Anneliese Dodds – 2021 Speech to Labour Party Conference (Women and Equalities speech)

The speech made by Anneliese Dodds, the Chair of the Labour Party, in Brighton on 25 September 2021.

Conference, I’m honoured to have been appointed by Keir Starmer to serve as Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities.

I must first pay warm tribute to my predecessor, Marsha de Cordova – a fearless and formidable advocate for equality all her life. Let me also say an enormous thank you to Charlotte Gerada, our National Women’s Officer and all our sisters who made this summer’s Women’s Conference such a success.

Conference, equality is the core commitment of our party. It runs through us like the writing in a stick of Brighton rock as we fight for a world free from all forms of bigotry and discrimination. The COVID-19 crisis brutally exposed how unequal and unfair our country has become under the Conservatives. Disabled people have been 11 times more likely to die of COVID-19 and many have suffered as the Tories shamefully refused to uprate legacy benefits. Black, Asian and ethnic minority people were left overexposed, under-protected and overlooked throughout the pandemic – as Baroness Doreen Lawrence powerfully argued in her report ‘An Avoidable Crisis’.

This situation is shocking, but sadly not surprising. Even before the pandemic hit, Britain under the Tories was already horribly unequal. Ethnic minority people are twice as likely to be unemployed as white people. Women in the UK are still earning 18% less than men: a gender pay gap that would take 60 years to eradicate on current trends. Too many people feel unsafe, simply because of who they are. One in five LGBT+ workers are the target of negative comments or conduct from colleagues at work; and one in three trans people face the same.

Every single person in this country should know that their government always has their back. But instead, the Conservatives are letting them down.

Conference, we need a more equal society. We need it now and the people of Britain know that. We saw that in the public outcry over Sarah Everard, Nicole Smallman, Bibaa Henry, Sabina Nessa and so, so many women. When people came together to say: enough is enough. We saw it this summer when our brilliant England football team took the knee together to say: enough is enough.

And what did the Tories do?

They brought in a Police and Crime Bill that doesn’t even mention the word “woman”. That issues longer sentences for attacking statues than for raping women. They published a report that denied structural racism even exists. They dragged their feet again and again on outlawing the abhorrent practice of conversion therapy. They failed to condemn those who booed the England players for taking a stand – showing themselves to be utterly out of touch with the people of this country.

The Tories say they want a war on woke. You know what I want, Conference? I want a war on inequality. I want a war on poverty. I want a war on this callous and cronyist Conservative excuse for a Government that seeks political gain from pitting community against community, neighbour against neighbour.

What the past 18 months showed time and time again was that division is not what defines this country. When times were hard we pulled together. We looked out for one another. In all its great diversity this country united in the face of a common challenge and said: we’ll come through this together. We’re stronger, together.

That spirit is central to us as a Labour Party. It is who we are and it will be central to the next Labour Government and its defining mission to create a more equal society. A Labour Government committed to an equal recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. A Labour Government that would introduce a Race Equality Act to tackle structural racial inequality at source. A Labour Government that would make tackling violence against women and girls a priority. A Labour Government that acknowledges that trans rights are human rights and that would reform the Gender Recognition Act to enable a process for self-identification while continuing to support the 2010 Equalities Act.

Conference, we know that a Labour Government would make good on these commitments. Because every day, where we are in power, Labour works to tackle unfairness and inequality. Every day there are people in this country whose lives are better – who feel safer and more supported – because of their Labour council, their Labour mayor, their Labour government in Wales. We need to make that a reality for everyone in this country, no matter who they are and no matter where they live.

And that means a Labour Government in Westminster – the only route to the better, more equal society we all want to see.

Thank you.