Ed Miliband – 2013 Speech to Women in Advertising and Communications Conference


Below is the text of the speech made by the Leader of the Opposition, Ed Miliband, to the Women in Advertising and Communications Conference in London on 28th June 2013.

I am delighted to be here tonight.

I am hugely proud to join the illustrious list of politicians who have spoken to you during your extraordinary history.

David Lloyd George

Jennie Lee

Stanley Baldwin

And it is an extraordinary tribute to the history and influence of your organisation that you are still going strong in your 90th year.

Nine months ago at the Labour party Conference I set out the idea of One Nation.

Not a Labour vision or a Conservative one.

But a British one.

Benjamin Disraeli, the great Conservative Prime Minister, was probably first to use the idea in the 19th century.

But it was also used by Labour after 1945 as Britain rebuilt after the War.

Its essence is that the way a country succeeds is by everyone playing their part.

For me, it is rooted in something that drives my politics: the cause of equality.

Not mathematical equality for every person.

But a passionate belief in equal opportunity for all.

And in the dangers of a society becoming too unequal.

About citizens living separate lives from one another.

Tonight I want to talk—appropriately I hope to this group— about the equality of women and men.

We have some of the most senior people in advertising and communications here.

And I believe there are urgent issues we need to address together.

First, at the heart of a One Nation idea is that we must drive further and faster towards equality for men and women from the shop floor to the boardroom to the cabinet room.

Second, if we are truly to become a more equal society — not just in numbers but in reality — we must change the structures of our society.

Third, I want to address a subject which a growing number of people, especially young women, are talking about: the representation of women in our culture, in our national life.

I want to do that as a Dad, the father of two boys, and not just as a politician.

Let me start with representation in its most formal sense.

We should celebrate progress but note how far we have to go.

When Harriet Harman, my Deputy, entered Parliament, just 3% of Labour MPs were women.

Today it is 33%.

And my Shadow Cabinet is now 40% women.

That has changed politics.

From childcare to parental leave to women’s employment – women MPs have put these issues centre stage.

Indeed, there are women MPs in Parliament now who would not have been there but for the trail that people like Harriet blazed.

But I don’t need to remind this audience that there are still enormous problems in the representation of women.

Even now, all these years after women got the vote, still over three quarters of MPs are men.

More than four fifths of the Cabinet.

And as our shadow equalities minister Yvette Cooper has exposed, this government’s chosen cuts have affected women at least three times as hard as men.

I strongly believe that wouldn’t have happened in a Cabinet with equal female representation.

And I know we have the same problems in business, the law and other areas too.

Being here tonight celebrating women in business, it is simply wrong that just 17% of FTSE 100 Directorships are held by women.

Just 14% of senior judges.

Just 5% of national newspaper editors.

Now I know that people have campaigned for decades to put this right.

But let me be clear: my goal is to get to a Labour cabinet that is 50% women and a Parliament that is like that, and boardrooms and everywhere major decisions are made.

We can’t be One Nation if the majority of the population is under-represented in every area of public life.

My second point tonight is that it is not enough to think about how we change representation but leave everything else unchanged.

The reality is that women are so often at the sharp end of the injustices in our society.

They are more likely to be carers for the elderly and disabled.

More likely to have primary responsibility for looking after the children.

More likely to be low paid, finding that their husbands or partners are working the longest hours in Western Europe.

Tonight as we enjoy this dinner, there are women all over this city, working as cleaners and carers, doing two jobs or sometimes three, travelling late into the night to get there, and still not earning a living wage.

And finding themselves working for their poverty.

So the call of economic and social change is urgent.

It is what I call a more “responsible capitalism”.

Because I think our country faces a choice in the years ahead:

A nasty, brutish, more insecure country.

Or a country where we recognise that to get the best out of workforce we need big change.

Reforming our workplace to make it less exploitative.

Taking further steps to make it more supportive of those who have families.


Dealing with all the many other issues we face: zero hours contracts, exploitation of agency workers, and shockingly low pay.

These are vital for the cause of equality.

And for the cause of equality between women and men.

So if we are truly to be One Nation where everyone can play their part we need change in formal representation, change in the way our economy works, but I believe we need something else.

We need cultural change if women and men are to realise their full potential.

Let me read you something that a 15 year old wrote to the Everyday Sexism project.

She said:

“I am 15 and I feel that girls my age are under pressure that boys of my age aren’t under … I always feel like if I don’t look a certain way, if boys don’t think I’m sexy or hot then I’ve failed and it doesn’t even matter if I am a doctor or writer, I’ll still feel like nothing.”

Friends, I think of my two sons, Daniel and Sam.

They are 4 and 2 years old.

And I think about the world that they are set to grow up in.

I think forward a decade, to their teenage years.

And thinking that decade ahead, I want different messages going out to them than too often go out to teenage boys and girls today.

Representation is not just about the jobs that people do, it also about how people are seen.

About the images we have of each other.

Now, we all know the changes our culture has gone through in recent years.

But I still believe we face a crisis of representation of women and men in our culture today.

Greater prominence is given to fantastic role models for women and girls than was true in the past.

Clare Balding, Doreen Lawrence, J.K. Rowling, Jocelyn Bell Burnell.

As well as some of you present tonight.

My kids will grow up with Dora the Explorer as much as my generation did with Dennis the Menace, and that matters.

The success of Jessica Ennis inspired a generation, just as much as Mo Farah.

And we are supporting Laura Robson just as much as Andy Murray at Wimbledon.

And if they both win, they will finally now be rewarded to the same extent too.

But we would be fooling ourselves if we deny the problems.

There is a culture of increasingly sexualised images among young people.

The culture that says that girls will only get on in life, if they live up to the crudest of stereotypes, as that 15 year old wrote.

The culture where pornographic images, some violent, are available to children at a click on a smartphone or a laptop.

Like any parent, I worry about this.

There are things that can be done about that, like safer default settings on our computers.

But my point tonight is different.

It puts a greater responsibility on all of us to do what we can to counter these images.

Schools should offer proper relationship education at all stages to ensure all our children have a proper chance to understand what good loving relationships are about.

And Schools should always encourage the aspirations of girls and boys.

And our society should always be promoting real role models of heroic women and their achievements.

That applies to everything from banknotes to statues around our great city of London.

When Winston Churchill replaces Elizabeth Fry, everyone who will appear on our banknotes will be a man apart from the Queen, our Head of State.

What kind of signal does that send?

I read this week that Jane Austen is “quietly waiting in the wings” to appear on a banknote one day.

But 100 years on from the great struggle to give women the right to vote, women shouldn’t be “waiting quietly in the wings” for anything.

This is a small but important symbol of the kind of country we are.

Why don’t we have one of our great women scientists, like Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, and a suffragette like Emmeline Pankhurst on our banknotes?

And it applies to the school curriculum too.

We all know the trouble Michael Gove has had writing a History curriculum.

He’s on his third go now.

But he still can’t get it right when it comes to women.

It seems as if he thinks it is alright to talk about women when you are specifically teaching Women’s History.

But then to talk almost exclusively about men when you are teaching the rest of History.

Well I don’t think that’s right.

The role of women should be taught throughout the History curriculum in our schools.

And, if I may say so, responsibility applies to broadcasting and communications.

In broadcasting, it is just wrong that older male broadcasters are seen as distinguished, and older female broadcasters are not seen at all.

What greater example could there be of double standards.

And it applies to your world, to advertising.

That same young woman I talked about earlier, also wrote: “I wish people would think about what pressures they are putting on everyone, not just teenage girls … I wish the people who had real power and control of the images and messages we get fed all day actually thought about what they did for once.”

Now, of course, you do think about these issues.

There are great examples where the advertising industry has led the way in displaying 21st century images of men and women.

Including people in this room.

And I applaud the creativity, the freshness, the innovation that your industry displays.

But it does not always do so.

We all know there are still too many images in our advertising that reflect outdated ideas about the role of men and women, boys and girls.

There are still too many adverts which do not show the modern world as it is – let alone as it should be.

Of course, there are limits to what government can do about this.

But it is something we must to talk about.

And something which advertisers have a responsibility to address.


Let me end with this thought.

Ninety years ago WACL was founded.

Just five years after women had got the vote.

In the 1924 Parliament, there were just eight woman MPs.

There had never been a woman Cabinet Minister.

And no thought that there could ever be a woman Prime Minister.

Mary Wollstonecraft, one of the founders of feminism right back in the eighteenth century, said:

“In every age there has been a stream of popular opinion that has carried all before it.”

And what she meant is this:

If we change the way we think, then we can change the way we are.

Change has happened not because politicians wanted it to happen.

But because people made it happen.

There needs to be political leadership, but as I always say politics is too important simply to be left to politicians.

What excites me about this debate, about the equality between men and women, is that there is a new wave of young women, with high expectations of what this society should offer.

They are not impressed that we have a Parliament of 25% women, they expect it to be 50%.

They are not impressed that there are some women business leaders, they expect there to be half of business leaders to be women.

They are not impressed that there is a law on equal pay, they expect pay actually to be equal.

They are not impressed that we have some positive female role models in advertising, they expect to see them every day.

They are not impressed that women can be doctors and writers, they expect all women to be respected for who they are.

We should listen to their voices.

All of us.



Business leaders.

Newspaper editors.

Because they are right.

We can only be One Nation if we have true equality for men and women.

This is one of the biggest causes of our century.

To complete the work of the last century.

To turn a formal commitment to equality in to real equality.

I know that it is your cause.

And this will be my cause, as part of the next Labour government.