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4 October 2023

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St Hugh’s Alumni Association celebrates women in politics

By Dr Gianetta Corley (Modern Languages, 1958), Alumni Association Committee

As part of the Oxford University Meeting Minds Alumni weekend 2023, St Hugh’s College Alumni Association presented a symposium on Friday 22 September in honour of alumna, the Rt Hon Baroness Barbara Castle of Blackburn (Honorary Fellow; Philosophy, Politics and Economics, 1929), and the Rt Hon Baroness Betty Boothroyd of Sandwell (Honorary Fellow).

‘Elect me for what I am not for what I was born’ were the words of Betty Boothroyd to the House when she stood for election in 1992 to the position of speaker of the House of Commons. She won this ballot with a large majority, the first woman member of parliament to have done so.

The symposium was introduced by Veronica Lowe (née Bagley, Modern History, 1969), President of the St Hugh’s Alumni Association. As part of her warm welcome, Veronica provided a brief historical context to the political careers of Barbara Castle and Betty Boothroyd. The overall theme therefore was women in UK politics and the battles these women have had to fight to achieve election – battles that are still being fought by women in politics today.

Next to speak was Anne Perkins, Barbara Castle’s official biographer, who referred to her as a politician who loved a good fight; a woman with a ‘Tiger in her tank’ and with a long list of reforms she wanted to make. Prime Minister Wilson gave her the opportunity to attempt these. Barbara believed fiercely in what she was fighting for.

A recorded tribute from the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon Sir Lindsay Hoyle, described Betty as having set a standard for the Speaker’s role and had enhanced it. He said that she was a Yorkshire woman and champion; and a great inspiration to whom he expressed his deeply-felt thanks.

The Rt Hon Teresa May (Geography, 1974), Prime Minister from 2016 to 2019 and MP since 1997, spoke of Barbara as a powerful speaker and a remarkable politician. She remembered Betty’s humanity, her love of the House of Commons and her passion to uphold the political balance required of a democracy.

The discussant, The Revd Dr Margaret Joachim, MBE (Geology, 1967), began by taking up the theme that both Barbara and Betty were being honoured as very effective politicians, but she knew from experience it was still very difficult for young women to be elected. All the panellists agreed that the age of candidates should not be a factor in selection, but that resilience as well as competence were essential in the face of the current regrettable increase in vituperative public discourse.

A lively series of questions from the audience occupied the Q&A session which was still in full flow at the end of the hour. Happily, St Hugh’s alumni and guests were able to discuss these issues for much longer at the drinks reception afterwards at St Hugh’s where there was a very warm welcome awaiting everyone from the Principal, Lady Elish Angiolini.

Sincere thanks are extended to all members of St Hugh’s College for working together to present this vibrant and timely symposium.

Photo by: Ian Wallman

Photo by: Ian Wallman

Photo by Ian Wallman
Title Photo credit:  Nicholas Posner

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