Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Labour Losing Appeal to Women, Warns Harman; ... and Hints She Wants to Follow John Prescott as Deputy PM

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Labour Losing Appeal to Women, Warns Harman; ... and Hints She Wants to Follow John Prescott as Deputy PM

Article excerpt


HARRIET HARMAN warned today that Labour is "slipping back" in the race for women's votes as she signalled her ambition to succeed John Prescott as deputy prime minister.

In an exclusive interview with the Evening Standard, she said Tony Blair and Gordon Brown must repair the party's appeal to women to prevent David Cameron's Tories making gains at the next election.

Ms Harman, a veteran of Labour's modernisation in the Eighties, said: "I think we have slipped back and we cannot afford to slip back.

"We have to remember that pre-1997 spirit, which was about winning people's trust and confidence."

She said a recent poll showing Mr Cameron winning women's votes on the public services underlines the dangers of repeating Labour's mistakes in the days before modernisation.

"People saw us as male-dominated," she said. "Our kind of politics did not seem to connect with women's lives, even though we had the right values.

"That was one of the reasons we did not get elected to government to deliver our promises of extra childcare and laws on domestic violence.

"What we must not do is think that we can focus on dividing up the spoils of office or just negotiate among ourselves about how we divide the cake of power.

"We have to be outward-looking, to be in touch with people's lives.We have unlearned some of the lessons that we learned before."

Ms Harman, the Family Justice and Courts Minister, agreed the party appeared laddish at times and said women still had to assert themselves against male Labour MPs."We are still a minority in the Parliamentary Labour Party," she said.

"We are not men and women sharing power but women still trying to get more feet in the door". Labour had to drive on to "new frontiers" in policies, such as a right to time off for parents whose children are ill and targets towards more equal pay.

"We need a few more rows about this; from time to time we need to kick up," she said.

Ms Harman agreed that Mr Blair erred recently when using the term "he" to describe his successor as prime minister, rather than "he or she". "I think we can never relax about this," she said. "We should not assume the things we did then [before 1997] are in the past and that we can go back to the bad old days. It was not just a rush of political correctness, it was essential."

Pointing to the influx of Labour women at the 1997 election, she claimed Mr Cameron was shamelessly copying Labour.

"As for the 'Blair babes' stuff, why do you think the Tories are now trying to get more women MPs?" she said. "They are trying to do what we did, not because they share our values but to get women to vote for them."

Ms Harman made clear that she may be a contender for the deputy leadership when Mr Prescott retires but stressed there is no vacancy at present. …

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