Ed Miliband supports 50% female team

Ed Miliband has strengthened his pledge to promote women to senior political jobs by supporting a plan to ensure half of the party’s new shadow Cabinet team is female.

Labour’s acting leader, Harriet Harman, announced she would be campaigning for a change to the party’s rules that would see 11 out of the 22 shadow posts given to women. Current rules dictate that just four posts have to be filled by a female MP. The move would guarantee jobs for the likes of Yvette Cooper, Tessa Jowell and Caroline Flint.

Ms Harman revealed her intention to campaign for the rule change at a shadow Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, though there were split views over the issue. Some believed the party was already performing strongly in terms of women’s representation and thought a 50 per cent quota was unnecessary.

With the next Labour leader likely to be a man, and Tony Lloyd also filling a shadow Cabinet slot as chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), 11 of the remaining 20 positions would be handed to women under the rule change, which could be brought about via a ballot of all Labour MPs. One of those will go to Ms Harman, who will remain as deputy leader.

Mr Miliband, who had already suggested a third of the shadow Cabinet would be women if he won the leadership, used Twitter to confirm his support for Ms Harman’s proposal. “Very sympathetic to what Harriet has said today on 50 per cent women in Shadow Cabinet,” he said yesterday. “[It] will ultimately be a PLP decision but I will be supporting it.”

He is enthusiastic about the idea as he is already working with some of the party’s rising female stars. It is understood he has been impressed by the likes of Rachel Reeves, the MP for Leeds West and Lisa Nandy, the MP for Wigan. Labour MPs have already agreed that the shadow Cabinet, which is selected by a vote, will not be decided until the next leader has been chosen in September.

Speaking at a conference of the Unite union today, Ms Harman said it was time for her female Labour colleagues “to step out of the shadows” and take top jobs, as Labour had 81 women MPs to choose from. “Labour is the only party in parliament which speaks up for women in this country. We have some excellent experienced women and some brilliant new women MPs,” she said. “We still do have twice as many men MPs as women. The Labour men are great - but they are not twice as good as the women.”

She added that Labour had lost the election by losing the support of “hard-working families who, worried about housing and jobs, felt insecure and concerned about immigration”. She added that a long contest to elect Gordon Brown’s successor was a “crucial opportunity for the Labour Party to reflect, renew itself and re-engage with the people of Britain”.

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