Emily's List, while neatly trading on the suffragette name of Emily Pankhurst, is in fact a pinch of a successful American idea, the acronym standing for Early Money Is Like Yeast - making the dough rise.
The US organisation founded in 1986 raised dollars 350,000 and helped the first woman Democrat to be elected to the Senate. By last year, it was raising dollars 6.2m, when US elections saw the number of women Democrats in the House of Representatives rise from 12 to a record 36. The numbers in the Senate rose from one to five.
The British version's aim is to help Labour women to be selected in winnable seats by offering training and a range of expenses such as travel, loss of earnings and child care. It will also provide some help with election expenses.
Emily's List was launched yesterday on the 75th anniversary of women winning the right to vote. Barbara Follett, its founder, is a former Labour candidate and management and 'presentation trainer' who helped to talk most of Neil Kinnock's front bench into double-breasted suits and Robin Cook out of his loudest checks. She said almost pounds 29,000 had already been raised from 298 women and two men.
'We are,' she stressed, surrounded by Labour's better known women politicians and luminaries from the novelist Fay Weldon to Claire Rayner and the editor of Cosmopolitan, Marcelle d'Argy Smith, 'happy to take money from men.'
The cash will allow about 10 women each year to be helped towards a Westminster or European seat if they pass an interview with a 25-strong panel drawn, Mrs Follett insisted, 'from across the party'. There will be no political stipulations, though candidates must be in favour a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion.
Mo Mowlem, a Shadow Cabinet member, said standing for Parliament was a 'real problem'. Many women MPs said that once elected, it took them a year to 18 months to become solvent again after the costs of travelling and other expenses for selection, and fighting the election. Those who stood and lost were also still paying the price.
Fourteen more women made it to Westminster at the last election, but they still form less than 10 per cent of all MPs.
The need for more women MPs was also taken up yesterday by Betty Boothroyd, the Speaker, in an unrelated interview.
Sixty women MPs out of 651 was 'nowhere near enough', she said on BBC radio's The World at One. But women were instinctively home makers, and party selection committees remained 'male-dominated', tending to look to a man. 'It is awfully difficult for a woman to fight her way through'. Women were asked: 'What are you going to do about your children? I'm sure that question is never put to a man.' Those who got to the top, she said, had to make more sacrifices than men. She had never married, and she doubted she would have been Speaker had she done so. 'But I think all human beings, whether they are male or female. . . have to make sacrifices at some stage.'
Annie Lockwood, candidate for the unwinnable seat of Shipley in Yorkshire, has calculated that 1,721 women have stood for Parliament out of the 13,000 chances the major parties have had to select candidates since 1918. Just 166 have ever been elected.
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