Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Less Barmy Army, more Barmy Harmy

I've taken a week to comment on Harriet Harman's comments regarding male leadership of the Labour party in particular and the country in general.

For those of you who may have missed them, here's what the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party had to say last Sunday:

“I don’t agree with all-male leaderships.”

“Men cannot be left to run things on their own. I think it’s a thoroughly bad thing to have a men-only leadership.”

“In a country where women regard themselves as equal, they are not prepared to see men running the show themselves.”

“I think a balanced team of men and women makes better decisions. That’s one of the reasons why I was prepared to run for deputy leader.”

Those comments are - verbatim - what she said, paraphrased by The Times as "You can't trust men in power."

Now others, including the mighty Iain Dale and the less-mighty-but-still-quite-mighty SNP Tactical Voting have taken her comments to task and are worth reading (if only because my attempted critique will fall short of their high standards). However, I'm commenting anyway, because Harman's comments made me think of something interesting.

It made me wonder whether she remembered a certain election in November 2008. No, not the one that Gordon was too scared to hold. The other one - the one on the other side of the Atlantic, the one that made headlines across the world, the one that "The One" won. I seem to remember that a woman contested that election (albeit not at the top of the ticket) but did not win.

What is your point, you ask? Well merely that here was an opportunity for the American public to do what Harriet Harman thinks we should do here - namely appoint a woman to one of the two top posts in the country - and they did not.

Now I know there were other factors at play (Sarah Palin's views on religion, guns, her view of Russia - from her house - and various other things didn't make her a strong candidate, not to mention the candidature of "The One" on the opposing side) but it would strike me as odd that Harriet Harman would not support a woman standing in an election against a man given what she has just said about men in power. In this Question Time clip she says just that: she would not have voted for Palin if she could - she would have voted against her - which, at that point in the campaign would have meant voting for a man.

At the time John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate, I thought it was a terrific choice - spoke to the conservative base, executive experience as a governor, maybe attract the female vote that Clinton seemed to have tied up for Obama - but that was before we got an opportunity to scrutinise her politics up close. Indeed, I remember remarking to a colleague at the time that this was an opportunity for women to get one of their own elected to the White House - a heartbeat from the Presidency - and she laughed at me. She asked if I honestly expected women to look beyond her politics and vote for her simply because she was a woman.

At the time I can honestly say I had thought so, yes. I mean, if women do actually think like Harriet Harman (and, let's be honest, it's tough to know what women think at the best of times!) and expect that one of the two top offices in the land should be held by a woman, then yes, they should probably vote for her on that basis.

However, with more experience of politics and a recognition that what/who a person is does not necessarily shape their political views, I'd be mortified if someone thought I voted for someone simply because they were a straight, white, Celtic-supporting, Protestant (I know - bizarre eh?), able-bodied male. The offence that my colleague took to my indication that if she thought there should be more women should be in politics she should vote for the ones that do stand (ie - Palin) regardless of their politics was warranted.

Politics is about making an informed decision about a candidate based on what you know about their politics and whether you think they could do the job better than the other candidates. That's it for me. Nothing to do with their gender, religion, sexuality, whether they can walk or not. And yes, I do realise that we have a significant under-representation - particularly of women - in politics, as I've discussed before. And yes I think something needs to be done about it. But handing something over on a plate without earning it? Well, as the Barmy Army would say, that's just not cricket.

Don't ask me what Barmy Harmy might say.


PJ 12 August 2009 at 10:30  

Much as I agree with your comments I think there are confounding factors that skew the male/female leadership statistics in almost every organisation, whether political or not.

As soon as a woman reaches the age/inclination to have children many (not all) employers perceptions of her will change. I know of many businesses who have female employees on almost constant maternity leave for years, that's crippling for SMEs. I also know of many women who have given up high-flying careers because they were forced to choose between their career and their family - not a difficult choice for most people!

The lack of flexibility for women with families who want to continue pursuing leadership roles is depriving the workplace of some very talented, highly motivated women with tremendous potential. And for those women who find themselves forced out of careers they loved, there is an uphill struggle to re-enter the workforce at anywhere near the level they left it once their children are at an age when the logistical juggling act finally enables them to return to work.

Admittedly there are more and more women shattering the glass ceiling, you just have to watch The Apprentice for evidence of that, but there is just not enough employment flexibility for many women and business owners.

Not much third party language in evidence here....

Una 13 August 2009 at 10:35  

Hi Malc,

I found an article about Sarah Palin and the feminist reaction to her which I thought was interesting

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