I am still recovering from the shock of Harriet Harman’s expostulation, at the weekend, of the merits of having women in senior positions in politics. Not because it is a bad point, objectively – in fact there can now be few people who doubt that decisions informed by a diversity of views, backgrounds, skills, life experiences and so on are all the better for it. No. I am in shock because of the breathtakingly poor political calculations that presumably lay behind this statement. And I am wondering just how people this senior can get things this wrong.
Presumably one aim was to draw a contrast between the Labour Party, with its prominent, female, Deputy Leader, and the tightly drawn coterie around Team Cameron – all white, male, 40 something, privately educated etc etc. Well, fine, except that for whatever reason the Government has recently lost a few of its senior female members, one of whom departed muttering loudly about alleged sexism. So why would Labour’s Deputy Leader (NB: someone who is ostentatiously not the Deputy PM) draw attention to that? Why bring it up again?
And presumably another aim was to ‘reach out’ to the female swing votes of Middle England – Worcester Woman, as it were. Well, again, fine, except that I have a strong suspicion that many of them might regard the comments made as irrelevant, outdated, patronising and pointless – and they may not be too keen on their source.
If you think I am wrong about this, just ask yourself this question: are the voters of Middle England going to flock to vote Labour because they see Harriet Harman as Deputy Leader?
Neither of the main political parties (actually the LibDems aren’t much better) is doing well at recruiting and promoting women MPs. They need to do much better at this, and in other ways, if they are going to be truly representative of the public they serve. But when it comes to political miscalculation by a senior figure – well, after the weekend, one party is way out in front…