Labour turns to BBC stars in new fight for rights of older women
A commission will propose ways to prevent discrimination against over-50s
Andrew Grice has been Political Editor of The Independent since 1998. He was previously Political Editor of The Sunday Times, where he worked for 10 years, and he has been a Westminster-based journalist since 1982. His column, Inside Politics, appears in The Independent each Saturday.
Saturday 29 September 2012
Labour is setting up a commission led by Miriam O'Reilly, the former Countryfile presenter, and Arlene Phillips, the former Strictly Come Dancing judge, to tackle discrimination against women over the age of 50, The Independent can reveal.
The team will draw up proposals to try to prevent ageism and sexism, the "double discrimination" against older women, as the party seeks to woo the female over-50s vote which makes up almost a quarter of the electorate.
The Labour Commission on Women will consider whether legislation is needed and will call upon the experiences of the two TV personalities, who were famously dropped by the BBC.
In interview with The Independent, Harriet Harman, Labour's deputy leader, said all options would be considered as it helped to draw up policies for the party's election manifesto. "This is a systemic issue," she said. "Of course there is age discrimination against men. But the combination of age and gender discrimination against women is of a different order of magnitude."
She launched a scathing attack on George Entwistle, the BBC's new Director General, for his "woeful" response to criticism that the Corporation freezes out older women while keeping older men on its screens.
Ms Harman declared: "Basically, he said 'We have got to reach out and find these [older] women'. In fact, they are right there under his nose but they are being got rid of. He was saying, 'We can't start chucking out the older men'. Miriam [O'Reilly] was told to devise her own programme and then she could be on it. He needs to wake up right away and realise that women will not tolerate that any more. We need action, not pitiful excuses. He is still stuck in the old mould that the older man, the experienced, wise sage, has to be matched [on screen] by the younger woman."
After the BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce admitted she dyed her hair so as not to show any grey, Ms Harman added: "Women on TV feel that the clock is ticking for them in a way it is not for older men."
She said the treatment of Ms O'Reilly and Ms Phillips, pictured, had "touched a nerve" for tens or even hundreds of thousands of women who had suffered similar discrimination.
She declared: "They are not going to accept that any more. It [the campaign] is going to be quite militant. It will be a very big powerful movement. It will move beyond general anger to an insistence on change."
Ms O'Reilly, who won an age discrimination case against the BBC, will chair a discussion at Labour's national women's conference in Manchester today. The commission, chaired by Ms Harman, will investigate the position of women over 50 as carers, in the world of work and in public life.
Ms Harman insisted Labour's move is not "a cynical electoral exercise". But it could pay political dividends. As the baby-boomers approach pension age, the 11.3 million women over 50 represent 24 per cent of the electorate. At the 2010 election, the Conservatives enjoyed a big lead among women aged 55 and over, winning 42 per cent of their votes to Labour's 31 per cent and the Liberal Democrats' 21 per cent. But some recent opinion polls suggest David Cameron and his party have lost ground among women.
Mr Entwistle said this month that he wanted to see more female presenters and guests on news and current affairs programmes but would not set targets.
- 1 Half of young women unable to ‘locate vagina’ and 65% find it difficult to say the word
- 2 Perez Hilton apologises for Jennifer Lawrence naked photo leak
- 3 A teacher speaks out: 'I'm effectively being forced out of a career that I wanted to love'
- 4 Mexican woman becomes world’s 'oldest person' at 127
- 5 Jennifer Lawrence 'naked sex video' will be leaked threatens 4Chan celebrity photo hacker
Rotherham child sex abuse scandal: Labour Home Office to be probed over what Tony Blair's government knew - and when
What do immigrants really think of Britain? Polish immigrant's Reddit post goes viral
Ashya King: Parents of five-year-old boy refused permission to visit him in hospital and denied bail at Spanish court
With Douglas Carswell joining Ukip, my party has taken another giant step forward
When elitism grips the top of British society to this extent, there is only one answer: abolish private schools
Ukip Douglas Carswell defection: Tory MP jumps ship to join Nigel Farage
£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...
£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...
£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...
£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...