Labour may not be ready for Liz yet, but women in politics are a step closer to real power

My interest in the Labour leadership contest has ebbed and flowed.

From my perspective, the most interesting candidates for both leader and deputy leader roles have been the women. Yeah, I’m biased.

I was gutted there were no women to vote for in the Lib Dem leadership contest.I’m not expecting any of Labour’s female leadership or deputy candidates to win necessarily but by standing for these offices they have helped further the cause of women in politics not just in Labour, but beyond.

They have shown in their different campaigns, policies and leadership styles that there is more than one type of female politician, women are capable of leading a major political party and being ambitious to win elections is a strength and not a weakness.

This might seem obvious but looking around across the political spectrum there are still too few prominent female politicians. We are nowhere near 50% representation in Parliament.

Despite the higher profile of women in politics it is still no walk in the park succeeding as a woman Helen Lewis pointed out in her excellent expositon of the countless structural barriers women face a few weeks ago.

Turning to the Labour leadership contest, the lack of receptivity, actually, downright hostility towards having women in positions of power that still exists in large parts of the Labour party has been revealing to say the least.

So here are my thoughts on the contest.

Although Liz Kendall could not perhaps match the initial excitement of the early days of her campaign, she would still be my first choice.


In terms of her personal style, I loved Liz’s -bloody-mindedness. I love the fact that she announced her candidacy within days of Labour’s defeat and did not wait to be asked. In doing so she made  her male rivals look positively dozy.

When voices (and mainly male) within her own party was calling on Liz to pull out she didn’t. ‘I’m in the race to win!’ was a her response, which admittedly sounded more forlorn as the contest wore on, and she was left trailing further and further behind.

I meet a lot of people through my involvement with politics and too often I find they lose sight of the need to actually win elections in order to implement policy.

This realism is one of Tim Farron’s strongest suits and something he emphasised when he was elected a few weeks ago.

Liz has been attacked for being unprincipled but as Isabel Hardman has pointed out this is nonsense:

The fact that Liz’s focus on the need to beat the Tories in 2020 ended up with her being labelled a Tory by some Labour ‘supporters’ is pretty ironic

In terms of policies, the one Liz put forward which appealed to me the most was her focus on early years education.  Hardly surprising – it’s Lib Dem policy! In fact, most of Liz’s strongest and most attractive-sounding policies are already Lib Dem policy:

Three months ago, a few days after the general election I bumped into Nick Clegg at a #LibDemPint meetup organised by new Lib Dem members in London. ‘Liz Kendall is a Lib Dem!’ were his exact words at the time.

Other things I liked  about Liz was her willingness to speak up about sexism in politics in places like Grazia Magazine and online.

As someone who has experienced ageism when I was a councillor it is incredibly inspiring to see a young woman putting herself forward for a senior role in politics. Liz is part of a new confident generation of women in politics – unafraid of talking about her love of hip hop alongside her interest in policy. She is breaking down barriers for the rest of us to be ourselves.

This leads me on to my other fantasy selection in the leadership contest – Stella Creasy.

I met Stella last year at the Women of the World Festival (below). Although I found the event as a whole itself quite frustrating (I blogged about it here) I found Stella inspiring and interest to listen to.

With Stella Creasy and Margot James at the WOW Festival in London, 2014.

With Stella Creasy and Margot James at the WOW Festival in London, 2014.

Stella approaches the issue of women in politics differently than I do but I think we’re on essentially the same mission. She spoke powerfully about being selected as an MP in an all-woman shortlist – she said all of  the women on the list could be described as the brightest and best. She blew a hole in the idea that AWSs means tokenism and not giving members the chance to picking the best candidates.

Well before she put herself forward to be deputy leader I’ve admired Stella from a distance. I have experienced her primarily through her tweets. It’s true, we like a lot of the same music but that’s not the only reason.

I like the way Stella, like Liz, doesn’t try to conform to lazy stereotypes about what politicians should be like or how women in public life should behave.

I like the way she calls out sexism wherever she finds it. This gives other women, including me confidence. Stella wrote a fantastic article in Grazia about women in politics:

‘My mother taught me to put my money where my mouth is and not to expect to do it alone. So, I’m standing for a leadership role myself, not because we need just one more woman, but many. It is not my ambition to speak for them, but to find new ways to get more women from a wider range of backgrounds into public life because we will all benefit from the contribution they will make. To do that, politics has to stop being about a machine that turns up at election time, and become a movement where everyone feels welcome and able to participate. That especially means those currently locked out. It’s time we stopped asking nicely for change, and refused to accept the status quo. If you feel the same, get in touch – because however we cut our hair, we are mad as hell about inequality and not going to take it any more.’

I get a lot of young women approaching me online for advice about getting into politics. Without wishing to sound arrogant they look up to me. It gives them confidence to know that I got elected and that I rose to be a senior councillor. I’ve mentored a number of people and persuaded other women to become councillors and run for Parliment. If we are going to elect more women we need to have plenty of female role models – of all ages and from all backgrounds.

With Rebecca Rye on her election to Reading Borough Council in 2010.

With Rebecca Rye on her election to Reading Borough Council in 2010.

For me it’s the same looking at Liz and Stella. We need more female role models in politics. Throughout my career Lynne Featherstone has been a huge inspiration to me – seeing her out there doing politics at the highest level, following through her  own ideas has been really important for me.

Campaigning with Lynne Featherstone in Reading in 2007.

Campaigning with Lynne Featherstone in Reading in 2007.

Throughout this contest Stella and Liz have been attacked for being inexperienced. Women get this in politics all the time while men don’t to anything like the same extent. William Pitt The Younger was 24 when he became Prime Minister ffs!

It’s looking highly unlikely that either Liz or Stella will get elected but they have broken the mould and helped pave the way for other young women to get ahead in politics – thank you to them.

Finally, a word on Yvette Cooper.

Yvette Cooper

Instinctively, I am not a fan of Yvette. This stems primarily from the authoritarian, tabloid-friendly policies she was responsible for when she was Home Secretary. She never struck me as particularly likeable either but I’m starting to think that is more as a result of over-caution on her part. She got elected before the age of social media and has kept her personality largely under wraps.

However, have always admired Yvette for all she has achieved in her career. Reading this Guardian profile in July  you couldn’t fail to be impressed (again) by her CV:

‘Hers is a life and political career punctuated by firsts – a first in PPE at Oxford, the first female minister to take maternity leave, the first female treasury chief secretary, and now the ambition is to be the first female Labour leader and first Labour female prime minister.’

On paper, Yvette is the best qualified candidate by a mile. However, as Jenni Russell pointed out on Murnaghan on Sky News today she has spent so long trying not to say the wrong thing her campaign never caught fire and she came over as lacking ideas and passion.

I’m sure that Yvette is right about the deep sexism in the Labour party. I’ve seen it at local level. But unfortunately the way she tried to throw Andy Burnham under the bus just came over as a Brownite tatic not principle.

Over the past week Yvette has finally found her voice –  on the refugee crisis:

But it feels like this has been too little too late to stop Jeremy Corbyn. As others have observed Yvette needed to find this passion much earlier but it seems it was just too deeply buried all these years.

How ironic, that for ‘Blair’s Babe’s to be successful they had to stay silent.

This week marks Harriet Harman’s last week as acting Labour leader:

Let’s hope it’s not too many years before a women takes a helm of that party, if it survives this weekend’s results.

I’m not a Labour supporter, clearly. Whoever wins the Labour leadership and deputy leadership elections I’d like to see as many Labour members and MPs as possible leave their party and join the Lib Dems.

However, as young woman in politics who sees a future for herself in Parliament some day I’m grateful to Liz, Stella, Yvette and Caroline for standing in the Labour leadership elections and in doing so moving women collectively one step closer to equality.

I don’t see any of these women going quietly or fading into the background.

No matter what our politics, it’s up to us all to talk up women in politics and get more women into positions of power and influence within in political parties.

We should refuse to accept the status quo with women largely playing second fiddle to men in mainstream English political parties.

In the future, at least by the time my nieces are old enough to vote we should expect all party leadership contests to involve more women and for women party leaders to be the norm.

This won’t happen unless we who are active in party politics make it happen.

Female Labour leadership hopefuls, this one’s for you:-


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