Alice Mahon
Alice Mahon MP

Political Development

Party Affiliation

Profession/ Current priorities

Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments





The Team




[ European Commission, DG V ]

© Jan 2001

European Database: Women in Decision-Making

Alice Mahon MP

Political Development

1. What made you decide to go into politics?
I was born into a Labour Party family so even as a little girl I helped - the conversation at meal times was always politics, cricket or rugby league. I was an active Trade Unionist in the 1960s and 1970s, in local government in the 1980s, and then selected by the Party.

2. Do/did you have a role model?
Yes. As a young woman I always admired Barbara Castle and I still do. I heard her speak recently in the same week as I heard Nelson Mandela and they are both giants. Mandela is the man of the century. But I would put Gandhi first; my father was a fan and I strongly support the non-violent approach. My parents' generation were all in the Second World War, and I was imprinted with the UN Declaration and the feeling that this must not happen again.

3.Is there a tradition of political involvement/ policy - making in your family?
Yes. My brother was in a convoy during the war and was shipwrecked and I grew up with the conviction that this must not happen to another generation. So I was brought up in the Labour Party and an anti war tradition.

4. Were you involved in grassroots activities etc.?
I have spent a lifetime in local activities for the Labour Party, the Trade Unions and local issues. I have been involved in so many campaigns including the miners' dispute. I always supported Ban the Bomb, and joined the local branch of CND. (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament)I was divorced with two mall children, having looked after my parents for years so I became very aware of how institutions are not helpful to women with small children. I was not really trained for anything at that time, so I did a range of jobs all over the district, and started to get really active in 1972. I felt as if I stopped playing at politics and really got started. I was on the National Committee of NUPE (National Union of Public Employees) and campaigned for equal pay for women and against race discrimination. I feel that the Labour Party brought in some excellent legislation at that time. I was elected to the Council in 1981.

5.Were there disruptions in your political career?
Yes. During the time of the divorce and the illness of my parents. At one time my Labour Party membership lapsed for a year.

6.Were there disruptions in your biography that have had an impact on your political career? Have your objectives changed during your political career?
Yes. A very nasty divorce, and the early death of my mother from cervical cancer, and my father's death after I had looked after them in my own home for three or four years while my children were small. I then concentrated on my education and did some Open University courses and became a mature student at Bradford University in 1980.

7.How and why did your political objectives change during your political career?
I am still idealistic but I have learned to compromise. Being on the local Council taught me that you have to work with people.

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Party Affiliation

1. Motivation for joining a political party?
I was brought up in it- equal rights, justice and an end to war.

2. Which party and when?
The Labour Party when I was 18.

3. Does your party have equal opportunity regulations?

4. Which office/function did you hold in your party at the beginning? How long after joining? How did you get into running for office?
I was a Branch Secretary, years after I joined. I tried for a year or two to be selected for the Council with no success as it was very male dominated and I was seen as feminist and on the left. I was elected to the Council in 1982 and when Labour lost the Westminster seat in Halifax in 1983, I spoke at a regional conference and someone said 'You're going to go for it aren't you ?' and that was the first time that I thought of becoming an MP.I was elected in 1987.

5. Did you have mentors within your party?
Yes, unofficially. I was helped by local activists Barry Collins and Maura Wilson.

6. Have you ever changed party affiliation?

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Profession/ Current priorities

1. How does your profession relate to your political work?
It doesn't.

2. What kind of qualifications do you have?
I have a degree in Social Policy.

3. In what kinds of jobs did you work?
A wide range - nursing, factories, offices, hotels. I also did part time lecturing at Leeds Metropolitan University, and became a full-time lecturer in Trade Union studies at Bradford University.

4. Do you link your professional and political career?

5. In what areas do you see your special competencies?
I relate to people, I listen to people, and I am stubborn.

6. What are your political priorities?
A peaceful world. Equal access for all to health and education. The right to organise, and the promotion of grassroots activity.

7. Main fields of action?
Defence - I am on the Parliamentary wing of NATO. Health.

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Political Aims/ Priorities/ Assessments

1. Which objectives would you like to achieve through your political work?
Social justice. That rich countries would go back to the UN for decision-making and not go into unilateral action.

2. How and why have your political objectives changed during your political career?
They have not changed - I am true to my old objectives the objectives of Old Labour. The Labour Party has gone in a slightly different direction.

3. Do equal opportunities strategies in your opinion have an impact in your country in the promotion of women in decision-making- please specify?
Yes. The Sex Discrimination and Equal Pay Acts started it. I admire the Party for women only shortlists which did get more women into Parliament.

4. Did you benefit from these strategies?
Yes as I was elected for the Region onto the Women's Committee of NUPE and this led to NUPE sponsoring me as a Parliamentary candidate. I think this encouraged some people to vote for me in Halifax.

5. Do you see direct or indirect discrimination in conventional policy-making?
Yes - direct and indirect. I have seen discrimination at all levels from the personal comments about women's appearances to the belief that women are only suitable for certain tasks like making the tea. As a speaker on defence issues I have repeatedly faced the attitude that it is not for women, only men understand such things. Until there was a woman as Speaker of the House, it was difficult for me to be called to speak in Parliament on defence. I have found this attitude here and abroad. Defence is not for women to deal with. There should be creche facilities. It is not a question of hours which have been rationalised. A flexible approach is needed from the Government to recognise the needs of young families and allow MPs to work from their constituency for more of the week. It could be organised in a week if there was the political will. The language of the debates puts women off, especially the 'playtime' of question time - the name-calling has started again and it is horrid. If women could find a way of working with their caring responsibilities more would come forward. It would be easy to work round this and only call women to speak on some days. So that they were only in the House for two days, and in the constituency for the rest of the week.

6. What are the major obstacles that women need to overcome?

7.What obstacles have you had to overcome in your own career?
Being a single parent. Institutionalised sexism. There are no women in the Front Bench team on defence, foreign affairs, or Northern Ireland, they are in the House of Lords. I have been asked to make tea all over the world, and my husband has been treated as if he was the MP by Ambassadors even when I was the only women MP on the delegation.

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