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Hang on Theresa May, there definitely are setbacks people face “because they’re girls”

The PM has made feminists look weak and whining, when really we're just asking for the chance to be equal. 

Theresa May has been interviewed by US Vogue and after reading it, I am making this face:

During the interview, there's a bit where the writer accompanies her to a school in Maidenhead, and adorable children ask her questions. First, there's this:

“If you had a superpower, what would it be?”

“I think I’d want to make sure that everyone in the world had access to clean water and sufficient food, so that we didn’t see people starving,” she said.

This isn't so much a superpower, though, is it, as a description of politics? I mean, this is literally the point of that 0.7 per cent GDP target for overseas development, because there are lots of places in the world without access to clean water. South Sudan is experiencing a famine right now. Maybe mention this next time you see Priti Patel, Mrs May. It will BLOW HER MIND. (Also, if you're a charity leader, maybe send her a cape.)

Then there is this:

“What advice would you give to girls who want to be prime minister?”

“Be yourself,” she suggested. “And if you have any setbacks, don’t ever think it’s because you’re a girl.”

But... but... what if some of the setbacks you face are because you are a girl?

I get the appeal of right-wing bootstrappery, which tells people not to wallow in misery, but let's not overshoot here. Theresa May has done many solidly feminist acts, including tightening the law on FGM. I'm pretty sure that's a "setback" which happens "because you're a girl". She's also demonstrated a commitment to tackling domestic violence, promising to stop survivors facing their abusers in court. Again, domestic violence is heavily gendered: almost all incidents which end in death are committed by men against women. That kind of gender-based violence is explicitly a "setback" you might face because you're a woman. 

In fact, in her very first speech as prime minister, Theresa May spoke about the pay gap, which doesn't happen by some kind of mad cosmic coincidence to divide along gender lines. Listen to the wise words of Theresa May of June 2016, Theresa May of March 2017: "If you’re a woman, you will earn less than a man." Or even listen to the Theresa May of the previous bit of the Vogue interview, who reacts to being confronted with the fact that in 1997 the Tories elected 13 women, when Labour elected 101, by admitting: "The party did have a problem." In other words, the selection process was (and is) biased against women; our political culture was (and is) hostile to women; and women's lives and caring responsibilities make it harder for them to get involved in politics. There are any number of setbacks you can face if you want to be prime minister "because you're a girl" (or even a bloody difficult woman). 

It's disheartening that someone like Theresa May - who has quietly worked behind the scenes to make the Tory party less systemically biased against women - should feel the need to deny the reality of structural sexism. Why do it? There are setbacks that women face just because they're women. I know it's tempting - and far less radically challenging to the status quo - to argue that you, particularly, are different and that your success is proof that anyone can do it, by insisting that really, most women just don't want it enough, have different interests, aren't naturally interested in power or earning money or STEM subjects, or whatever the latest trend is. But that's pure Cool Girl exceptionalism. 

Denying that there are setbacks we face just because we're women makes feminists look weak and whining, when really we're just asking for the chance to be equal. 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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Labour is launching a stealthy Scottish comeback - thanks to Jeremy Corbyn and the Daily Mail

The Scottish Labour strategy is paying off - and hard evidence that it works may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017

When I suggested to a senior Scottish Labour figure earlier this year that the party was a car crash, he rejected my assertion.

“We’re past that,” he said gloomily. “Now we’re the burnt-out wreck in a field that no-one even notices anymore.”

And yet, just as the election campaign has seen Jeremy Corbyn transformed from an outdated jalopy into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang magically soaring in the polls, Scottish Labour is beginning to look roadworthy again.

And it’s all down to two apparently contradictory forces – Corbyn and The Daily Mail.

Kezia Dugdale’s decision to hire Alan Roden, then the Scottish Daily Mail’s political editor, as her spin doctor in chief last summer was said to have lost her some party members. It may win her some new members of parliament just nine months later.

Roden’s undoubted nose for a story and nous in driving the news agenda, learned in his years at the Mail, has seen Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly forced to defend her government record on health and education in recent weeks, even though her Holyrood administration is not up for election next month.

On ITV’s leaders debate she confessed that, despite 10 years in power, the Scottish education system is in need of some attention. And a few days later she was taken to task during a BBC debate involving the Scottish leaders by a nurse who told her she had to visit a food bank to get by. The subsequent SNP attempt to smear that nurse was a pathetic mis-step by the party that suggested their media operation had gone awry.

It’s not the Tories putting Sturgeon on the defence. They, like the SNP, are happy to contend the general election on constitutional issues in the hope of corralling the unionist vote or even just the votes of those that don’t yet want a second independence referendum. It is Labour who are spotting the opportunities and maximising them.

However, that would not be enough alone. For although folk like Dugdale as a person – as evidenced in Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling - she lacks the policy chops to build on that. Witness her dopey proposal ahead of the last Holyrood election to raise income tax.

Dugdale may be a self-confessed Blairite but what’s powering Scottish Labour just now is Jeremy Corbyn’s more left-wing policy platform.

For as Brexit has dropped down the agenda at this election, and bread and butter stuff like health and education has moved centre stage, Scots are seeing that for all the SNP’s left wing rhetoric, after 10 years in power in Holyrood, there’s not a lot of progressive policy to show for it.

Corbyn’s manifesto, even though huge chunks of it won’t apply in Scotland, is progressive. The evidence is anecdotal at the moment, but it seems some Scots voters find it more attractive than the timid managerialism of the SNP. This is particularly the case with another independence referendum looking very unlikely before the 2020s, on either the nationalists' or the Conservatives' timetable.

Evidence that the Scottish Labour strategy has worked may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017. The polls, albeit with small sample sizes so best approached with caution, have Ian Murray streets ahead in the battle to defend Edinburgh South. There’s a lot of optimism in East Lothian where Labour won the council earlier in May and MSP Iain Gray increased his majority at the Scottish election last year. Labour have chosen their local candidate well in local teacher Martin Whitfield, and if the unionist vote swings behind him he could overhaul sitting MP George Kerevan’s 7,000 majority. (As we learned in 2015, apparently safe majorities mean nothing in the face of larger electoral forces). In East Renfrewshire, Labour's Blair McDougall, the man who led Better Together in 2014, can out-unionist the Tory candidate.

But, while in April, it was suggested that these three seats would be the sole focus of the Scottish Labour campaign, that attitude has changed after the local elections. Labour lost Glasgow but did not implode. In chunks of their former west of Scotland heartlands there was signs of life.

Mhairi Black’s a media darling, but her reputation as a local MP rather than a local celebrity is not great. Labour would love to unseat her, in what would be a huge upset, or perhaps more realistically go after Gavin Newlands in the neighbouring Paisley seat.

They are also sniffing Glasgow East. With Natalie McGarry’s stint as MP ending in tears – a police investigation, voting in her wedding dress and fainting in the chamber sums up her two years in Westminster – Labour ought to be in with a chance in the deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow’s east end.

Labour in Scotland doesn’t feel like such a wreck anymore. Alan Roden’s Daily Mail-honed media nous has grabbed attention. Corbyn’s progressive policies have put fuel in the tank.

After polling day, the party will be able to fit all its Scottish MPs comfortably in a small hatchback, compared to the double decker bus necessary just a few years back.

But this general election could give the party the necessary shove to get on to the long road back.

James Millar is a political journalist and founder of the Political Yeti's Politics Podcast. He is co-author of The Gender Agenda, which will be published July 21 by Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

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