As the election whirligig gathers pace, it is starting to feel like our politicians are running a competition to see which party can royally piss off the largest number of potential voters. Earlier this week it looked like the Conservative party had the edge as they hosted what can only be described as the most embarrassing and ill-timed political fundraiser ever thrown, where Peter Stringfellow and other even less salubrious multimillionaires paid ludicrous sums for lots including a shoe shopping trip with Teresa May and the chance to roast a chicken with Michael Gove.
But hold the phones, because here comes Harriet Harman in a lurid pink bus to show you just how much Labour loves women, because all women love pink, right? Don’t worry about the policies, girls, just vote for the pretty colour!
Labour have launched their nattily titled Woman to Woman campaign, whereby in a bid to appeal to female votes, they will be ferrying their top MPs around the country in a bright pink minivan, as if they are some sort of political netball team.
The bus will tour 70 key constituencies to speak to women in their natural habitats, identified by Labour as outside the school gates, in shopping centres and work places. In the words of election coordinator and fellow bus passenger Lucy Powell, Labour want to “have a conversation about the kitchen table, and around the kitchen table” rather than having an “economy that just reaches the boardroom table”. And this was said at the same moment that Ed Balls and Chuka Umunna were at the British Chambers of Commerce, talking about Labour’s plans for business. When asked whether voters might, in fact, find the concept a little patronising, mastermind Harman replied: “It doesn’t have big eyelashes on the front”.
Seriously, is everyone in Westminster drunk? Didn’t a single one of the supposedly brightest political strategists around take a moment to question whether a women-only pink party bus would smack of a cheap hen night?
The thing is, either someone did question the sanity of the “kitchen table” plan, and it was decided that the Barbie bus was perfectly pitched to woo silly female voters, or no one did, and the Labour party are a bunch of morons. Either Labour are happy to patronise half the population, or they are too stupid to work out that is what they are doing. And right now, I’m not sure which is worse.
There is nothing wrong with being a woman who likes pink, or glitter, or even bath bombs. You can watch beauty vlogs and study theoretical physics. Wearing lipstick doesn’t damage your brain cells, and painting your nails doesn’t mean you don’t care passionately about tuition fees. The problem is the incessant, bellowing message that all women are the same, and that the way to denote something as female-friendly is to cover it in pink. The absurd group stereotype crops up everywhere - from breast cancer awareness campaigns to packaging for women’s razors and children’s toys - and it certainly has no place in politics.
But what is even more depressing is that the furore over the van is going to overshadow what is an increasingly crucial conversation. All parties are going to be frantically scrabbling for the female vote over the coming weeks. A TNS poll for Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour that found that a disproportionate number remained undecided – 35 per cent compared with 25 per cent of men. Some 9.1 million women did not vote in the 2010 election. And issues affecting women are absolutely worth talking about. The gender pay gap still stands at 9.4 per cent. There are only five female bosses of FTSE 100 companies. More than 400,000 women are sexually assaulted each year. These are the issues we should be talking about, not the colour of a bus.
Labour's promised ‘women’s manifesto’ at least looks like a nod in the right direction, and an election campaign should absolutely aim to connect with female voters, as theirs is. But if they really want to attract women, they should put their trust in policies, not paint.
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