Here's one important reason why Labour has never chosen a female leader - and won't this time either

As the Spectator this week shows, it's less about the talent at hand and a lot more about the patronising media coverage women have to endure

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Reams of paper and considerably more 1s and 0s have been sacrificed on the altar of this crucial sticking point: Do the 600,000 eligible voters (some of them so freshly minted they still have that 'new car' smell) go for values or power? Will the wider and future general electorate go for principles or polish? And most important of all, why has Labour yet to choose a woman as the party's leader, decades after the Tories did the same with dear old Maggie?

Luckily a sassy, white, middle-aged, middle class man has addressed the latter issue for us. I forget his name but he's a former editor of the Spectator and wears his tie almost insouciantly as he promotes his second biography on Margaret Thatcher.

He's discovered that it comes down to being fanciable. Forget policies, values, solutions; this is a man who has studied the form, indeed studied Margaret Thatcher's form (steady), and has concluded that “ a hidden reason for Mrs Thatcher’s victory in 1975 was that lots of older Tory backbenchers fancied her. She was 49 and made the best of it without obvious strain. She was not disturbingly sexy, and she behaved with absolute propriety throughout.” (The 'without obvious strain' part is, of course, important. Being fragrantly feminine must look effortless at all times, as any female celebrity caught by the ‘sidebar of shame’ can attest.)

Selflessly this Spectator chap has now cast his eye over the two female Labour leader candidates (an eye spectacularly honed for detail) and has pondered over what may be the right looks to win: “Possibly Ms Cooper has them — there is something quite appealing about her slightly French crop and black and white dresses, especially when she is being so boring that one looks rather than listens.” Like a vase or a picture one might have over the fireplace, say. Whereas “Ms Kendall looks like a nice person, but not in a distinctive way.”

Poor Liz Kendall. He's thrown immense shade there, despite the fact that a breathy piece in the Daily Mail once compared her to the Duchess of Cambridge. So, pray tell, who IS the fortunate female lead to take the Labour Party to the next level? Well, Charles Moore has thoughts on that too: “I sense that the right woman leader to win a general election for Labour today would conform to one of two physical types. She would either be a more lower-middle-class version of Clare Balding — reassuring, competent, well-rounded, possibly lesbian — or more provocative and sassy, like the wonderful one with a strong northern accent whose name I have forgotten who talks about money and business on BBC Breakfast.”

Provocative and sassy! That's the kind of physical type you can count on, even if she's so fanciable it renders you physically incapable of remembering Stephanie McGovern's name.

But here’s an idea: perhaps Labour hasn't had a female leader because of the lacklustre coverage any female politician receives. It's a focus that rarely strays beyond red-carpet territory of "Who are you wearing?", when lists of High-Street labels outweigh those on policies, and one that thinks it's appropriate to ask Liz Kendall how much she weighs.

Over on the other side of the pond, even a certain former Secretary of State and Democratic nominee has to handle endless coverage of matters coiffured. As Bernie Sanders, a fellow candidate noted, after being asked about the scrutiny surrounding Hillary Clinton's hairstyle in an interview: “When the media worries about what Hillary’s hair looks like or what my hair looks like, that’s a real problem. We have millions of people who are struggling to keep their heads above water, who want to know what candidates can do to improve their lives, and the media will very often spend more time worrying about hair than the fact that we’re the only major country on earth that doesn’t guarantee health care to all people.“

It's arguable that The Labour party should have had a female leader by now (can you IMAGINE Barbara Castle going head-to-head with Margaret Thatcher over the Despatch box?). What remains inarguable, however, is that educated, white, middle-class middle-aged men still think how a woman looks is the most interesting thing about her – and that looks are the real barrier to female political success. Move aside, Charles Moore, because you’re way out of touch.

 

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