“Backroom boys” is a standard phrase when discussing the wheeling and dealing behind closed doors in Westminster. But what about the girls?
A good question asked of the panel on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour debate this morning was how each of the women (Harriet Harman, Caroline Lucas, Theresa May, Leanne Wood, Sal Brinton, Eilidh Whiteford and Diane James) would influence coalition negotiations. And would more women negotiating create a better-quality coalition?
The most telling answer was from Harriet Harman. She said: “I think all-male decision-making with women abiding by it is wrong, it’s old-fashioned.” She pointed out that decision-making is more effective when carried out by a diverse team.
Harman was part of Labour’s negotiating team (which failed) in 2010, but the successful two parties didn’t have a single woman involved in the Tory/Lib Dem deal between them. And although Harman gave the standard line about working for a majority, there was a heavy hint that if it comes to doing a deal, she plans to be part of the process.
I hear from a shadow frontbench source that she would sacrifice a departmental role (she is currently both shadow culture secretary and deputy leader) to take a front seat both in negotiations, and the long-term establishment, of an alliance with another party.
Here are the other panelists’ replies:
– The SNP’s Eilidh Whiteford struggled to answer the question, talking about the need for more women MPs in general.
– The Home Secretary Theresa May too preferred to dodge it by saying “one woman in particular” (Nicola Sturgeon) would have all the influence in negotiations with Labour.
– Ukip’s Diane James began talking about the experience of women in business, before being admonished by presenter Jenni Murray for failing to answer the question. “We all have testosterone,” she retorted, when asked if Ukip was testosterone-fuelled.
– Lib Dem party president Sal Brinton deployed what must be the Lib Dems’ latest differentiation tactic (she gave the line to me first in an interview in January and Vince Cable said a similar thing to the Guardian in April): “The love-in in the rose garden wasn’t helpful, it was wrong.”
– The Greens’ Caroline Lucas and Leanne Wood of Plaid Cymru were more direct about women working together to form alliances, the former saying, “What we don’t want to see is yet more men going behind closed doors, cooking things up.” The latter highlighted how her party, Plaid Cymru, has been working with the Greens and the SNP on a more progressive agenda (all three parties have female leaders).