Labour frontbencher Dawn Butler has told a select committee she wants to see more ‘rubbish women’ in Parliament and ‘sometimes you have to wait for people to die’ for attitudes towards equality to change.
Discussing her party’s progress on getting more female MPs into the Commons, the shadow women and equalities minister said a real indication of parity would be “when we have as many rubbish women as rubbish men”.
Representatives from the four main parties, including Lib Dem leader Vince Cable and SNP Westminster boss Ian Blackford, were called to give evidence in front of the women and equalities committee on diversity efforts during and since June’s snap general election.
Responding to Conservative MP Eddie Hughes, who asked the panel for their opinions on the one thing that could be done to improve equality, Butler said: “This might sound a bit flippant, but more rubbish women. Because in terms of women always having to be spectacular and driven, we will know when we’ve reached real equality when we have as many rubbish women in Parliament as we have rubbish men.”
The Brent MP said she believed sexism, racism, misogyny and bullying online were all barriers which put many women off becoming involved in politics.
Asked why more had not been done to change attitudes within parties, Butler added: “Sometimes you have to wait for people to die before it changes.
“Sometimes it’s slow progress in terms of people do not want to change, so they feel that if women are to get involved they have to step aside, rather than seeing it as a positive measure that the more women you get involved, the better diverse decisions are made.
“Sometimes it’s winning the hearts and minds of the argument that takes time.”
Hughes, who represents Walsall North, said he did not believe enough was being done to improve the number of women in politics.
But his party’s deputy chairman, Amanda Sater, refused to commit to all women’s shortlists in future elections – despite Labour, the Lib Dems and the SNP supporting them.
Pressed repeatedly by Labour’s Jess Phillips on why the Conservatives would not commit to the measure – or a concrete target on the number of female MPs – Sater said she wanted to see “a systematic change, not a quick fix”.
“I know members of other parties will disagree,” she added.
“But quotas ignore and mask underlying problems in attitudes and infrastructure.”
Cable and Blackford said both their parties were committed to improving gender equality and working towards balanced frontbench representation.