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Exclusive: Owen Smith: I am interested in being Labour leader

Shadow work and pensions secretary says it would be "an incredible honour and privilege" to do the job. 

Owen Smith has become the first shadow cabinet member to state his interest in standing for the Labour leadership. In an interview with the New Statesman, the shadow work and pensions secretary said it would be "an incredible honour and privilege" to do the job. Smith, the MP for Pontypridd since 2010, has been spoken of by colleagues as a possible "soft left" successor to Jeremy Corbyn. 

Asked whether he would stand in the future, the former shadow Welsh secretary said: "I don’t think there’s any vacancy right now. But I think any politician who comes into this to want to try and change the world for the better, starting with their own patch and working outwards, I think they’re either in the wrong game or fibbing if they don’t say, 'if you had the opportunity to be in charge and put in place your vision for a better Britain would you take it?' Yeh, of course, it would be an incredible honour and privilege to be able to do that." 

Smith emphasised, however, that he expected Corbyn to lead Labour into the 2020 general election and offered a more unambiguous endorsement than some of his shadow cabinet colleagues. "Jeremy is going to lead us into the election, he’s the leader of the Labour Party ... He’s said very, very clearly that he wants to take us into the next election, he won a stonking great majority. Jeremy is going to be taking us into the election in 2020. End of." In a recent interview, Angela Eagle, the shadow business secretary, refused to say that Corbyn should remain leader until the election.

Elsewhere in the interview, Smith said that Labour should remain a "broad church" but did not criticise the sacking of former shadow culture secretary Michael Dugher and shadow Europe minister Pat McFadden. "I think that’s for the leader, to be quite honest, I really do. It’s not for me. He could sack me tomorrow and therefore that makes clear what my position is. I’m someone who serves in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, they were people who served on Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench, I think they’re both talented politicians, very talented, I think they’ve got a lot to give to the Labour Party, I’m sure they will do in future, they’re also friends of mine.

"Being sacked from any job is never a nice thing and I’m sure they’re both mightily cheesed off about it. Jeremy won and is within his rights to have a reshuffle and we’ve just got to move on. I know those two individuals who are both very experienced, mature, serious politicians will pick themselves up and move on and do what they come into politics for which is to improve the lives of their constituents and their communities." 

Smith announced that he would soon begin a review of social security policy for the party. Corbyn has pledged to abolish the household benefit cap but Smith said that the current limit of £20,000 (£23,000 in London) should be reformed, rather than scrapped. "We’re in favour of there being a measure that would guarantee that you couldn’t have unlimited benefits for one household, I think there has got to be some means of doing that," he said. He added: "It's becoming increasingly evident, in my view, that the current cap that we’ve got doesn’t work, doesn’t reflect what they originally said, isn’t getting people back into jobs, isn’t saving money and therefore we’ve got to be confident enough to say if this thing isn’t working why should we simply row in behind it?" 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Leaving the cleaning to someone else makes you happier? Men have known that for centuries

Research says avoiding housework is good for wellbeing, but women have rarely had the option.

If you want to be happy, there is apparently a trick: offload the shitwork onto somebody else. Hire cleaner. Get your groceries delivered. Have someone else launder your sheets. These are the findings published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, but it’s also been the foundation of our economy since before we had economics. Who does the offloading? Men. Who does the shitwork? Women.

Over the last 40 years, female employment has risen to almost match the male rate, but inside the home, labour sticks stubbornly to old patterns: men self-report doing eight hours of housework a week, while women slog away for 13. When it comes to caring for family members, the difference is even more stark: men do ten hours, and women 23.

For your average heterosexual couple with kids, that means women spend 18 extra hours every week going to the shops, doing the laundry, laying out uniform, doing the school run, loading dishwashers, organising doctors' appointments, going to baby groups, picking things up, cooking meals, applying for tax credits, checking in on elderly parents, scrubbing pots, washing floors, combing out nits, dusting, folding laundry, etcetera etcetera et-tedious-cetera.

Split down the middle, that’s nine hours of unpaid work that men just sit back and let women take on. It’s not that men don’t need to eat, or that they don’t feel the cold cringe of horror when bare foot meets dropped food on a sticky kitchen floor. As Katrine Marçal pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smiths Dinner?, men’s participation in the labour market has always relied on a woman in the background to service his needs. As far as the majority of men are concerned, domestic work is Someone Else’s Problem.

And though one of the study authors expressed surprise at how few people spend their money on time-saving services given the substantial effect on happiness, it surely isn’t that mysterious. The male half of the population has the option to recruit a wife or girlfriend who’ll do all this for free, while the female half faces harsh judgement for bringing cover in. Got a cleaner? Shouldn’t you be doing it yourself rather than outsourcing it to another woman? The fact that men have even more definitively shrugged off the housework gets little notice. Dirt apparently belongs to girls.

From infancy up, chores are coded pink. Looking on the Toys “R” Us website, I see you can buy a Disney Princess My First Kitchen (fuchsia, of course), which is one in the eye for royal privilege. Suck it up, Snow White: you don’t get out of the housekeeping just because your prince has come. Shop the blue aisle and you’ll find the Just Like Home Workshop Deluxe Carry Case Workbench – and this, precisely, is the difference between masculine and feminine work. Masculine work is productive: it makes something, and that something is valuable. Feminine work is reproductive: a cleaned toilet doesn’t stay clean, the used plates stack up in the sink.

The worst part of this con is that women are presumed to take on the shitwork because we want to. Because our natures dictate that there is a satisfaction in wiping an arse with a woman’s hand that men could never feel and money could never match. That fiction is used to justify not only women picking up the slack at home, but also employers paying less for what is seen as traditional “women’s work” – the caring, cleaning roles.

It took a six-year legal battle to secure compensation for the women Birmingham council underpaid for care work over decades. “Don’t get me wrong, the men do work hard, but we did work hard,” said one of the women who brought the action. “And I couldn’t see a lot of them doing what we do. Would they empty a commode, wash somebody down covered in mess, go into a house full of maggots and clean it up? But I’ll tell you what, I would have gone and done a dustman’s job for the day.”

If women are paid less, they’re more financially dependent on the men they live with. If you’re financially dependent, you can’t walk out over your unfair housework burden. No wonder the settlement of shitwork has been so hard to budge. The dream, of course, is that one day men will sack up and start to look after themselves and their own children. Till then, of course women should buy happiness if they can. There’s no guilt in hiring a cleaner – housework is work, so why shouldn’t someone get paid for it? One proviso: every week, spend just a little of the time you’ve purchased plotting how you’ll overthrow patriarchy for good.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.