Alice in Westminster: The Political Life of Alice Bacon, by Rachel Reeves (IB Tauris, £20)
A significant number of women took Labour seats in 2015 and half of the roles in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet, many in top jobs, are held by women. The current Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner MP is a former care worker and union official from Stockport. Just like the first female Labour Education Minister, Alice Bacon, Rayner defied the odds to be elected an MP and achieve high office.
Bacon, daughter of a West Yorkshire miner and trade unionist, joined the Labour Party in 1925, aged 16. So it is fitting that this fascinating portrait of one of the most effective Labour politicians in 20th-century history is told by Rachel Reeves, Labour MP for Leeds West, who like her subject joined the party aged 16.
Bacon made her first political speech in 1926, and was elected to Leeds North East in the 1945 Labour landslide. Her trailblazing political career spanned four decades, during which she pioneered the introduction of comprehensive schools, and helped to abolish the death penalty, to legalise abortion and also to decriminalise homosexuality.
Reeves has done Bacon proud. It is not only the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act and Sexual Offences Act that makes this comprehensive and insightful account a welcome arrival to readers hungry for serious political biography about women. She shows Bacon was a feminist, internationalist and proponent of trade unionism whose nuanced, practical socialism had far greater effect in reforming and modernising the Labour movement than the post-war Oxbridge Fabian revisionism that eventually led to New Labour.
Purchase the book here on Amazon