Sitting in the Queen Elizabeth Centre on a Saturday September morning I watched as the Labour party slammed on the brakes and hit reverse – and I had a back row seat.
The outright rejection of so many highly capable women on the leadership ballot felt almost personal. As a Labour woman I had always assumed that however long progress took we would at least be moving in the right direction, that – yes – things could only get better. Watching Harriet Harman hand over the reins to two men, I had been proven wrong.
If honesty is the order of the day – we know how politics works. While a gender-balanced shadow cabinet is commendable, decision-making is concentrated with the leader, deputy leader and shadow chancellor. That is not new. What is new is that these offices are all now occupied by men.
And the effects are not limited to SW1. An all-male leadership sends the wrong message right the way through the party, not to mention the country. We already have a problem with open selections – where an all-women shortlist is not applied, the chances of a female candidate being selected in winnable seats are tiny. While the presence of a female at the top is not the only answer, the absence of one does nothing to encourage women to stand.
Some will say our fight for equality is about policies, not personalities. But experience only underlines how vital a woman at the top can be. Look at the issues Yvette Cooper put front and centre of her leadership campaign: from tech jobs to harassment outside abortion clinics to online abuse. Or the topics Harriet Harman championed from the top for a decade like the gender pay gap and childcare. I have not heard our leadership put any of these issues in the spotlight since September. Instead we have very public, self-indulgent debates on Trident.
If this was another organisation claiming to represent women with an all-male leadership, we would have something to say. How stark a contrast is the sight of Frances O’Grady leading the workers and Carolyn Fairbairn leading business. How outdated we look.
Ellie Gellard is a charity campaigner and politics editor of Elle Magazine
Read Rosie Corrigan and Sabrina Francis‘ contributions to this part of the International Women’s Day special guest-edit of Progress magazine
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