When will Labour have its first female leader?

When will Labour have its first female leader?


When will Labour, the party that has always advocated for social justice, have its first female leader?

Jeremy Corbyn stated during the keynote speech at the party conference that Labour is ‘ready to govern’.

Thatcher and May have proven women can make it to Number 10 through the different periods and climates of British politics. The concept is no longer a novelty. So, when will Labour level the playing field and put a woman forward for a general election?

Does Labour have an issue surrounding women in the top ranks? If Kezia Dugdale, who resigned as leader of the Scottish Labour party in August, is replaced by a man, there will not be one woman in the top tier leadership team.

Who has been close:

Harriet Harman, former deputy leader, and twice acting leader of the labour party, the only politician to have held the position twice.

In an interview at the Hay Festival in May, Harman put the lack of a female leadership down to “just embarrassing misogyny really”. She has been a prominent voice in the argument for Labour to create a third leadership post, an extra deputy leader, to place a woman alongside Corbyn and Tom Watson. This proposal has been backed by a few high figures, most vocally Len McClusky, general secretary of Unite the Union.

Margaret Beckett, former acting party leader after the sudden death of John Smith in 1994. She is the longest serving woman MP of all time, so clearly a tough party member.

Who had a stab:

Yvette Cooper, former shadow home secretary, made a bid for the leadership following Miliband’s resignation in 2015, had endorsements far and wide, including the Guardian and Gordon Brown. Cooper finished third place.

Angela Eagle, former shadow and business secretary, pulled out of the 2016 race last minute after realising she didn’t have the nominations from MPs and MEPs, leaving Corbyn and the lacklustre Owen Smith to go head-to-head.

Who to watch:

Emily Thornberry, shadow foreign secretary. Thornberry stood in for Prime Ministers Questions in July and was venerated for her performance, particularly for being so cutting when it came to Brexit and the Tory squabbles it bought.

Angela Rayner, currently shadow education secretary. Rayner only became an MP two years ago, but has been a very prominent voice in the party since. She was a key fighter in the battles that led to the Conservative’s folding over grammar schools and axing free school meals.

Angela Rayner, Labour MP

The lack of a female leader could be a result of issues surrounding gender equality that exist outside the party.

Labour MP Jess Philips told the Guardian during the leadership challenge last year that “it is much worse for female Labour MPs, the amount of hatred and vitriol that comes our way”.

She went on to say: “Why would you sacrifice time with your family, time to do your job properly, see your constituents properly to basically be a figure of hatred, deep twisted hatred? The message it sends out to women activists around the country is politics is not for you, it’s not worth it.”

Philips may have a point. Consider Diane Abbott, one of the party’s most recognisable female faces, and the high-profile cases of sexist and racist abuse that came to a breaking point when she stood down this summer for ‘the period of her ill health’.

But there is certainly no shortage of female Labour MPs willing to put themselves in the spotlight that politics brings.

Labour has 44% women in the commons while the Conservatives have 21%. In fact, Labour has more women MPs than all the other parties put together.

It also boasts a shadow cabinet of which half the members are women. In the government, 23 out of the 31 posts are men.

So, what about the electorate?

Voter turnout amongst men and women in Britain tends to be equal. After Corbyn and May went head-to-head in June, the electoral data revealed that there is only a very slight gender gap between voters. Women are equally split between Conservatives and Labour, and men being marginally more likely to have backed Tories, consistent with the 2015 General Election.

This shows a man and woman going against each other makes no different to the electorate: men don’t mind voting for a woman and vice versa.

Looks like Labour has run out of excuses to not practise what it preaches, and make the progressive but no longer radical move of electing a female leader.

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