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  1. Election 2024
18 September 2015updated 22 Jan 2016 12:33pm

Does Labour have a woman problem?

The fate of Diane Abbott suggests it just might.

By Stephen Bush

The latest Ucas figures find that ethnic minority students are one to two per cent less likely to get offers from the top universities than their white peers, even when you control for subject choice and A-Level grades.

A 2009 study by the Department of Work and Pensions found that ethnic minority jobseekers had to send 16 applications for a successful outcome against nine for white jobseekers. (And once again, that’s controlling for qualifications, cover letters, and all of the other bumpf that accompanies a job application.)

And in 1999, researchers at the  University of Wisconsin found that men and women were more likely to hire and give tenure to male applicants than female applicants. (And, as with both previous examples, CVs and applications were identical in all other aspects.)

The Labour party held two concurrent elections this summer. In one, in London, an anti-austerity candidate from the Campaign group of MPs, who no-one expected to win, entered the ballot largely for “a debate”. In the other, across the country, an anti-austerity candidate from the Campaign group of MPs, who no-one expected to win, entered the ballot largely for a debate.

The candidate in London, Diane Abbott, a black woman, got 16 per cent of the vote. She finished third, behind two candidates to her right: a white woman, Tessa Jowell, finished second. An Asian man, Sadiq Khan, finished first.

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 The candidate across the country, Jeremy Corbyn, a white man, got 59 per cent of the vote. He defeated three candidates to his right, a man and two women. The women – Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall – finished third and fourth respectively.

I’m not saying that the 44 per cent gap between Abbott and Corbyn is wholly the result of racism and/or sexism.  It is difficult, however, to argue that none of it was.

Throughout the campaign, Abbott was marginalised, not only in the bulk of the coverage of the mayoral race, but by others on the Left. At Jeremy Corbyn’s final victory rally, Len McCluskey praised Corbyn for bringing up a debate that hadn’t been discussed for “more than thirty years”. But Abbott had run on a platform very similar to Corbyn’s just five years ago. (McCluskey’s Unite opted to endorse Ed Miliband instead.)

In the leadership race, there is a perfectly honourable explanation for what happened: Labour members voted for the candidate that was furthest to the left.  But in the deputy race, Tom Watson defeated a woman – Angela Eagle – who was to his left. Khan beat Jowell, who, according to the polls, had a better chance  of beating Zac Goldsmith, and Abbott, who was far to his left. 

The real question isn’t: “does Labour have a problem with women?”, nor is it “does Labour have a problem with ethnic minorities?”. We know that  the culture at large has a problem with women and a problem with minorities. There’s no reason at all to suggest Labour is any different from the country. A better question is: what to do about it?

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