The Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities Kate Green

The Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities

Kate Green

She is currently Shadow Spokesperson for Disabled People.

The key thing about human rights is protecting and respecting the people whose views you fundamentally disagree with and don’t like, in return they do the same for you. “I will defend your right to say it.”  I think that’s a good starting point.

Kate Green MP on wikipedia

formerly for women and equality

I suppose what first got me really politically angry, and aware, was being a young woman at the start of 1980; the height of Thatcher’s destruction.    Ultimately of the economic and social infrastructure.

I was shocked, but also fearful, as one of that young generation who seriously thought we might never work.  I seriously thought she might take us into a nuclear war.  All around us were young people sleeping on the streets, industries collapsing.  It was a scary time to be young!!!!

That really politicized me. All the more so because I had grown up, and been educated, in Scotland.  At the beginning of my twenties I did get work and moved to London. I was not only shocked by the poverty and sheer volume of young people on the street in London (it was the first place I had ever seen young people on the streets), but also shocked by the wealth.  Edinburgh is a rich city, but the contrast between wealth and poverty really came home to me when I moved to London.  That got me politically angry and politically aware.

It took me quite a long time before I became active in the Labour Party, probably another ten years or so.  I suppose I got to the point where I thought, “You can’t just sit around and be unhappy, you have to be engaged.” It was the beginning of the 1990’s; a purposeful time to get involved in Labour.  We were really beginning to think about a new policy agenda, think about the way we presented ourselves to the Country. It was a lot to get into. I found that very, very stimulating.

Kate Green in interview

Kate remembering a teacher




It was somebody else who suggested I get involved (it would never have occurred to me); a woman who subsequently became my agent and very good friend.  She had been a candidate herself in 1979, so she knew what was involved. Interestingly, she was a teacher; I think she was used to developing people, spotting their potential, bringing it on, and she saw that I could do it.  Without her I don’t think I would have even contemplated it.

I stood in 1997 and lost.  However, I realized that I not only liked doing it, but I was good at it too. I stood again in 2000 for the Greater London Assembly, and lost again.  At that point I thought, “I absolutely want make a career out of this kind of work, even if it’s not going to be in main stream politics.”  At that point it didn’t seem feasible to keep going for seats and losing.

I had to get on with my career, so I ended up running campaigning charities for 10 years.  That was the springboard for my current seat campaign in 2009. I didn’t go into running campaigning charities with the intention of standing for Parliament again.  I got to my forties and said, “I’m going to find other ways.”  But friends kept on hassling me, “why don’t you do it; why don’t you follow it all the way through; why aren’t you doing it?”. The thing that tipped me over was when the MPs’ expenses scandal hit, I suddenly realized there were lots of seats up for grabs. It was now or never. I knew, at the back of my mind, I had always wanted to give it another go.

I guess my role models were teachers.  I wouldn’t say there was a particular role model, it’s just this thing teachers do; they can spot your potential and develop it.  Although I can think of one of the things that catapulted me: 

There was an English teacher who supported the school Debating Society. Public speaking is very important in this job. I realized later that he really coached me to do it. I have a whole set of skills.  Someone asked me later on whether I had training.  I started off saying “No”, but then I realized that yes he had given me training; I just didn’t notice it at the time.  The other thing I remember this English Teacher doing was encouraging me when I used to go off-piste during English in the 6th Form.  I would look at the question, completely ignore it and write about something else. He would say, “That’s really interesting.  Write more about that, don’t worry about the question.” That’s a really important thing: feeling your power to develop your agenda.

Equality means that everybody is of the same value.

It’s  about equal sharing of assets, of resources, of access.

I do it in terms of instances of policies I would like to see.  I would like to see re-distribution of income and wealth; less disparity of poverty and wealth, both within countries and between countries. You need to level up the playing field for those who suffer other barriers or disadvantages.  That means a pro-active re-distribution of assets and resources, as well as a pro-active re-distribution of power. This is where people often feel uncomfortable.

The key thing about human rights is protecting and respecting the people whose views you fundamentally disagree with and don’t like, and in return they do the same for you. “I will defend your right to say it.”  I think that’s a good starting point.

Kate Green

Labour Party’s Kate Green MP

I’d have a more representative Parliament; more women, more ethnic minorities, more working class, more people with disabilities and a wider age range.  More people from my kind of constituency.  I suspect some minority groups are better represented in Parliament in relation to their representation in society as a whole.

But in no case is this place representative of our country.  Fundamentally, a change to its make up.  To do that you’d have to completely change Parliament’s working practices; it’s in the wrong place, it’s the wrong time, it’s the wrong working patterns.  It’s completely hopeless for most people to square with working life. Of necessity it attracts a rather peculiar kind of people, a subset of society – people who can live in that way.

I think one of the greatest success stories of the Left was Labour in 1997.  They produced a complete package, linking things which reinforced each other; greater economic justice, greater social justice, structural solutions to inequality, which improved the lot of minorities. Actions against domestic violence were as important as the minimum wage. I think that’s how you have to think about legislative change.  To come in with broad values, then you plug every theme into those values and every specific policy into those themes.  I think the Equalities Act was the most important piece of legislation, which has now sadly been watered down by the present Government.

 I wish all women would call themselves feminists – and men!   A feminist is a woman, or man, who believes in equality for women and men.

For the last 10-12 years I’ve been working in the field of disadvantage: firstly as Director of the National Council for One Parent Families  from 2000 to 2004, then as Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group until 2009. I also served as a member of the London Child Poverty Commission, eventually serving as the commissioner chairing the body.

The constant multiplicity of disadvantage that people face, was what really brought i it home to me.  One of the interesting things is how many people fall into many more than just one of those groups. Older women with a disability, or even an older black woman with a disability.  So I think the more important question is for people have multiple disadvantages.  When I was at CPAG (Child Poverty Action Group), we did a piece of work called “At Greatest Risk”. I didn’t write it, I was just the Chief Exec at the time, but I was very struck by the book.

If you looked at Housing for instance; who was disadvantaged with regard to access to housing? People who lived in the wrong place, spatial disadvantage.  Who were more difficult to house?  Older disadvantage, larger families or marital disadvantage?  It could be related to their marital, cultural or economic status, or relationship problems.  Doing that piece of work really gave me an insight into the types of multiple disadvantages, and what drives it.  As well as how you respond.

My work with Child Poverty Action Group is one of my most  memorable life events.  It was an immensely, intellectually, interesting job to undertake.  Working within an organization that had a tremendous reputation to trade on, and therefore tremendous access to people who make decisions, at a time when policy thinking was absolutely in the territory we wanted to influence.

The happiest job I ever did was with the National Council for One Parent Families, working with so many women.

I was surprised how much attention we were able to create around a campaign we ran about universal benefits. We were able to force that debate to happen. I was very pleased about that. Nobody was very interested in universal benefits. We whipped up a campaign out of nowhere; very successfully for a time.  We weren’t actually trying to do anything more than keep the importance of universal benefits in the spot light.  They were not under threat at the time, although they are now.

Since then there has been a very nasty attack, with child benefit sliced off the top. But the legacy we have left behind is a group of organizations that can come together quickly to fight that.

CPAG (Child Poverty Action Group) was interesting, but was not about achieving an immediate result. It was about keeping ideas alive, which is not perhaps what it should have been for.  When you are not working towards a particular policy your issues are not the hottest quite a lot of the time.  So all you’re doing is keeping a space open that says this set of values is valid in the political process and we are never going to let it fade away.

a framework

How to aim for equality through legislation

Yvette Cooper is one of my current role models. I think Yvette is an absolute star; she’s brilliant at what she does.  She is rational, calm, very authoritative, and well researched.  Yvette is very principled, and I think she’s a very impressive performer.

I’m very taken by Michele Obama and her ability to reach out to people.  She came to visit a school in Islington around the corner from my office.  I met those girls after they had seen her and they were absolutely bubbling.  You could see how she had raised their sights.  What I saw in terms of the reaction from those girls she had done something very inspirational there.

Cheri Booth gets a bad press, but I’ve always liked Cheri.  She is a hard worker and never swerves in her commitment to the things she believes in.  She’s a very warm person, and makes women who meet her feel good.

My moment of Serendipity was when I went to one parent families.   Although I’d stood twice for election, I had to accept that I needed another job.  What else could I do?  There, in the paper that day, was the job advertised. That was timing. If I hadn’t done that, everything that’s happened since would not have followed through.  I happened to get a job in a very high profile charity, which lead me to another one, which led me here.

Advice to young women (and men)

First and foremost, it is never too late.  Whatever you want, hold it in your head.  It may be 10 years or more, but when the moment comes you can go for it, you’ll be ready.

Don’t be frightened of being be a feminist; people will attack you as a woman.  You need to protect yourself, and feminism is the way to do that.  I still think that, as a woman, you have to work harder and do more.  In both public and private lives, domestic stresses still are a factor.  Your appearance – don’t be surprised if it attracts attention that you have to address.

Surround yourself with supportive people; friends, colleagues and family who want to see you succeed are very important.

©2012 Christina


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