They bottled the feminist challenge

Blog labour electionsYvette Cooper, Leader, Stella Creasy, Deputy Leader,  Tessa Jowell, London’s Labour Mayoral Candidate – and then I woke up.

In the furore about the Corbyn election and the repercussions for the direction of the Labour party very few, if any, commentators have noted that Labour ignored the true revolution that was in their grasp.

They had the opportunity to elect a female leader, a female deputy leader and a female London mayoral candidate, a feminist triumvirate, and they bottled it.

The closest WayfinderWoman has come to politics was to encourage women to vote but we couldn’t miss an opportunity to highlight where the vagaries of society impact upon women and here is one that shouts loud and clear.

There were two very strong female candidates for the leadership.  For the deputy leadership there were three candidates, one of whom had been told to “calm down dear” by David Cameron at PMQs.  The London mayoral candidate elections saw two high profile, experienced women putting their names forward.  So what happened and what does that say about women in politics, or women in leadership?

Only strong bruisers need apply

Politics is a bruising occupation, there’s no doubt about that and the culture that has arisen is because of its testosterone fuelled, machismo approach.   That culture is also reflected in large areas of the business world where anger is an emotion that’s deemed more acceptable than happiness, for example.  Progress through the ranks is achieved by talent and intelligence in some part but more importantly by the intricacies and alliances, wheeler dealer conspiracies that fit the male ego.

Leadership is deemed to be strength in battle; elections are hard fought, hard won with strong direction so that others may follow.   Do you remember the howls, howls that only lasted a few hours mind, when Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendal were told to stand down to give Andy Burnham a chance?   That should have stoked resurgence but it fed into the old hegemony and was quickly ignored.  The female political winners such as Margaret Thatcher or Barbara Castle were praised for their decisiveness, their guile, their balls, and their ability to fight, stereotypical male characteristics.  Cooper and Kendal didn’t fit that mould.

The modern women can’t be left behind

Where does that leave the modern woman who, talented and educated, uses their emotional intelligence, the collegiate approach which has been praised so much for its impact on improving performance and team development?  Unelectable if the results over the weekend are anything to go buy.  And yet, given a chance, a female dominated political party can be revolutionary.  Look at what happened in Iceland during the recession.  The male dominated leadership electorate was wiped out the women led Iceland back into financial health.

Should we go back to the old stereotype of women being hard-nosed, proxy male to climb their way up the ladder and reach positions of power?  I’d say no.  What women do need to do is to have more confidence in their message and their abilities.   Communicate that clearly and directly without fear or favour, fight the battle with the strength of confidence.  That’s how they show direction, that’s how they show leadership.  The softer skills can be used in the back room deals, to build their support teams and champions who can repeat the message.

Labour missed a golden opportunity to truly revolutionise the political arena and show the power of women.   Will it come around again in this or any other political party?  Maybe in another five years.  In the meantime there’s a deal of work to be done to ensure that there’s enough women with the talent, intelligence and experience to take on the male cabal and show them how it can be done.

What do you think?  Tell us your views and get involved in the conversation.

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