Election '97: Ladies have their day

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The Independent Online
There were no big hats, of course. But all the same it was ladies' day at Labour's final election press conference.

In carnival atmosphere that surrounded the last day of the campaign, Gordon Brown made a radical gesture to underline his commitment to women's rights. He took questions from female journalists.

Through 45 daily gatherings at Labour's Millbank Tower during the election the shadow Chancellor had sat in the chair repeating the names of male broadcasters like a mantra.

"Rrrobin Oakley," he would recite in that distinguished Scottish brogue. "Michael Brrrunson." "John Sarrrgent."

One or two women were called regularly. But the hierarchy which operated at these morning gatherings was strict: after the broadcasters, the broadsheet political editors, all male. After that, time to go.

Until yesterday, that is. The event began conventionally, with Mr Brown calling the shots and Mr Blair answering the questions. Then Mr Brown veered off sharply. Female voices filled the air for the first time in six weeks of campaigning.

Who would Mr Blair like to see leading the Conservative Party? He didn't mind, he said.

What had changed during the campaign? Well, the Conservatives had failed to explain themselves and Labour had got its message across.

The women's team scored several questions, but only a few answers. Yesterday may have been different, but not that different.