Keep the pink flag flying. Photo: YouTube screengrab
Show Hide image

Yes, it's bright pink and looks silly, but at least Labour has a women's campaign bus

Labour has received mockery and outrage over its choice of a hot pink minibus to launch its campaign targeted at female voters.

This week, Labour’s latest campaign strategy – and election gaffe ­– came triumphantly zooming onto our screens in the form of a hot pink minibus. The party chose the offending colour to slather all over its battle bus launching its drive to attract female voters: “Woman to Woman”.

Harriet Harman, the deputy leader who is fronting the initiative, had to defend the decision to make it pink after the party received a clickload of mockery and derision over social media. She insisted the campaign bus is not “patronising” to women, said the colour was chosen by “a collective” (how else?) and tried to make light of the uproar, joking, “Is it not magenta or something?”

Apparently they tried red, but it “looked the same as everything else”, darker red looked like “a Pret delivery van” and the women’s campaign wanted something “visible and conspicuous, to mark it out, to be different”. Shadow women and equalities minister Gloria de Piero thought it was “cerise”.

There was also the defence that it is Labour’s “One Nation” colour (the party has indeed been using a bright pink Union Jack design for its conference and speech backdrops for a number of years now).

As the politics bloggers, Guido Fawkes, pointed out, certain Labour figures – such as the shadow frontbencher Chi Onwurah – have been vocal in the war on pink. Onwurah said last year: “Why should young girls be brought up in an all pink environment? It does not reflect the real world.” And another of Ed Miliband’s team, Stella Creasy MP, has had much success in her campaign against gendered toys.

Disbelief at the ill-judged “stunt” to drive Harman and other Labour women around the country in a pink van in a bid to attract female voters has been widespread, but has distracted from the key point: Labour actually has a women’s campaign.

The party’s idea is to demonstrate that politics is not a “men-only” activity, and to create a “Domesday Book” of the electoral wishes of women voters – much like its universities spokesperson Liam Byrne and others have been doing to compile a young person’s manifesto.

Harman and co are embarking upon a 70-constituency tour to find out what women would want to see from a Labour government, in a special bid for the 9.1m women who didn’t turn out to vote in 2010 to have their voices heard. Labour will use its campaign to inform its policies on domestic violence, childcare, equal pay, representation in the workplace, the NHS, and care for the elderly.

Other parties do have plans in these areas too, but none have their own women’s campaign to ensure they are prioritised throughout the election campaign. And it’s worth noting that the Tories’ last memorable campaign on wheels told immigrants to go home.

The government also has a much weaker appeal to female voters than Labour already has. Polling throughout this parliament, and particularly recent surveys of mothers’ voting intentions, shows Labour remains way ahead of the Conservatives.

The NHS and cost of living – key to Labour’s election campaign – are women voters’ top priorities. And when it comes to mothers, the Tories are 20 points behind Labour.

Having been the only party to use all-women shortlists, Labour has led the charge in parliament to have more women’s representation, and over half of its target seats this time round have female candidates. The Telegraph reports Labour’s projection that if it were to win a majority, 43 per cent of its MPs would be women.

So yes, we may snigger as the big pink blunder-bus whizzes by, but with Labour’s superior record and intentions regarding its help for the 51 per cent of the population hit hardest by coalition reforms, Harman’s campaign is the right gesture – even if it is the wrong colour.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

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