Labour has been striving for a unity candidate in the wake of the Parliamentary Labour Party forcing a fresh leadership election. The race for leader initially looked like a two-horse race with Angela Eagle taking on her former boss Jeremy Corbyn. This was until the ex-shadow business secretary said she was dropping out “in the interests of the party” and would back Owen Smith “with all her might and enthusiasm”. This is probably more down to ensuring damage limitation on herself than it is in backing one leader on a point of principle after such a poorly received leadership campaign.
Whilst personally I do not agree with Jeremy Corbyn, he is from a much more traditional Labour background. The son of a maths teacher and a grammar school attendee, he did not have the privilege of Blair who boarded at Fettes College, a prestigious independent school in Edinburgh or Ed Miliband the son of a Marxist multi-millionaire.
The truth is the Parliamentary Labour Party is more interested in appearing to be open and willing to give people from backgrounds they perceive to be underrepresented in Parliament a shot at the big time than they are in perpetuating it. They seem quite happy to give a leg up to women like Angela Eagle and those of mixed race like Chuka Umunna, and of course they are very keen to tell us about what they have done to champion equality. However these people never quite get the support to go that one step further. In that respect Angela and Chuka are quite alike, having both quit leadership campaigns that in truth failed to get off the ground.
In contrast the Conservatives had, in effect, an all female final round for their leadership and UKIP’s Steven Woolfe, who just happens to be mixed race, is in with a shot of leading the Party that many Labour MP’s have called racist.
The Labour Party have spent so much time championing female politicians for the sake of them being female, rather than their achievements, that even the mainstream media seem to be unsure of any female candidates they put forward. A classic recent example was on BBC Newsnight, when Lillian Greenwood MP, who backed Eagle, was accused of promoting her because she was female. This is exactly the sort of accusation you will face if you do not promote on merit but on gender or race. When it comes to the top jobs you will not be taken seriously. It will be assumed you are their because of a quota and not because of your skills and achievements.
Does this point to deep cultural problems within the party and its membership? There have been hundreds of female Labour MPs and many many more female Party members. Yet none of them have ever had a real shot at the Labour leadership. Not the best record for a party that prides itself on its progressive attitudes and diverse membership. Maybe Angela would have fared better had she been called Andrew or perhaps if her gender had never been brought in to the debate at all.