Book Review: Equal Power and how you can make it happen

On hearing of the arrival of a new volume of “how to” popular feminism one might be tempted to channel Brenda of Bristol on hearing about the election: “ANOTHER one!!”

Jo Swinson enters a very crowded market with her new book. Can she really have anything to add?

To be fair she doesn’t just write about this stuff; she really means it. Largely ignoring the six week old baby strapped to my (very sore) front she once nagged, cajoled, charmed and begged me to stand in a forthcoming by-election. She has probably directly encouraged hundreds of women and girls to get involved or go further in politics.

Apart from the (rightly) harrowing chapters on FGM and rape as war crime which probably need a  15 certificate I would happily give this book to my young daughter. Swinson is funny and clever about male domination by default telling women to, literally, get round the table. She successfully calls out the subliminal sexist stuff we all absorb and perpetuate without meaning to.

She pretty deftly negotiates “Carrie Gracie territory” by both showing a loyalty to the organisation in which she believes and (albeit belatedly) calling it out when it messes up in its treatment of women.

Less successful is her treatment of the coalition years. At some point we need a gutsy Lib Dem critique of the coalition’s policies for women. Sorry Jo, it is not just about the number of females in ministerial positions. Outcomes matter too and painful coalition outcomes like the disproportionate impact of austerity and the abolition of the Health in Pregnancy Grant hardly helped empower women.

Nevertheless the party has come a long way since Dr Elizabeth Evans report in 2011 when fewer than 40% of Lib Dem women on the approved list would positively identify as feminist. That figure would surely be much higher now and Swinson has been a big part of a welcome change. Only a few days ago on LDV there was a sincere (troll-free) discussion about whether women should really combine motherhood and candidacy.  Jo Swinson shows how reactionary such discussions are and how we should all move on to something a good deal more interesting.

* Ruth Bright has been a councillor in Southwark and Parliamentary Candidate for Hampshire East

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  • Very much agree, Ruth. You make a powerful points on the Coalition years.

    Having just watched the Parliament Channel live featuring the special Select Committee enquiring into the Carillion debacle, honesty compels me to say it is going to take more than a miracle to make any dent on Labour’s hold on Leeds West with pavement politics (featured a few days ago on LDV).

    The current Leeds West MP, Rachel Reeves, chairs the Committee. She was a senior economist at the Bank of England – as well as being a mother of three young children. Frankly her interrogation of the Carillion directors this morning was a tour de force of the highest quality and authority. She combines all this with the support she gave to her friend Jo Cox’s family. On this, the centenary of the part introduction of female suffrage, I felt I was watching a future female Prime Minister.

    What a pity we seem incapable – as Jo Grimond once wished – of forging a cross party understanding on the progressive side of politics. Maybe that feisty opponent of Brexit, Anna Soubry – and that critic of Universal Credit, Heidi Alexander – might be tempted to give it their support.

    In the year of my birth, James Agee wrote the book, ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men’. It’s well past time to re-name it ‘Let us now praise famous people’ because the Great Big World Keeps Turning.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Feb '18 - 1:04pm

    A fine piece from Ruth and equal, no pun intended, merit in the response from David.

    I think the book adds a personal perspective, the only way to emerge in , as Ruth said, a crowded market. The views as to how to make progress in these areas , equality for women, BAME , LGBT, are , in my view, best expressed and advanced when inclusive rather than exclusive, in taking others with you on that journey, as well as personal, rather than general, ie sharing your own story and journey.

    Feminism a a description, is popular again, but , not everyone likes”isms”, I know several women who are centre left in their voting and outlook, who think of themselves as living in a post feminist era, in which they are not keen on labels or words to describe their feelings or views so bluntly or directly, but who are a supportive of the goals of equality , particularly of opportunity .

    As we see with the debate o transgender rights, the same with gender based rights. Not everything can be labelled, or , as we refer today, identified, thus, as obviously.

    On the coalition, we must add that Jo herself in her field, did very good work, as did Lynne Featherstone , for example on FGM.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Feb '18 - 1:17pm



    Your comments, I agree completely with here, and your view , as often, expressed with real feeling and sense, but you miss something on this kind of thing, regularly, with respect. As someone who was many years, in the Labour party, but many years ago, and who has been a good number of years a Liberal Democrat, I am not sure you realise, as you say this party is divided in two or three wings, the extent of those divisions in the Labour party and Conservative ones.

    Too often, we see everything as either , or, two ways, left or right, this or that. Thus, media representation of the two extremes of politics, and parties.

    The truth , is often more subtle and different to this stereotype. I am not on either of those wings, was not in either of the parties I have been a member of.

    You mention Rachel Reeves, but she is loathed by many on the left of the Labour party. Even I disagreed with her during her time as Work and pensions spokeswoman, sge went even further than the coalition in her expression of the strictness of the benefit regime. It was Yvette Cooper who gave us ATOS !

    You and I agree on Dan Jarvis. But he is almost in exile as far as the leadership is concerned, and can only find work in his constituency or the House, but shall not be on the front bench in an age, because he resigned in the no confidence protest against the leadership.

    A progressive alliance cannot happen unless we all face the fact , labels do not work well, binary is not the best outlook, and that includes on gender too.

  • My dear Lorenzo, – to be accused of talking sense and to be praised by you – I gave me a bit of a turn and I had to go and lie down.

    All parties are split. With the Lib Dems, it’s two rowing boats going in opposite directions with one leaking austerity but not blaming the late Captain Nick – and the other one bailing out with a tea cup and shaking their heads about Captain Tim who it turned out couldn’t walk on water.. Vince just winks and Danny is counting his Yuan Renminbi.

    With the Tories it’s a cruise liner with a no holds barred bun fight in the expensive restaurant with Captain Theresa putting sticking plaster on a leak in the boiler room. Captain Cameron’s sorting out his Paradise papers.

    With Labour it’s Barnsley v. an off colour over confident Manchester United. MU will probably have it because it’s got some talent for later when the present manager decides to cultivate his allotment. Dan’s the man and Rachel’s the lass.

    My real trouble is that after over sixty years in politics – after running a few things and never losing my seat – I’ve seen it all and don’t always like what I saw. I haven’t changed much, but my party certainly has.

    I’d just settle for a change of government PDQ before I (possibly) go to the great Council Chamber in the sky.

  • Ruth Bright 6th Feb '18 - 5:58pm

    Come along David and Lorenzo (thank you for your comments by the way) no defeatist chatter about going to the Council chamber in the sky! Us oldies must hang on long enough to see a female leader of the Lib Dems. No prizes for guessing who that might be.

  • I’d certainly vote for Ruth Bright whatever she’s got strapped on – though I quite take to the member for Oxford West and Abingdon as a breath of fresh air !!

    Actually, Ruth, I’ve had a lovely day rummaging through old family papers on a long remembered hunch. Chuffed to find a cousin of Great Granddad, one Hilda Mary Raw, daughter of a Methodist Minister, graduated B.A. externally at London University in 1892 (Oxford & Cambridge closed to women then). Principal of a College for Teachers South Wales, 1914, on a national Rudolph Steiner School Committee, and was a Millicent Fawcett NUWSS suffragist.

    Here’s to you on this very special day bonny Hilda Mary – So very proud of you…….

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Feb '18 - 12:02am


    I have to say that such talk was of the naughty doing of young David, as young as he feels, which seems to be very, he , you are right Ruth is long for this world, though when he’s in the next , Ruth, you and me being the same age, we shall need his guidance down here , especially when he drives us potty he shall do it as always with impish humour!

    I wrote a couple of pieces to celebrate the day , and these are online, and added Harriet Taylor Mill as my facebook picture !

  • Ruth Bright 7th Feb '18 - 12:45am

    Harriet Taylor – most fitting

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