In recent weeks the Labour leadership campaign finally stopped being as interesting as an audio book read by John Major as a new series of polls suggested that veteran left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn is leading the race ahead of his younger, more centrist opponents.
However opponents of Corbyn who favour Liz Kendall (God knows why) or Yvette Cooper have attempted to change the terms of debate by declaring that it is time for the Labour Party to have a female leader and as such Andy Burnham and Jeremy Corbyn should be ignored on this basis. Some journalists have also adopted this mantra but I believe that this logic is incorrect.
The extension of this logic is important as when it is applied in other situations it becomes more evidently flawed. I am a supporter of gay-rights and I would agree with the idea of a leader of the Labour Party that was in the LGBT community, however context is important; if the choice for Labour Leader was a straight ally who argued for gay-marriage and was often commended by Stonewall for their work in destigmatizing being an LGBT individual versus a self-hating gay candidate that believed that gay-marriage was ‘an abomination unto the Lord’ then I would support the straight ally.
In the same way, I am opposed to racism and if there was a BME candidate for the leadership who argued that non-white people were inferior standing against a white candidate who was a veteran anti-Apartheid campaigner who took regular stands against institutionalised racism then I would once again the white person because I believe that their policies would help to challenge racism better than the social-Darwinism of the first hypothetical candidate.
It is essential, therefore, to elect the candidate that has the best policies to improve the lives of women right across society. By implementing more socialistic policies, such as those given voice by Jeremy Corbyn, women’s lives will be improved by virtue of being people in a society where everybody’s lives would improve.
Without trying to sound like the kind of metropolitan elite that Nigel Farage often likes to rail against, I was struck by an article in the Guardian opinion section by Anne Perkins. The article begins commenting on the significance of 1968 in the history of feminism in Britain; Perkins first point is a very good question- why is Labour unable to elect a female leader yet the Tories have?
Her second point, on the other hand, conflates two issues about apparent institutional sexism within the Labour Party and that of the media by implying that the journalists asking questions to Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall about their weight and fertility are somehow members of the ‘Old Left’, which is hilarious considering how right-wing the media is. Additionally, she makes a prescient comment about how trade unions back in the 60s were more hostile towards women in positions of authority, and this argument could still be made today as of Britain’s 54 trade unions only 15 are led by women.
However Perkins also cites the SPD of Germany as a “strongly male preserve”, which, in regards to its leadership, is false as, although the party is chaired by a man, its secretary-general is female along with three of the five vice chair-people; if these leadership positions were all counted together women occupy four of the seven of these positions.
Whilst I would say that a legitimate criticism of the ‘Old Left’ is the lack of female leaders, especially when compared to newer left-wing parties in Britain, the crux of the article is looking at the wrong aspect of the left-wing movement; the reason women are under-represented in leadership positions is because women are under-represented in the trade union movement by virtue of women doing jobs that do not have as strong a union voice. What we need to be doing is removing the barriers to women to go into historically male-dominated industries whilst also promoting methods to increase the numbers of women in top jobs such as women only shortlists for MPs and a gender balanced (shadow) cabinet.
The final point from the article that I wanted to touch upon was a point regarding Thatcher; I believe that Perkins contradicts her own argument as she makes reference to Charles Moore’s biography of Thatcher in which he argues that it wasn’t the fact that Thatcher was female that she was elected, it was because she was offering a radical alternative. I put it to you that in the current Labour leadership race the candidate offering the most radical change from Ed Miliband and New Labour is not the two female candidates (a centrist/social-democrat and an unrepentant Blairite).
If political radicalism to challenge the patriarchy is necessary then not electing the most radical candidate on the ballot by virtue of him having a penis is illogical.
The media is exposing themselves as inherently sexist because they refer to ‘women’s issues’ which often is a euphemism for childcare provision and other related policies; ‘women’s issues’ are largely the same as ‘men’s issues’- the economy, housing, etc., and the remnants of a historically patriarchal society such as the gender pay gap impact everyone in society not just women.
The question isn’t whether the next Labour leader has ovaries, it’s whether they are a feminist committed to improving the rights a lives of women; if the choice was between Jeremy Corbyn and a female candidate that believes that women shouldn’t have jobs other than home-making and mothering then, as a feminist, I would proudly cast my vote for the soft-spoken bearded white man.