14 May 2015

Women in Labour: will this pregnant pause ever end?

It’s a very strange thing, but the party which, at its first ever parliamentary meeting, deemed that women’s suffrage was a priority, which led the charge on the Equal Pay Act, and which introduced all-women shortlists has never succeeded in electing a woman as leader.

There have been deputy leaders of Labour aplenty. But so far, it remains an embarrassment to a party with equality at its core that a full quarter of a century after Britain’s first female prime minister left Downing Street, Labour has only ever been led by men.

If Nigel Farage falls on his sword (again), even UKIP could end up pipping it to the post with a female leader.

So for many Labour MPs it’s a matter of urgency to get a woman elected this time round. So what are their chances?

Britain's shadow Chancellor Balls, shadow Health Secretary Burnham and shadow Home Secretary Cooper clap and sing during a rendition of the 'Red Flag' at the close of the Labour party's annual conference in Brighton

Yvette Cooper is clearly a strong contender, but right from the off the worry is she’s too closely associated with the mistakes of the past.

When I was a cub reporter and she an aspiring journalist, I sat next to her in the Independent newsroom, and remember her enthusing about Gordon Brown’s economic genius. She was a true believer.

For Labour to win again, surely the leader needs to make a decisive break from all that.

That’s why Leicester MP and shadow health minister Liz Kendall might offer hope to some of her colleagues.

Andy Burnham And Ed Balls Face Labour Questions

She’s been impressively forthright and free-thinking in the interviews she’s done since – with rather alarming haste – declaring her interest in the job at the weekend.

But if Cooper’s drawback is the experience that allies her too closely to the ancien regime, Kendall has the opposite problem: she’s only been an MP for five years.

Where Tony Blair might have been a relative unknown, he’d started to craft his political philosophy before the sudden death of John Smith in 1994 propelled him into the top job. His “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” speech was made the year before that, when he was shadow home secretary.

Although Kendall has made some interesting – and decidedly Blairite – noises on the use of the private sector to deliver NHS services, her thinking isn’t nearly as fully-formed as Blair’s was at the same stage.

There may be more to recommend Mary Creagh.


She’s not been much talked-about in the Westminster village recently, which may actually work in her favour. Kendall may suffer from having been over-hyped.

Creagh, like Kendall, is of Blairite tendency, and so may be able to reach the parts of the country Ed Miliband failed to. She’s shown talent and tenacity, for example during the horsemeat scandal, and yet she was demoted by Miliband, largely for ideological reasons.

While she may be too New Labour for a lot of the old guard, she at least as the merit of being MP for Wakefield, and so could make a decent fist of appealing to the northern England seats where Labour is under threat from UKIP.

And unlike Kendall, she has the benefit of experience on her side, having been in Parliament since 2005.

If those three fail, though, once again Labour women may have to put up with one of their number ascending to the deputy leadership.

And here the field is not only crowded but also very female. Stella Creasy, Angela Eagle and Caroline Flint are all expected to run.

It may be a good bet, too, that there will be a female London mayor – Dame Tessa Jowell – before a woman is installed as party leader.

Tessa Jowell, former shadow minister for the Olympic Games, speaks during a segment about the London 2012 Olympic Games at the Labour Party annual conference in Manchester

Whatever the leadership elections hold, it’s certainly the case that Labour’s women need to shout even louder.

Certainly, “Amplify”, billed as “The Voice of Labour Women” on the party website seems somewhat muted. Under the heading “Latest Stories”, the most recent entry is dated July 1, 2014.

Oh dear.

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5 reader comments

  1. Philip Edwards says:


    What’s so “strange” about it?

    That collection of New Labour women have the aggregate talent of a rabid moth. I wouldn’t ask any of them to walk my dog, never mind run the country.

    Yvette Cooper “…enthusing about Gordon Brown’s economic genius. She was a true believer…” about sums them up. That’ll be the “economic genius” who said “We’ve abolished boom and bust” just six months before the economy went…er…bust.

    As for Harriet Harman – that woman wouldn’t be out of place selling Avon products door to door.

    David Steel got it right when he said of the hated Thatcher, “I don’t mind a woman as prime minister. It’s THAT woman I mind.”

    In this case, it’s THOSE women, all of them New Labour political traitors. I wouldn’t trust them to walk my dog.

  2. Martin Clay says:

    It isn’t strange, but not because women are not able, but because it is the norm that women are denigrated. I would say that now that Chuka Umunna has stepped down the men are not credible who remain, and Yvette Cooper is the best candidate currently standing. I noticed that right away Chuka started to receive partly coded attacks about his ethnicity under the guise that he was a member of the “metropolitan elite” and wouldn’t go down well in Northern constituencies. Is it because he is black? So too women start getting hate messages.

  3. anon says:

    sorry about this but may I post this here as a response to another thread (is that the term) . If you are right, what is the answer? also perhaps the worst _____ is fear, because once good people are frightened and cowed by those misusing their power, which is always defended in a breathtakingly self righteous way, as being necessary etc, necessary evil? where does that leave us? perhaps it has always been the case when power is misused and people are cowed by those charged with protecting them, but justice can only prevail, when some good people still stand against such things

  4. anon says:

    where are the demands from the wannabe leaders above to stop IS and rescue the 13 year old Yazidi girls from these vile disgusting people?

    there was film of IS using tanks to capture Ramadi but surely these vehicles can be easily destroyed by aircraft with thermal imaging? the hot metal of the tanks would be clearly visible particularly as temperatures fell at night? as for the retreating Iraqi army what sort of vehicles were they equipped with?

  5. Philip says:

    I comment quite often on the C4 blogs & regularly get ignored. Yet a couple of irrelevant comments appear to have been accepted. is there some inwardness I’m missing here?

Comments are closed.