Who will replace Tom Watson as Labour’s deputy leader? The decision to announce his resignation on the first day of the official general election campaign, and to make it effective on December 12th, means a half-hearted parallel campaign is now being undertaken. Well, it’s very half-hearted. “No one sensible would put themselves forward for deputy mid election,” one Corbynsceptic MP replied when I asked who they would be backing for the post. As another Labour MP put it: “This is so a post GE debate.”
The candidate field is wide open, though we have a good idea of where members will ultimately cast their votes (i.e. for someone loyal to the leadership) if recent internal elections make for a reliable indicator. Few are expected to throw their hats in at this early stage at a time when most MPs think they should be focussing on the immediate task of winning a majority. But there are names being floated, mostly those of women – Rebecca Long-Bailey, Laura Pidcock and Angela Rayner from the frontbench; Jess Phillips and Stella Creasy on the other side of the party. Just one person with a chance of winning has declared so far: Dawn Butler.
With impeccable timing, Butler today leads on the big fresh policy announcement. The frontbench women and equalities spokesperson is unveiling a number of reforms designed to transform the workplace for women. Pitched as a “step-change in how women are treated at work”, Butler will promise that a Labour government would: increase statutory maternity pay from nine to 12 months; boost flexible working by giving employees the right to choose the hours that suit them from day one; introduce fines for organisations that fail to clearly work towards closing their gender pay gap; require large employers to implement a workplace menopause policy; strengthen legislation to tackle sexual harassment at work; and enshrine the role of equalities reps in law.
“I’m sick of how women are treated at work,” Butler said. “Audits aren’t enough, we know there’s a problem that needs fixing. So we will do something about it.” Along with the huge investment spending pledged by John McDonnell in Liverpool yesterday, Labour is launching a range of ambitious policies – and in turn making the case that this is not “the Brexit election” as it is described by Sky News but one that will see voter choices also affected by those political issues influencing their day-to-day lives. Because that is the crucial point: people’s real lives are not frozen during a campaign. Over these weeks, every one of us will be hit by problems rooted in austerity, whether they relate to the NHS, housing, schools or transport. And that’s how Labour’s repeated vow to enact “real change” can make a difference to the result on December 12th. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.