The perils of “Palin fatigue”

Even with growing anti-Palin sentiment, she is still a threat to the left.

Since resigning the governorship of Alaska, Sarah Palin has not disappeared from the public domain. Her autobiography sold more than two million copies in 2009. Her second book reached number two on the New York Times bestseller list in its second week. She provides political commentary on Fox News and has hosted her own reality show, Sarah Palin's Alaska. Palin is also seen as a darling of the Tea Party movement, several of whose members she endorsed in the recent midterm elections.

But despite her visibility, there are big questions about how much power Palin holds – and whether she has any chance of securing the Republican nomination to run against Barack Obama in 2012. So is it time for the Democrats to stop invoking her as a hate figure? Is the left giving her more coverage – and therefore credibility – than she really deserves?

Several journalists, including CNN's Gloria Berger, have spoken of "Palin fatigue". On the American news programme Morning Joe, the presenter Mika Brzezinski pointed out: "I don't want to overemphasise her news value . . . I mean, OK, you ran for vice-president, it was a huge failure. At what point do you not become news? At what point do we just ignore?"

So, as the Washington Post's Dana Milbank begins a month-long Palin moratorium and urges fellow journalists to stand with him, when should the media stop trailing Palin to every book signing/town-hall meeting/Tea Party conference, or dissecting every new tweet and Facebook post?

Not yet, I think.

In November last year the former Alaskan governor announced in an interview with New York Times Magazine that she was considering running for the presidency, and to that end "was having that discussion with her family".

Following that, a poll by Ramussen detailing the views of 1,000 likely Republican primary voters in the 2012 presidential elections placed Ms Palin, with 19 per cent of the vote, second only to the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.

Then again, Palin trailed in fourth in a straw poll of the Republican state committee in the "kingmaker state" of New Hampshire. She was behind not only Romney, the serious contender, but also the Texas congressman Ron Paul and the former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty.

That straw poll listed 21 possible Republican nominees, perhaps highlighting the continuing uncertainty surrounding the GOP nomination. The Washington Post, however, sees the results as an indication that even with the rise of Tea Party, the party machine is likely to back an establishment candidate in 2012.

According to a recent Gallup poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, Ms Palin has a net favourable rating of 22 per cent. Those who placed higher than her in the New Hampshire straw poll – Romney, Paul and Pawlenty – scored 23, 18 and 13 per cent respectively. Interestingly, Palin's fellow Fox News pundit Mick Huckabee, who came 12th in the New Hampshire poll, had the highest net favourability rating of 30 per cent.

Judging by these early indicators, the Republican ticket remains very much unwritten. There is a marked absence of any declared runner providing a rallying point for Republican attention, or the attention of the wider press.

The Gallup poll found that Palin was the most recognisable Republican, which if nothing else demonstrates her capacity to grab the attention of potential primary voters more successfully than her Republican competitors.

Her recognition rating of 95 per cent was 11 points ahead of Romney's. It remains important that those on the left maintain their focus, however fatiguing, on the obviously frenetic Ms Palin.

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Harriet Harman: “Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister”

The former deputy leader of the Labour Party urged women to unite across the divided party.

The day-long women's conference is usually the friendliest place at Labour party conference. Not only does it have a creche and a very clear emphasis on accessibility, but everybody who attends starts from a place of fundamental agreement before the sessions have even begun. For that reason, it's often ignored by political hacks in search of a juicy splits story (especially since it takes place on Saturday, before the "real" conference action really gets underway). But with the party divided and the abuse of women on and off social media a big concern, there was a lot to say.

This year, kick off was delayed because of the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the leadership election. The cheer for the renewed leader in the packed women's conference hall was far bigger than that in the main hall, although not everybody was clapping. After a sombre tribute to the murdered Labour MP and former chair of the Labour Women's Network Jo Cox, Harriet Harman took to the stage.

As a long-time campaigner for women's rights, veteran MP and former deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harman is always popular with women's conference - even if her position on the current leadership and her status as a former Blairite minister places her out of sync with some of the audience. Rather than merely introducing the first speaker as the agenda suggested, Harman took the opportunity to make a coded dig at Corbyn by doing a little opposition of her own.

"Theresa May is a woman, but she is no sister," she declared, going on to describe the way that May, as shadow spokesperson for women and equalities under William Hague, had been a "drag anchor" on Harman's own efforts to enact pro-women reforms while Labour were in government. The Thatcher comparison for May is ubiquitous already, but Harman made it specific, saying that like Thatcher, Theresa May is a woman prime minister who is no friend to women.

Harman then turned her attention to internal Labour party affairs, reassuring the assembled women that a divided party didn't have to mean that no advances could be made. She gestured towards the turmoil in Labour in the 1980s, saying that "no matter what positions women were taking elsewhere in the party, we worked together for progress". Her intervention chimes with the recent moves by high profile former frontbenchers like Chuka Umunna and Yvette Cooper to seek select committee positions, and Andy Burnham's campaign to become mayor of Greater Manchester.

Harman's message to women's conference was clear: the time for opposition to Corbyn is over now - we have to live with this leadership, but we can't let the equalities legacy of the Blair years be subsumed in the meantime. She ended by saying that "we have many leaders in the Labour party," pointing to Jess Phillips, the chair of the women's PLP, and Angela Rayner, shadow minister for education, women and equalities. Like Burnham, Cooper et al, Harman has clearly decided that Corbyn can't be unseated, so ways must be found to work around him.

Rayner followed Harman onto the stage. As one of Corbyn's shadow ministerial team, Rayner is far from in agreement with Harman on everything, and rather than speak about any specific policy aims, she addressed women's conference on the subject of her personal journey to the front bench. She described how her mother was "born on the largest council estate in Europe and was one of twelve children" and "never felt loved and didn’t know how to love, because hugs, cuddles and any signs of affection just wasn’t the norm". She went on to say "mum won't mind me saying this - to this day she cannot read and write". Her mother was in the audience, attending her first Labour conference.

As a former care worker who became a mother herself when she was just 16, Rayner is a rarity at the top of Labour politics. She told the Guardian in 2012 that she is used to being underestimated because of her youth, her gender and her northern accent: "I'm a pretty young woman, lots of red hair, and everyone expects me to be stupid when I walk into a meeting for the first time. I'm not stupid and most people know that now, but I still like to be underestimated because it gives me an edge. It gives me a bit of stealth."

The mass shadow cabinet resignations in June propelled Rayner to the top sooner than an MP only elected in 2015 might have expected, and she has yet to really prove her mettle on the grind of parliamentary opposition and policy detail. But if Labour is ever to win back the seats in the north where Ukip and Brexit are now strong, it's the likes of Rayner that will do it. As Harriet Harman herself shows, the women and equalities brief is a good place to start - for even in turbulent, divided times for Labour, women's conference is still a place where people can find common ground.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.