Well, not quite. The idea of a woman leading the Labour Party is so off the wall that it is now the stuff of satire. It emerged yesterday that the hapless Nicola Murray will be leading the Opposition in the new series of The Thick of It.
Twenty-two people have held the post of leader. There have been two women, Margaret Beckett and Harriet Harman. They held the post for 70 days and 137 days respectively. Which means in the 38,200 days the post has been in existence, 207 of them have seen a woman in the post. That is 0.6%.
It gets worse. The Labour Party has never elected a woman to the post. Ever. Despite leading the cause of feminism in Parliament when the Tories were still denying women the right to vote, we have remained unable to bestow our trust in a woman. Some have tried to reach the top, but we can’t quite do it.
Until now. In satire.
I am sure I am not the only Labour member to feel uneasy when Conservatives cite Margaret Thatcher’s elevation to the Tory throne. All I can do is point to the elite Tory meeting place, the Carlton Club, which only admitted women to membership four years ago after almost two centuries of existence. Occasionally, I somewhat disingenuously point to Beckett and Harman, the two short-lived interim leaders, whilst my sparring partners perform that all too familiar Tory laugh. “They weren’t elected to it”, they roar. “Come back when you have your own Thatcher.”
I know it is all in vain, for we have not planted our flag in the moral high ground on the matter. We have attempted to climb the mountain of, err, feminism, but the summit is just out of reach, and the Conservatives look down on us with a smug, wispy smile.
That we have been beaten to electing a woman to the leader’s office by a television satire should be ringing alarm bells. We can laugh as Nicola Murray stumbles from crisis to crisis and Malcolm Tucker’s phone bill shrinks as his power diminishes, but it highlights a deep flaw in our Party. All women shortlists have been a short-term fix that has elected many talented women to Parliament, many of whom are rightly touted as future leaders, but we have yet to take the final leap.
I usually feel uncomfortable pontificating on matters of feminism, and I have very little right to do so. But I hope every woman in the Labour Party considers standing for parliament, and does not see our embarrassing failure to elect a woman to the highest post in the labour movement in the past as a sign that it will not happen in the future, because it will, sooner rather than later.