Angela Eagle put in a competent performance at the despatch box yesterday – which is, these days, just about all that’s needed to invite speculation that the speaker in question would make a better leader of the Labour Party than Jeremy Corbyn. We must resist the temptation to dub anyone capable of combining humour and political nous with coherent English as a potential leader.
However, it did set me thinking about a wider question: when, if ever, will Labour elect a female leader of their Party?
It is now more than 40 years since Margaret Thatcher became Conservative leader, and 36 since she became this country’s first female Prime Minister. The Home Secretary is often tipped as a strong contender to be the next Conservative leader (indeed, Eagle teased her about the race for the job at PMQs). By contrast, in the recent Labour leadership election, the two female candidates – Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall – only amassed 21.5 per cent of the vote between them.
Nobody should support electing someone primarily because of their gender, but it does seem that Labour – supposedly the party of equal opportunities – has a problem even considering female candidates on their merits. Andy Burnham famously said in August that Labour should have a woman leader “when the time is right”, suggesting that 2015 is not that time. Women have long battled to be elected to senior positions in the trade unions, too.
Might it be that Labour’s self-satisfaction with its political correctness has led the Party to rest on its supposed laurels when it comes to actually delivering?