In the early hours of this morning, Manchester, the birth place of the women’s suffrage movement elected its first Labour woman MP, Lucy Powell, with a swing of 16 per cent to Labour. It should never have taken this long but it’s a significant moment for women in Manchester and the Labour movement.
Since the coalition government came to power in May 2010 we have seen women’s rights, independence and progress take steps backwards for the first time in over a 100 years. We have faced budget cuts set by a cabinet of white, male, millionaire, Oxbridge graduates. Contrast this with Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet which is 42 per cent women.
We are all far too familiar with the anecdotes. George Osborne referring to benefits claimants as making a ‘lifestyle choice’, Jeremy Hunt telling poor families to have ‘fewer children’ and David Cameron’s unforgettable and unforgivable ‘calm down dear’. Comments which betray a sinister undertone.
Before the cuts women in the UK were already at a disadvantage, experiencing a full-time pay gap of 14.9 per cent, making up 64 per cent of low paid workers and having pensions which are only 62 per cent of the average for men.
Women are being hit hardest by cuts to public sector jobs, wages and pensions. I see it every day in the ward where I am a councillor and Lucy has seen it every day while she has been on the campaign trail. Women are being hit hardest as the services and benefits they use more are cut and it is women who are being left to fill the gaps as services are withdrawn. Mothers who are struggling to make ends meet and being locked into a cycle of poverty because it no longer pays for them to go out to work. Women, whose aspirations and hopes for the future are being trampled on by the coalition.
However, Manchester women are not the type to sit back and take it on the chin. Women in Manchester are organising, they are campaigning and they are standing up for their communities. This growing women’s activism is a reflection of a growing anger many women feel. Anger led women to organise and win the vote. Anger led women workers in Dagenham to take action and fight for equal pay. Let’s use that anger to challenge this government.
Lucy’s election gives those women in Manchester who are fighting so hard for their communities a message of hope. It will also help inspire a new generation of Labour women to come forward, to believe that they can make the difference and stand for election themselves.
Manchester has always been at the centre of the radical women’s movement. Let’s carry on in that proud tradition. Let’s send a message to Cameron and his millionaire pals – be afraid be very afraid – the women of Manchester are uniting and when we are united we win!
Suzanne Richards is a councillor for Longsight ward on Manchester City Council and despite the title a lifelong Manchester City fan!
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