Diane Abbott for leader could help women everywhere

Just getting Abbott’s name on the ballot paper will show that women in politics can be taken serious

I have absolutely no doubt that Diane Abbott's candidacy will be greeted with hilarity in much of the media, and among some on the Labour benches as well. But before MPs turf her back to north London with their mockery ringing in her ears, they should stop and think. The vacuum of female representation on the front benches of all three main political parties, which has become clearer since the election, has been utterly shocking to women.

Women need women to be in high-profile positions in politics because only then do policies that help women advance (I shall write more about this in my column next week). There is a clear correlation between female representation and feminised policymaking. Which isn't just about maternity leave and child benefit, but tax credits and public services and community support -- all the things that vulnerable women and their families rely on to survive.

This is the female agenda and it needs to be articulated. In the week in which Theresa May spent her time at the Police Federation fielding questions about her shoes, and Andy Burnham was widely being described as a candidate "for the ladies" because apparently he has pretty eyes, we must have one woman in this contest who can show that women are serious politically.

I am not a particular fan of Diane Abbott and I hugely respect some of the male candidates. But if I were a Labour MP today, I would be backing Diane Abbott, just to get her name on to that ballot paper.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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