Kay’s Blog: In praise of Labour’s women of history

History / Sat 17th Feb 2024 at 07:25am

THE 8th of March is International Women’s Day and the Labour Party has just celebrated 100 years since first winning power so this is as good a time as any to celebrate a few …. just a few … of the wonderful Labour women who’ve inspired us over the years.

Leah Manning (1886-1977) was one such, an intrepid individual who certainly left her mark. Her parents emigrated to the USA when she was 14, leaving her with her maternal grandparents, something that proved to be a positive development for Leah, giving her the benefit of her grandfather’s views and values. Ms Manning became a teacher and a campaigner, fighting for the provision of free milk for impoverished children. She also helped to rescue nearly 4000 Basque children in 1937 amongst other remarkable achievements.

As an MP she fought inequality, advocating Family Planning and pain-free childbirth as part of the new NHS.

When the creation of new towns was debated in Parliament, Leah Manning said the 1946 New Towns Bill ‘would place in the hands of simple, honest, decent, kindly folk a key, opening to them a design of gracious living.’ Later her cottage disappeared into one of those new towns …. Harlow. She’s commemorated in Bilbao, Cambridge and in the name of Harlow’s Leah Manning Centre.

Then there is or was Tessa Jowell (1947-2018), a social worker who served in Craigmillar, Edinburgh, and as a childcare officer in Lambeth before being elected.  She held several ministerial positions before being honoured for her political and charitable services, in particular for her part in delivering the 2012 London Olympics. 

Rightly, Tessa Jowell was proud of introducing Sure Start, a transformative programme which supported children and families, recognising that the first 3 years of a child’s life can determine life chances. 

When Tessa was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she advocated the provision of more NHS cancer treatments in a dignified, moving speech which received a standing ovation. Her words will stay with me, especially ‘…what gives a life meaning is not only how it is lived  but how it draws to a close….’

You’ve heard of Jennie Lee (1904-1988)? Born in Lochgelly, Fife, Jennie was elected at the age of 23, before women could vote. She helped her husband, Aneurin Bevan, to set up the NHS, opposing prescription, dental and glasses charges. When Harold Wilson PM asked for her help in establishing a university of the air, she obliged and so the Open University was born. You can see her name in one of Harlow’s public buildings. 

Those are only 3 Labour women who’ve made a difference to our lives. There are plenty more.

In the last 100 years Labour has been in and out of power but in administration has prioritised the introduction of measures which give us a better future. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have the Equal Pay Act, the Sex Discrimination Act, relative peace in Northern Ireland, maternity pay, the minimum wage and the Climate Change Act. The very first Labour government transformed a country suffering from post-war devastation and managed to introduce free secondary school education for all, 11 new towns, the Welfare State, the NHS, the abolition of capital punishment, the decriminalisation of homosexuality and more. 

There’s more to be done now, of course. Much more. Of one thing I’m certain, though: we have talented, courageous women …and men! …. to do it; they’ll build on the past and fashion a future of new opportunities. They’re ready, loins well girded. 

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5 Comments for Kay’s Blog: In praise of Labour’s women of history:

2024-02-17 11:38:48

Yet they have never had a female PM, where as the conservatives have had three.

James Leppard
2024-02-17 11:54:34

Just a minor factual correction, the first Labour government (albeit a minority one) was in 1924 rather than 1945. It was led by the Scottish Labour Party leader, Ramsay MacDonald, who became the first Labour Prime Minister for nine months in 1924 and again between 1929 and 1931. From 1931 to 1935, he headed a National Government dominated by the Conservative Party and supported by only a few Labour members.

2024-02-17 20:30:26

All three Tory women PMs were removed by their, mostly male colleagues. Maggie Thatcher presided over boom and bust economies, Liz Trust presided over bust. Teresa May was shafted so Boris Johnson could amuse the MPs

Colin Barton
2024-02-17 21:54:19

Voteforme... an were male leaders treated any differently? Your point being? You still have not answered why Labour has never seen fit to elect female leaders. Just curious...

Matthew Kirkbride
2024-02-18 11:02:21

Vote for me is clearly a blinkered Labourite woke! Can't handle facts. Also the Tory cabinets of the last few years have had far more people from ethnic minorities, including the first Prime Minister. However. come the general election, we should vote for Reform UK

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