Equal Power, and how you can make it happen

I think Equal Power is the first book I have ever pre-ordered. I started reading it the day it came out. When I tweeted about that, Jo Swinson replied, and I promised her I would review it as soon as I finished reading it.

Several months later…..

My post hoc justification for my tardiness is that, to coin a phrase, a review is something best tasted cold. And I find that my opinions about the book have not changed since I first read it.

I found “Equal Power, and how you can make it happen” very powerful indeed. Not because the material was new to me – most of it was not – but because of the way Swinson treats it. She combines statistics and research evidence, other people’s stories and her own experience in a compelling way. The trick with such material is always in the way the combination is made. Statistics are devoid of life and stories lack width in applicability. Swinson combines the two admirably well in a very readable style. She then delivers much of the punch in the book through recounting her own personal experience. And, very importantly, every chapter ends with a summary of actions that everyone can take to improve gender equality.

She gives herself the space to lay out more than simple arguments. She discusses some of the underlying ideas and languages behind many of our attitudes. She notes in particular (around p31) the use of the word “illiberal”, something I have experienced myself, particularly in discussions about gender issues, being used with the evident purpose of closing an argument. “I’m against all women shortlists because they are illiberal.” Of course they are, but you cannot end it there. You have to show why they are more illiberal than the current system which routinely and significantly discriminates in favour of people like me.*  (Jo does not favour all-women shortlists, but for better reasons.)

The stories bring life to the pages. Some of them are familiar, some are not, and some are immensely powerful. Shirley Williams’ anecdote of her experience as a junior minister in the 1960s is a corker. If you don’t know it, it’s almost worth buying the book for that story alone.

For much of the time I read the book, I was listening to the music of another articulate, energetic Scot, Amy MacDonald. We have come a long way, a very long way since the times of Shirley Williams’ anecdote, but there is still a very long way to go. “Don’t tell me that it’s over, it’s only just begun.” The practical suggestions for action at the end of each chapter outline some very good ways of taking us further along the road towards gender equality.

This review is quite short. I don’t want to waste more of your time reading it when you should be reading the book, available here or here and then doing something about the inequities it catalogues.

(*Old white git in case you hadn’t noticed. I also have the beard and sandals, but for this purpose those are optional.)

* Rob Parsons is a Lib Dem member in Lewes. He blogs at http://acomfortableplace.blogspot.co.uk

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  • Rob – there is a bit of a tendency in some circles, sometimes including LDV, for men to say that moves to gender balance are all about “posh women” who should check their privilege. Swinson cuts through that by pointing out the hurdles and discrimination all women face regardless of background. I agree with you very much when you say that she illustrates her arguments well with personal experience. The vast majority of women will identify with her anecdote about the holiday job in McDonalds where some of the oh so witty customers ask if she could serve the food topless.

  • In principle I am against All Women short lists, but I spoke and voted in favour of them at the conference that agreed them. Why? Simply put because in my membership of over 50 years nothing else has resulted in women being selected for winnable seats and getting elected. Even though the 2017 election was not a great LD triumph, we elected a higher percentage of women MPs than ever before and certainly significantly better than the all male list elected in 2015. The only difference between the two elections was AWS.
    When the party is mature enough to select candidates on merit and selects around 50% women then we can leave AWS behind.
    I like Jo’s book and the actions it proposed, but I disagree with her on AWS.

  • Thanks for the comments, Ruth and Mick. Mick, I agree with you about AWS. To be fair, Jo does propose other solutions, and I agree with her that AWS does not “solve” the problem of gender inequalities in selection, but rather provides a sticking plaster. We should be also pursuing those other remedies, more vigorously than we currently are.

  • Rob, never feel you have to apologise for being an old white git ! Nor kid yourself that the system has descriminated in your favour. What you have achieved is a result of your talent. The world is full of old white gits who have achieved sweet nothing in life.
    Ruth, the anecdote about McDonalds simply illustrates the fact that there are a small minority of men who don’t know the difference between a humour and plain bad manners. That has little or no relevance to more substantive arguments, such as the gender pay gap.

  • Ruth Bright 24th May '18 - 8:08pm

    Chris, sadly such experiences are not occasional ones inflicted by a small minority – they are a deluge distorting many women’s lives. Have a look at “Everyday sexism”.

  • Rob Parsons 24th May '18 - 8:09pm

    Chris, I am not apologising for being an old white git, far from it. But I must disagree with you about the relationship between my undoubted talent and the power differences that enable me to deploy it. What I have achieved through my own endeavours is quite satisfying, but I remain aware that I daily achieve more than I otherwise would through being a man rather than a woman, white rather than black, straight rather than gay, able bodied rather than disabled, and so on and on.

  • Little Jackie Paper 24th May '18 - 10:02pm

    Rob Parsons – ‘I remain aware that I daily achieve more than I otherwise would through being a man rather than a woman, white rather than black, straight rather than gay, able bodied rather than disabled, and so on and on.’

    What makes you think this?

    [Serious question, not getting at you or anyone else.]

  • I think the shortest answer to that, Little Jackie, is read Jo’s book. The evidence is there in every way from statistical to anecdotal.

  • Mick, do your arguments on the effect of AWS stand up to scrutiny?

    Jo Swinson was selected to fight and win her Target seat in 2005 without AWS and held it from 2005-2015. Does anyone doubt that she would have been re selected to fight and win it back in 2017, AWS or not?

    Layla Moran was selected, without AWS, to fight the Target Seat of OXWAB in 2015 and proved an excellent candidate. Does anyone doubt she would have been re selected for 2017 AWS or not?

    Vera Hobhouse was selected for Bath without AWS.

    Christine Jardin was selected for the Edinburgh Target Seat in 2017 via AWS but she had previously been selected for the Target Seat of Aberdeen in 2015 without AWS.

    Not a lot of evidence there that AWS was the reason these talented and experienced candidates were selected for their 2017 Target Seats and became MP’s.

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