It was a sunny evening in Roath and various members of the CFN were gathering outside a Catholic church. However, it was not repentance that they had in mind…
We were there for the ‘What about Women?’ pre-election debate, efficiently organised by the Wales Women’s National Coalition. In cooperation with The Fawcett Society, they had invited a panel of female candidates standing in the up-coming election from all over Wales to face questions from Fawcett and an audience of local women. Attending candidates included Karen Robson, the Conservative candidate for Cardiff Central, Jenny Rathbone, the Labour candidate for Cardiff Central, Jackie Radford, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Ogmore, Pippa Bartolotti, the Green Party candidate for Newport West, and Caryl Wyn Jones, the Plaid Cymru candidate for Vale of Clwyd.
After a lovely bit of coffee and cake in the rather swish church bar (!), the audience of around 40 women (and one man, bless him) were ushered into the main hall and the questioning began.
The questions were a mix of pre-submitted ones from Fawcett and audience ‘hand raisers’, with the discussion guided by Jennifer Cole of the Wales Assembly of Women. It was intended that 6 topics would be covered in turn: the economy – tax and spending; work and family life; crime and justice; democracy and political reform; attitudes, media and culture; equality and human rights. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
The candidates all made the right noises, describing their dedication to pursuing the cause of women and all making passionate statements regarding the female plight, and some genuinely progressive policies were outlined. However, pontificating took precedence over policy for all the candidates and they spent far more time trying to persuade us that they were aware of the issues and cared deeply about them than they did in telling us what they were going to DO about it if elected. After many drawn-out anecdotes and pointless name-checking (delightful as it was to know that Robson had read The Female Eunuch as a teenager and that Bartolotti approved of parenting practices she had observed in Cuba*) we were usually none the wiser as to their specific plans and a little bit bored of being told that as women we are discriminated against in society (thanks go to all for stating the bleeding obvious to an audience concerned with women’s issues).
All this electioneering meant that after 2 hours we had only addressed the first 4 topics and the discussion was brought to an end at 9pm sharp. Hannah’s question about funding for third sector services was dismissed by the chair as being ‘discussed later’ – needless to say, it never was. Selena demanded clarification of Rathbone as to how the Lib Dem policy of stopping income tax for those earning less than £10,000 was ‘regressive’ and received an adequate if short reply to her emotive question (answer: people on high incomes would also not pay tax on the first £10,000 they earn, so this would cost the country LOADS and there would be less money to spend on public services). I asked all candidates to briefly indicate whether they would actively lend their support to a 24hr Rape Crisis helpline for Wales – all either nodded or raised their hands (needless to say I will be following this up – updates to follow).
I was personally disappointed as the main question I wanted to ask was for all the candidates to state their position on the abortion issue, recently raised by David Cameron’s statement that he would support lowering the abortion limit from 24 to 20/22 weeks. As we did not reach issues on equality and human rights, I did not have the opportunity to do so. When I email the candidates about the helpline I will also ask them this question and let you know the results.
To conclude, here are some policies we did manage to get out of them:
CONSERVATIVE: flexible parental leave of 9 months; careers advice promoting part time work; increases in alcohol taxes to reduce drinking and lower domestic violence; support of positive discrimination in politics; mentoring for female management and directors.
LABOUR: 12 months parental leave; reduce ‘long hours’ culture in the workplace; education in schools about domestic violence and why it is not acceptable; lowering voting age to 16; education about citizenship in schools; collaborative approach to services and voluntary sector.
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS: practical support centres for victims of domestic violence; not in favour of positive discrimination
GREENS: enforce 40% of company board members being female; 35 hour working week; relationship education in schools
PLAID: demand reasons for employers not offering flexitime; lower business rates to allow employers to pay higher wages; encourage local enagagement with politics by women; community owned social enterprises.
If those seem sparse, it’s because they were! Nevertheless, an enjoyable evening, particularly the trip to the pub afterwards!
*We assume that being a Green Party member she must have floated there on a raft made up of recycled pop bottles