Why the all male Sports Personality of the Year shortlist is a good thing

In-built sexist thinking -- or not-thinking -- needs to be highlighted whenever it happens.

It's just possible, you know, that the announcement of an all male shortlist for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year is an entirely good thing.

Before the hate mail starts, I should add that ever since I heard this news, I've been spitting feathers about it. It's a clearly ridiculous state of affairs -- you could easily put together a list of 10 British women who could make up the list all on their own. In fact, somebody already has.

But on reflection there is a silver lining. Because it exposes the institutionalised sexism of the whole process.

It's not just that it seems, as Clare Balding tweeted yesterday, that every single person asked to nominate people for the shortlist was male.

It's the fact that in a conference room in the bowels of the BBC, a group of executives decided that they should invite the editors of Nuts and Zoo magazines to weigh in with their opinions.

Just picture the misguided thought process by which this decision was arrived at. Lads mags are read by men. Being men, they must like sport. Therefore we shall ask the editors of those august journals to contribute their thoughts. Conversely, the readers of Cosmo and Marie Claire are women -- their heads are full of shopping and knitting, so we shan't trouble them on sporting matters.

Gobsmacking.

This in-built sexist thinking -- or rather, not-thinking -- needs to be highlighted whenever it happens. Helen Lewis-Hasteley picked up Michael White on it the other day in the Guardian (!!!) when he referred to #womanontheleft in the Leveson inquiry as a "woman lawyer". No she isn't. She's a lawyer. Just like all the male ones.

And presumably this bias has been in the nominations system ever since the BBC started asking "experts" to throw in their opinions. It's just that the odd inclusion of the Queen's granddaughter on the list has rather masked it. Not any more.

I'd like to bet that the BBC will make sure that next year there's a wide range of women consulted on the SPOTY shortlist, with equal representation for male and female contributors.

And if it wasn't for this year's debacle, that would never happen.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Why Clive Lewis was furious when a Trident pledge went missing from his speech

The shadow defence secretary is carving out his own line on security. 

Clive Lewis’s first conference speech as shadow defence secretary has been overshadowed by a row over a last-minute change to his speech, when a section saying that he “would not seek to change” Labour’s policy on renewing Trident submarines disappeared.

Lewis took the stage expecting to make the announcement and was only notified of the change via a post-it note, having reportedly signed it of with the leader’s office in advance. 

Lewis was, I’m told, “fucking furious”, and according to Kevin Schofield over at PoliticsHome, is said to have “punched a wall” in anger at the change. The finger of blame is being pointed at Jeremy Corbyn’s press chief, Seumas Milne.

What’s going on? The important political context is the finely-balanced struggle for power on Labour’s ruling national executive committee, which has tilted away from Corbyn after conference passed a resolution to give the leaders of the Welsh and Scottish parties the right to appoint a representative each to the body. (Corbyn, as leader, has the right to appoint three.)  

One of Corbyn’s more resolvable headaches on the NEC is the GMB, who are increasingly willing to challenge  the Labour leader, and who represent many of the people employed making the submarines themselves. An added source of tension in all this is that the GMB and Unite compete with one another for members in the nuclear industry, and that being seen to be the louder defender of their workers’ interests has proved a good recruiting agent for the GMB in recent years. 

Strike a deal with the GMB over Trident, and it could make passing wider changes to the party rulebook through party conference significantly easier. (Not least because the GMB also accounts for a large chunk of the trade union delegates on the conference floor.) 

So what happened? My understanding is that Milne was not freelancing but acting on clear instruction. Although Team Corbyn are well aware a nuclear deal could ease the path for the wider project, they also know that trying to get Corbyn to strike a pose he doesn’t agree with is a self-defeating task. 

“Jeremy’s biggest strength,” a senior ally of his told me, “is that you absolutely cannot get him to say something he doesn’t believe, and without that, he wouldn’t be leader. But it can make it harder for him to be the leader.”

Corbyn is also of the generation – as are John McDonnell and Diane Abbott – for whom going soft on Trident was symptomatic of Neil Kinnock’s rightward turn. Going easy on this issue was always going be nothing doing. 

There are three big winners in all this. The first, of course, are Corbyn’s internal opponents, who will continue to feel the benefits of the GMB’s support. The second is Iain McNicol, formerly of the GMB. While he enjoys the protection of the GMB, there simply isn’t a majority on the NEC to be found to get rid of him. Corbyn’s inner circle have been increasingly certain they cannot remove McNicol and will insead have to go around him, but this confirms it.

But the third big winner is Lewis. In his praise for NATO – dubbing it a “socialist” organisation, a reference to the fact the Attlee government were its co-creators – and in his rebuffed attempt to park the nuclear issue, he is making himeslf the natural home for those in Labour who agree with Corbyn on the economics but fear that on security issues he is dead on arrival with the electorate.  That position probably accounts for at least 40 per cent of the party membership and around 100 MPs. 

If tomorrow’s Labour party belongs to a figure who has remained in the trenches with Corbyn – which, in my view, is why Emily Thornberry remains worth a bet too – then Clive Lewis has done his chances after 2020 no small amount of good. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.