I have absolutely no doubt that Diane Abbott’s candidacy will be greeted with hilarity in much of the media, and among some on the Labour benches as well. But before MPs turf her back to north London with their mockery ringing in her ears, they should stop and think. The vacuum of female representation on the front benches of all three main political parties, which has become clearer since the election, has been utterly shocking to women.
Women need women to be in high-profile positions in politics because only then do policies that help women advance (I shall write more about this in my column next week). There is a clear correlation between female representation and feminised policymaking. Which isn’t just about maternity leave and child benefit, but tax credits and public services and community support — all the things that vulnerable women and their families rely on to survive.
This is the female agenda and it needs to be articulated. In the week in which Theresa May spent her time at the Police Federation fielding questions about her shoes, and Andy Burnham was widely being described as a candidate “for the ladies” because apparently he has pretty eyes, we must have one woman in this contest who can show that women are serious politically.
I am not a particular fan of Diane Abbott and I hugely respect some of the male candidates. But if I were a Labour MP today, I would be backing Diane Abbott, just to get her name on to that ballot paper.