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Why has a woman never led the Labour Party?

(169 Posts)
trisher Sun 13-May-18 17:26:13

As tributes are paid to Tessa Jowell I can't help thinking of some of the other great women in the Labour Party-some living, some dead who could have been great leaders. Barbara Castle, Mo Mowlam, Harriet Harman and I'm sure there are more. So I wonder why these women never made it. Is it in-built sexism? The Conservatives of course have had 2 women leaders, but both can be said to be women who were groomed and supported by men. So is it perhaps that Labour women are much more outspoken, do not always toe the party line, and will not be puppets?

lilypollen Sun 13-May-18 18:00:22

Labour membership is misogynistic.

BlueBelle Sun 13-May-18 18:08:15

Oh dear what a strange remark

trisher Sun 13-May-18 18:09:09

Would you like to explain why you think that lilypollen?
Just remembered another one- Claire Short. Maybe it's just that these women are not prepared to compromise and stick to their principles.

Anniebach Sun 13-May-18 18:10:01

Trying to recall leadership elections

Mo, Barbara never stood. Women were very much in the minority until the Blair years . Harriet has been leader of the oposition for a very short time and I think deputy leader for quite a few years , she won deputy leader under Brown but he didn’t appoint her as deputy PM as Prescott had been under Blair. Similar for Margaret Bekett, she was deputy under John Smith, acting leader when he died .

I think built in sexism has played a big part not so much by grassroots members though.

Harriet has the most staying power .

tanith Sun 13-May-18 18:10:10


Anniebach Sun 13-May-18 18:11:57

Clair Short never stood for the leadership, thinking back it seems women didn’t think it was ‘their place’

Fennel Sun 13-May-18 19:33:19

Good question, trisher. It's got my remaining brain cells ticking over.
I was the chairwoman of our local LP in the early 70s, but never had the ambition to be PM. Or even in a higher position locally. Too busy otherwise, working, and supporting our family.
I guess it was mainly financial. The LP was, and still is, mostly supported by the Unions, which are male-dominated. Whereas the Tories have much richer donors.
But I'm disappointed that Yvette Cooper hasn't made a bid for the leadership.

Anniebach Sun 13-May-18 19:48:42

Yvette stood for the leadership in 2015, she was publicly endorsed by Gordon Brown and Alan Johnson and by The Guardian.

I agree the unions are male dominated and one only has to remember the leadership contest with the Millibands, David was ahead until the union vote clinched it for Ed to know the unions hold the power

trisher Sun 13-May-18 19:50:04

I am probably a bit biased but I couldn't think of as many Conservative women who really made their mark on politics the way these women have. The financial aspect is interesting and of course you are right about unions being male dominated. I wonder as well if family finance and responsibility plays a part. Thatcher of course had Dennis's money to help out and Theresa has a rich husband and no children.

Jalima1108 Sun 13-May-18 19:55:17

I wonder as well if family finance and responsibility plays a part. Thatcher of course had Dennis's money to help out and Theresa has a rich husband and no children.
So does that mean that male Labour Leaders have wealthy women behind them to help them get to the top?

petra Sun 13-May-18 19:56:13

I think you make a very good point Re the unions.
In my own trade ( bookbinding, sewing books by hand & machine.) we were often not only fighting the bosses but fighting the male union rep who was supposed to be on our side but really only wanted to keep us in our place.

varian Sun 13-May-18 19:56:13

I have heard Harriet Harman (who I thought did a good job as temporary leader) say she regretted not going for the permanent position.

Grandad1943 Sun 13-May-18 20:04:43

There are many women activists in the Trade Union movement these days. In that, Unite was the first to have reserved seats on many of committees etc for women.

Jennie Formby has demonstrated how far women can climb in the Labour movement in that she became the political Secretary of the United Union and now General Secretary of the Labour Party.

The last General Secretary of the TUC was a women, and throughout the wider Labour movement in the country women now hold many prominent positions.

For me Jennie Formby may well become the leader of the parliamentary Labour party provided she makes a success of her new General Secretary position.

However, I believe that she very much enjoys the close relationship with the grassroots activists she has built up over the years. Therefore it is possible she may not wish to leave her position as the Labour General Secretary to lead the Parliamentary party for which Jennie Formby would have to secure a parliamentary seat to begin.

Fennel Sun 13-May-18 20:17:51

That's good to know, Grandad - I'm out of touch now.
"close relationship with the grassroots activists" - I can indentify with that.

Anniebach Sun 13-May-18 20:20:40

I don’t think the Labour Party is concerned with the wealth or lack of it in the spouses of leader candidates , I do think Thatcher having Den’s millions helped, it was said Keith Joseph was a cert to be leader, he blotted his book and it was he who manoeuvred Thatcher into position.

Labour has always had much stronger women than the other parties. Even Ny Bevan consulted Jennie . Harold and Marcia, Michael and Jill, Ben and Caroline. I think the Labour Party has every reason to be proud of the women who have played such a strong role in the party.

Iam64 Sun 13-May-18 20:50:57

It's a very interesting question trisher, well I think so because I've wondered the same thing.
The LP has always had strong women and still does. I wish Harriett H had gone for the leadership and that Yvette Cooper had been successful in her bid for the leadership. Let's hope that some of the bright young female MP's in the LP work towards a bid for the leadership.

notanan2 Sun 13-May-18 21:14:54

according to die hard labourites I know its because Tory women leaders arent quality enough women and labour is holding out for the RIGHT kind of feminist women leader (so probably a transwoman! not the lowely woman women that the Torys put up with) and basically the Cons women leaders dont count.

True story from a post shared & liked by Corbyn fans I know!

I paraphrased just SLIGHTLY there...

NanKate Sun 13-May-18 21:21:03

I am a Conservative but very much admired Barbara Castle. I also liked Shirley Williams of the Liberal Democrat Party she always IMO answered questions directly.

NanKate Sun 13-May-18 21:23:07

Sorry didn’t answer the question. Don’t know the answer ?

Anniebach Sun 13-May-18 21:56:20

Never hear from Caroline Flint now , so many good women MP’s with experience are wasted on the back benches

lemongrove Sun 13-May-18 23:00:18

The two Conservative leaders are hardly puppets, I mean, really! Margaret Thatcher?
Yes, I think it must be sexism at work within the LP, there have been many capable women ( still are) but they won’t be chosen now, when it seems that women are having a harder time within the LP than ever before.From their own side.

lilypollen Sun 13-May-18 23:29:19

You really would think that out of the main parties labour would have had a female leader so you have to ask why not? Several other valid reasons put forward as well as mine which incidentally I don't think was a strange comment.

notanan2 Mon 14-May-18 00:03:47

all party leaders are somewhat puppets.

I think women in Labour are expected to meet a higher standard of ally/feminist/selfless socialist/non existant imaginary person-ness, than women in other parties or men in labour are held accountable to.

Day6 Mon 14-May-18 00:36:39

So is it perhaps that Labour women are much more outspoken, do not always toe the party line, and will not be puppets?

And Conservative women will? hmm

Like them or not, Margaret Thatcher was a strong woman, and Theresa May is. They did not become leaders of their party because they were easily swayed and manipulated by men.

What you are saying, in effect is, that Labour men do not like strong women.

Misogyny as well as Marxism?