The Labour Party has a “blind spot” when it comes to women leaders, according to one of the former candidates for the party premiership.
Liz Kendall, the MP for Leicester West, ran for Labour Party leader in the 2015 contest eventually won by Jeremy Corbyn. She came last in that race, with only 4.5% of the votes compared to Corbyn’s 59%. The other female candidate, Yvette Cooper, came third at 17%.
Now, Kendall says that despite her party’s history of supporting women’s issues, it doesn’t always think specifically about how to help women into leadership roles.
“I think sometimes because we are the party that has got more women MPs, that has fought for equal pay, that has delivered maternity leave and better childcare, I think sometimes we have a bit of a blind spot in our own party,” Kendall said on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge programme on Sunday, as reported by the Independent.
“I hope one day we do see a woman leader of the party, but we need more women councillors, more women MPs, and we’re not going to stop until we get there.”
The Labour Party currently has the highest proportion of women MPs of all the UK’s major political parties at 44%, with 101 women MPs and 129 male MPs. The Conservative Party, in contrast, has just 70 female MPs – and only 30% of MPs across all parties in Parliament are women.
However, while there have been two female Tory prime ministers, Labour has only been led by women for brief interim periods: Margaret Beckett in 1994, after the sudden death of then-leader John Smith, and Harriet Harman between the Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband eras in 2010. Women candidates have come last in every Labour leadership race they have stood in.
In an interview with GQ last summer, shortly after Theresa May became Prime Minister, Kendall expressed her disappointment that women apparently found it easier to ascend to the top of the Conservative Party than Labour.
“Nothing is impossible, but it is gutting that the Conservatives have a second female prime minister,” she said. “It’s gutting that they had two women prime ministers and we haven’t… I think that the Labour party needs to take a long hard look at itself and about why that is the case.”
However, the centre-left Kendall – who has been a vocal critic of Corbyn’s policies – rejected the idea that she had lost the leadership election specifically because she was a woman.
“The reason people didn’t vote for me wasn’t that I was a woman,” she said. “It’s because they didn’t agree with my analysis of why [Labour] lost [the 2015 general election] and what we needed to do to win again…. They didn’t trust that I had Labour’s best interests at heart.”
In January, a committee of MPs said that political parties should be fined if they failed to select enough female candidates for Parliament. Britain is currently 47th in the world league table for female representation in governments – lagging behind several countries not exactly known for their stellar records on women’s rights, including Sudan, El Salvador and Argentina.
Under the proposal by the Women and Equalities Committee, parties would be forced to ensure that at least 45% of their parliamentary candidates were women.
The committee’s report stated: “Women make up more than half of the population of the United Kingdom and, at a time when more women are in work than ever before, there is no good reason why women should not make up half of the House of Commons.”
However, the proposal faced opposition from the Conservatives. Theresa May has said that she would not impose all-women shortlists – and the Tory party chairman told the Women and Equalities Committee that such quotas caused “resentment” and would not be adopted.
Images: Rex Features