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.

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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 the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

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