Cherie Blair, QC, opened Europe's largest speed mentoring event at the Southbank today, kicking off the WOW festival. As the venue's artistic director Jude Kelly quipped, "It's like speed dating but without the love. But then - who knows?!" Cherie B was on fine form, genial, friendly, intelligent, extremely charismatic and direct and unexpectedly playful. She reminded Jude, "We have something in common: we're both from Liverpool, we're both from the same year in Liverpool and we're both quite loud and provocative." All said with a twinkle in the eye. Jude Kelly added that "Cherie has made a point of mentoring at an international level for women as well as being an international lawyer."
Cherie Blair opened by saying, "Thank you for having the imagination and drive to make Wow happen. It's so important to celebrate women when around the world the birth of a girl is sometimes greeted, at best, with an "Oh dear.""
Blair qualified as a lawyer in 1976. It was the first year that the number of women becoming barristers had gone over 10%. She came top of her cohort in the Bar finals and yet was told, when trying to gain an appointment afterwards, that "Women don't do law." She was also told by a prospective employer, "We do have women in our firm, but we've already got one. If we had two, what would happen if they both got pregnant at the same time?"
When she was up for a job as a young lawyer she was told that she was a prime candidate out of two but that as "it's between a girl and a boy, of course we have to give it to the boy." Blair added, "And I thought this was very unfair because they recognised that I was the better lawyer, and he [the boy] recognised that too. And, you know, that boy's name was Tony Blair and a few years later he went off to do something else, and now I've been a lawyer for 35 years. But If I hadn't met that boy all those years ago, who knows what opportunities would have been lost since?"
Ah yes, Tony Blair, the man whose name Cherie faithfully totes. The name she was introduced by today. That's War Criminal Tony Blair (TM), whom Cherie mentions several times in her brief talk, reminding the world that he is a Middle East envoy, despite the fact that he has been seemingly invisible and silent during both the Arab Spring uprisings and in recent discussions on Israel and Palestine, thank goodness. What would he possibly say? "Kill them all! Kill them now? ...What?... I don't want to hear it. I'm not a details guy." I wonder why she loves him. I wonder how she can respect him. I think, on balance, that were I to have fallen in love with WCTB as a young lawyer, the love would pall when he constructed a government in which many women MPs including Clare Short, Diane Abbott and Mo Mowlam acknowledged that women were just used as set dressing and the general culture was macho and sexist, according to Alistair Campbell's memoir. Weirdly, I do believe Campbell, because when people lie they usually do so to make something seem better, not worse; more sophisticated, not more coarse; more enlightened, not more backward. And then, the love having palled, I think it would probably disappear entirely after Tony B spontaneously began an illegal war which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians and dozens of soldiers. Of course Cherie Blair is not responsible for her husband's actions. But she ain't embarrassed neither.
Anyway, Cherie Blair's daughter will be qualifying as a barrister this year and the situation is very different in some respects. Her class is 50% female and she can "look up and see examples of senior women." Blair also points out that many of these senior women have thriving work lives as well as children, "Because it's not fair that women should have to choose between having children and having a fulfilling career."
She points out that there must be fundamental support and solidarity amongst women and stresses the importance of mentoring: "Men naturally seem to do this for each other [I mean, Tony B didn't do it for Iraqi men - mainly he killed those, and their families too - or Gordon Brown, really, but I'm sure he did it for many other chaps like, um, Alistair Campbell] and women need to do the same."
Totally agree Cherie. And I agree wholeheartedly with her closing statement: "Never let anyone tell you 'You can't do that, because you're a girl.' You can do that, and we'll do everything we can to make sure you achieve it."