by Ella Whelan
Wednesday, 18
December 2019
Debate
07:00

Why must Labour’s next leader be a woman?

Labour leader candidates from left to right: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Jess Phillips, Emily Thornberry, Lisa Nandy.

Of all the myriad reasons for Labour’s humiliating electoral defeat, one thing’s for sure: it certainly wasn’t because Jeremy Corbyn is a bloke.

Which is why it’s odd that Labour MPs have begun to assert that the next leader must be a woman — preferably a young woman with a salt-of-the-earth accent to reconnect with the lost Red Wall. In an interview with BBC Radio Wales, Stephen Kinnock denied he had any hopes for becoming leader, instead insisting that ‘there are some brilliant women in our team who have been re-elected, and I think the next leader should be a woman’.

Commentators are following suit. The Guardian’s Suzanne Moore admitted back in October that Labour’s lack of female leadership was only ‘part of the problem’, but after a weekend of post-election reflection has decided that it’s women wot will win it for Labour. The choices are Lisa Nandy, Emily Thornberry, Jess Phillips or Rebecca Long Bailey, who Moore generously describes as ‘the Corbynites’ chosen one, poor thing, but she is a woman and not from London, so that gives me hope’.

Why can’t Labour and its die-hard fan base still not get it? There is no evidence to suggest that Corbyn’s balls were what lost the election — or that an injection of skirt into the leadership race would reinvigorate a lost electorate. A recent YouGov poll doing the rounds on social media showed that ‘84 per cent’ of voters said they had ‘no preference on the gender of the next leader’ — including ’81 per cent of 2017 Labour voters’.

The one female leader who bleated about sexism during the campaign — Jo Swinson — has lost her seat. The Conservatives, who won an unprecedented majority, have 87 women to 277 men in parliament. Despite years of pushing for 50/50 quotas and women-only shortlists, parliament now has 34 per cent of female MPs. The message is clear: no one (especially not women) cares that much about gender when it comes to politics.

If the Labour Party was to take any advice it should be this: drop the idea that voters care about the identity of politicians. Thousands if not millions of working-class voters have just lent power to a posh oaf from Eton. Why? Because he promised to take seriously their political demands by honouring and enacting the Brexit vote, not because of what he looked or sounded like.

Labour has to stop using identity politics as a crutch — and a stick to beat voters with. Treat women with more respect. We are not your stage army and we sure as hell will not help you limp back into power just because you’ve stuck a bit of lipstick on a pig.

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