Get back in the kitchen, lady, Wayne needs your job

David Willetts MP blames feminism for male, working-class unemployment.

April Fool! The universities minister, David Willetts, is such a joker. Do you remember when he said that universities charging £9,000 would be the exception? Ha, ha, ha! Great line! The cabinet's minister for hilarity is at it again today. Do you know who he blames for working-class men failing to get on in life? Women. Ba-dum tish. Good one, Dave!

Except Willetts is not joking. In a briefing to journalists on the government's social mobility strategy, the minister argued that feminism is the "single biggest factor" behind the struggles of working-class men. The liberation of women in the 20th century increased competition for jobs and places at universities, as women who would once have stayed at home went into the workplace. Those who were pushed out by these uppity females were working-class men.

He is half right, I suppose. Britain's manufacturing sector was, after all, largely destroyed by a woman. Industrial jobs that provided careers for millions of ambitious, working-class men were wiped out under the Thatcher government. If only Maggie had known her place, we wouldn't be in the current mess, eh, David?

Willetts contends that feminism is to blame for the plight of jobless, working-class men. "Feminism trumped egalitarianism," complains the Conservative MP.

This is hogwash. Feminism did not trump egalitarianism, feminism is egalitarianism. Thanks to feminism, women now have access to most of the same opportunities as men. Feminism did not come at the price of a more egalitarian society, it helped create one. Thanks to feminism, women now compete with men on an (almost) level playing field.

Yes, women entering the workplace did increase pressure for jobs. But the problem is not women working, the problem is too few jobs. Willetts does not see it that way, however. His implication is clear: Get back in the kitchen, lady, Wayne needs your job.

By blaming feminism, Willetts is tapping in to the increasingly common phenomenon of the unjustifiably aggrieved, white, heterosexual male. Whether it is white, heterosexual, Oxbridge-educated MPs complaining that men get a "raw deal" today, or the absurd "Men's Rights" movement on the otherwise liberal social news website Reddit, the idea that men are somehow persecuted is gaining traction.

This explains why there are four women and only 19 men in the present cabinet. It also explains why the pay gap between men and women is 10.2 per cent. Or why women have been the main victims of the recession.

Poor men. We have it so tough.

Photo:Getty
Show Hide image

Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

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