women -
- nice to see you Harriet."

As he got off the tube, to much amusement from Ed, I started to wonder if Jeremy had a point about women only carriages


But here's the thing:

Even those who aren’t sure who we are still know how much Harriet has done for women.

When she was first elected 3% of MPs were women.

3% imagine it – 627 out of 650 MPs were men.

An entire shadow cabinet of men.

Harriet arrives,

heavily pregnant,

challenges the Tory government on childcare,

sets up the women’s PLP,

demands quotas on the shadow cabinet

and then points out she needs maternity leave.

The men in Parliament didn’t know what had hit them



As Jeremy rightly said at the Leadership Conference, “Harriet’s absolute commitment and passion for decency, equality and the rights of women in our society is something we honour her for and thank her for.”

As Jess Phillips said, “In every part of my life this woman threw the ladder down to me and urged me to climb up.”

I first met Harriet 23 years ago this week - it was a job interview, at Labour Party conference in Blackpool. She had rushed off round a corner and as I tried to catch up I tripped, grazed my knee and laddered my tights.

Harriet promptly took me to Marks and Spencers, bought me more tights and conducted the interview over the socks.

She helped Jess up the ladder, she helped me mend my ladder

Nothing is ever orthodox with Harriet and thank God for that


You are about to see a film of different tributes to Harriet the changes she's championed,

The personal difference she's made not just on women's equality, but on equality for all.

From her work on the Equality Act to changing the law on violence against women,

From campaigning for the minimum wage to making sure over 40% of Labour's MPs are now women.

You will find few other politicians in the last fifty years who have shown so much personal leadership for a cause against the odds and have changed politics and changed so many lives as a result.


But it’s not enough to praise Harriet. After all, we say nice things about her at every women’s conference.

There are reasons why Harriet has been such a pioneer.

First she has always, always made it her mission to help other women get on,

That basic Labour principle that we are stronger when we stand together than when we leave people to sink or swim alone - always encouraging other women to stand for things, go for things, argue for things.

If Sheryl Sandberg's motto is for women to lean in, be ambitious, plan how to get on then Harriet's motto is for women to lean out, reach out a helping hand to other women, so we change the world together

And here's the other reason.

She isn’t afraid to have a row, she isn’t afraid to take the flak

From her first controversial questions about childcare to all women short lists,

From the equality act and the minimum wage to the pink bus

She's always been ready to shake things up


But she’s set challenges for all of us for the future.

First that we cannot stop campaigning for equality and for women’s equality and we have to keep pushing the new frontiers.

Remember this is a Tory government which is hitting women harder than ever - breaking all the promises David Cameron made before the election.

The cuts to tax credits hit women twice as hard as men.

Childcare help is being delayed.

And women will be hardest hit by George Osborne's threat to cut 40% from public services.

By the end of this Parliament this latest round of Tory changes to tax, tax credits and child benefit will take £9.6 billion from people’s pockets –

£7bn of that is coming from women, even though they earn less and own less than men.

Its why we have to work with our great new shadow Women and Equalities Minister Kate Green, with Jeremy, Tom, Angela and the new Shadow Cabinet, with Kezia in Scotland, Carwyn in Wales and Glenys in Europe on standing up for women on challenging the prejudice or poverty or discrimination that holds women back, on celebrating women’s achievements, on standing up for everyone who needs a strong Labour party now more than ever.

And we have to campaign on new frontiers

To confront the old prejudice and discrimination that is appearing in new places.

The culture of abuse and harassment that seems to be growing again

And some of the misogyny we have seen online.

Gamergate – look it up, it’s appalling – women hounded out of the online gaming industry, silenced by rape threats and bullying

Women who campaign for something as simple as getting Jane Austen on a bank note targeted with rape threats

Women in law or business bombarded with misogyny and abuse on twitter or on Facebook because they challenge sexism at work

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Charlotte Proudman, Brianna Wu and Zoe Quinn targeted by those who want to silence them

And those are the high profile women we know about

Far more worrying are the teenagers targeted on Facebook or twitter – called feminazis, targeted with homophobic abuse because yes they are feminists, yes they use the f word, who end up feeling silenced instead

And we’ve seen some of that abuse, harassment, bullying and misogyny in politics, in the Scottish referendum campaign, in the General Election campaign and even on the margins of our own party in this leadership election campaign too.

This isn’t about senior politicians like Harriet, me, Liz, Stella, Angela, Caroline - we're never going to be silenced by the high tech equivalent of angry letters written in green ink that politicians have received for centuries.

But what about those speaking out for the first time. Those in all walks of life who suddenly find themselves subject to a torrent of abuse for speaking out and who end up being put off or staying quiet.

We don’t stand for it on the street, why should we tolerate it online?

Unless misogyny on the internet is challenged, more women’s voices will be silenced, and more women will be oppressed or feel prevented from speaking out just as if we'd gone back to the Victorian age.

The internet is our new public space. We can’t allow women to be silenced, just as we can’t allow women to be silenced on the streets and in our towns

Women in all walks of life have to stand together on this - in politics, in the media and in business. And the Labour Party needs to lead the way, set the example.

We must not stand on the sidelines as women’s voices are drowned out by vitriol and hate

Finally we should remember the really important thing Harriet and Labour women in the 80s and 90s achieved

They made Labour matter for women.

They made us not just a strong campaign for women's equality, but the strongest voice for so many different women across Britain who had never been heard in politics before.

For decades after the war, the Tories won with women.

No longer. Labour became the champion for women’s equality, for families, and for all women who wanted politicians for the first time to get the reality of their lives and wanted their voices to be heard.

That is our task again now. And Labour has to raise our game.

Because at the last election we lost too much of that hard won support among women.

So we cannot be a Party that just looks inwards at ourselves. Labour has to once again stand up for women across the country.
Jeremy’s leadership campaign promised hope and called for a new politics.

Thousands more women have joined our Party in the last few months. The energy, enthusiasm and new ideas that women bring are vital to our future.

Now all of us in the Labour Party have to work together to make those new ideas and that hope real for women across the country and to reach out and reconnect with women’s lives.

Bringing together Labour supporters, former Labour supporters and those who have turned away or never voted Labour.

So here’s our tribute to Harriet

To keep fighting

No one made it easy for Harriet, Diane Abbott, Jo Richardson and the women who fought before us

But Harriet has fought battles so the rest of us can be here now

She took the flak to pave the way for everyone else, she had the rows that changed women’s lives

I’ve always said in the fight for women's equality, each generation stands on the shoulders of their mothers and their grandmothers

There’s rather a lot of us up there trying to keep our balance on top of Harriet's epaulettes

Harriet – we thank you


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