The Labour leadership race is now taking shape. The hustings have been begun and we now know the names which will be on the final ballot paper. Two of the four positions on the ballot paper are occupied by women: Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. This is notable as Labour has never elected a permanent woman leader in its history. Both Harriet Harman and Margaret Beckett have performed the role temporarily but only for a brief period before being replaced by a new male leader.
Labour has long been at the forefront of promoting equal rights for women and were the first party to bring in all women shortlists. The leadership issue is the last obstacle they have to overcome and now might just be the right time to clear this hurdle. The country has changed and the Labour Party needs to change with it. In this leadership contest, Labour has two competent women standing for the top position. Both of these candidates have the necessary skills to lead the party and would do so with great aplomb.
The culture of the Commons and the brutish behaviour on show can be off putting for some women. Although, gradually changing the leadership teams of all the major parties are still predominantly white and male, with limited female (and indeed ethnic) representation. The culture and appearance of politics in this country can often appear very masculine and does little to encourage women into politics. A Labour Party which is led by a woman would go some way to changing this.
From a Labour perspective there are also clear political reasons for making this move. A woman leader would change the tone of the debate and there is a belief that Cameron’s laddish style would not work so well against a female leader. Cameron was able to defeat Miliband with ease in the Commons chamber, but it is questionable whether he has the skills and temperament to do this to a female leader.
The case for this argument is now overwhelming. There is now nothing that should stop the Labour Party from moving in this direction. The idea of a female women Labour leader needs to change from theory to reality. This seems the perfect opportunity to achieve this, but if it is not done now, it is clear it must happen soon.
Article by Mike Hough
Photograph – Young Fabians