So now it is certain: the Conservatives will produce Britain’s second female Prime Minister, after Andrea Leadsom eliminated Michael Gove from the leadership contest and will now go head-to-head with Theresa May in a vote of Conservative members to be announced on 9 September. So why isn’t the Left cheering this social advance? Instead, the bitching has already begun. Andrea Leadsom is being savaged for being less than 100 per cent enthusiastic about gay marriage (bizarrely, she voted for and against in the same vote); while Theresa May is eviscerated for her proposal – since dropped – to withdraw from the European Court of Human Rights.
Trouble is, on the left a smashed glass ceiling is only a smashed glass ceiling if the head which goes through it belongs to a proper feminist who subscribes to the correct list of opinions. I first realised this when it seemed briefly as if Britain’s second female PM would be the now largely-forgotten Ruth Kelly, who served as transport secretary, education secretary and communities secretary in Tony Blair’s government. Kelly, however, was a practising Roman Catholic who voted against the lowering of the age of consent for homosexual acts and who voted for the abortion limit to be lowered to 12 weeks. As one of her female rivals on the Labour benches put it: ‘what has she ever done for Labour, that cow?’
Kelly gave up fighting against the hostility of female colleagues in the Labour party and left the Commons in 2010 – depriving Labour of one of its most able minds. There was a female candidate in the Labour leadership election of that year – Diane Abbott – but a no-hoper who had been slotted in the field at the last minute to tick the ‘female’ and ‘ethnic minority’ boxes without having to diminish the choice of white men.
Labour is still miles away from producing a female leader, as Angela Eagle found out when she briefly put her head about the parapet last week. It remains a party which likes to preach feminism, yet in practice feels far more comfortable with male bruisers like Gordon Brown and Tom Watson. What an irony that the party which opposed Labour’s all-women shortlists is the one which – without any design to do so – has given its members an all-woman shortlist for leader.