looks back at the early days of
The 300 Group
published in 300 Group News on 10th Anniversary of the
group's launch (1990)
1979, once the dust and excitement had settled after the election
of Britain's first woman Prime Minister, it seemed more
unreasonable than ever that of a total 635 MPs, only 19 were
that same campaign in 1979 I had cut my own teeth as a
Parliamentary candidate in East Herts, after two years as a
researcher in the House of Commons and House of Lords. In standing
for Parliament I had been invited to give talks to a number of
women's organisations on how I came to be a Parliamentary
candidate and what it was like.
remember one particular evening talk at the home of a member of
the local branch of the National Housewives Register. I came away
wondering why so many of those women weren't standing for
Parliament too, for whichever political Party they might choose.
despite Britain's first woman in Downing Street, the larger
subject of women in politics was simply not in the air.
in the Press. Not in the Media. Not in the political Party
in politics, a subject whose time I believed had come, was being
completely and absolutely overlooked.
with Constance Blackwell, an American soon to become a significant
300 Group Trustee we had got into the habit of breakfasting
together at a tiny Hampstead cafe after dropping our very small
children at a nearby nursery school.
was at one of these get-togethers that the idea of forming a
campaign to turn Britain into a democracy where at least half its
legislators were women, was born.
an advertising executive in the swinging 60s, I knew there was one
sure way to test out an idea - 'run it up the flag pole and see
sent for the list of women's groups on the Equal Opportunities
Commission mailing list, writing to 120 of them to suggest a
meeting in London. We
set it for 18 September 1980.
Kaufman, Secretary General of Gingerbread was enthused about the
idea. She offered us a
room for the afternoon in Gingerbread's head offices in Covent
than 30 women representatives came. They included the WI, the
Townswomen's Guilds, the women's wings of Conservative, Labour and
Liberal parties. Between
them they represented millions of women.
were angered at widespread negative attitudes to women in
politics, such as the canard, 'Voters won't vote for a woman'.
They were dismayed at the lack of encouragement and training on
offer for women by the Parties in those days.
the ultimate question of the day came, 'Is a new all-party
organisation needed?', part pressure group, part training and
support group, every single woman in the room raised her hand to
this time I was just moving out from London to an old house I
rented in Oxfordshire. The Mill House, Burford, became the 300
Group's first Headquarters.
should we call the new group?
Symonds, an erstwhile lecturer in politics at the University of
California, who was to act as the first 300 Group press officer,
was standing in the stone-paved hall at The Mill House when the
idea came to him to divide the total number of MPs at Westminster
in two, as a nominal target.
didn't have the right cachet. We settled on 300.
sounded too in-groupy. 'Group' sounded a bit martial but it was
snappy. We settled on it in the way Hollywood movies start with a
shooting title, with the idea of changing it later, but it came to
next step was to hold a public meeting.
Labour MP Maureen Colhoun suggested we hold it in the largest
committee room in the House of Commons - the Grand Committee Room,
at the end of the Great Hall.
first public meeting for the 300 Group, on 25 November 1980, was a
tremendous, heart-warming success. Over 400 people flooded in. In
the audience were David and Debbie
Owen, Bill and Silvia Rodgers front the then Council for
Social Democracy, Gundula Dorey, one of the Leaders of the Greens,
Liberal Baroness Seear, Conservative MP Janet Fookes, Labour MP
Gwyneth Dunwoody, and Liberal MP’s Richard Wainright and Geraint
Members of Parliament sat (precariously) on the platform.
93 year-old socialist Lord Brockway, a feminist all his
life, was seated literally on the floor until he was discovered
there and almost dragged on to the platform too.
Valiance, from Queen Mary College, London, author of the
invaluable hook on women in British politics Women in The House and later to be one of the first Trustees, gave
the keynote address.
highly successful first public meeting showed us the interest and
the need for an all-party group for women in politics was there.
also placed on the fragile, and under-resourced early membership,
an obligation to fulfill this promise.
following letter from Lesley Abdela appeared in the first issue of
300 Group News:
started the 300 Group in September last year. Since then more than
one thousand five hundred women have written to our national HQ.
Nearly one thousand have said they would like to stand for
Parliament. This scotches once and for all the idea women are not
interested in politics.
most certainly are.
role of the national HQ is in maintaining cordial and direct
relations with the political parties at the very highest levels to
see where able, intelligent women can be brought forward in ever-increasing
numbers to the most important offices in politics.
the local/area/regional levels I foresee women gaining the skills
and expertise required to turn them into first-rate Parliamentary
or local candidates AND to speed them through the ranks of
industry and commerce.
presentation, clear thinking, a fine knowledge of British politics
- these are comprehensive skills of value throughout life. I do
not say it will be easy to redress the imbalance of men and women
in Parliament. But I do say it is vital to the welfare of
democracy and the nation.
DO JOIN US!
as an important PS, we do not expect all of you to want to stand
for office. We need
able women in all categories to help in the task.
Your presence in the 300 Group will speed others to the