It’s tough being a woman in the Labour party. As well as having little chance of becoming party leader, it seems that those who do get close to power are often not treated with the same courtesy as their male counterparts.
At least that’s what Harriet Harman thinks. Speaking at a Press Gallery lunch to promote her memoir A Woman’s Work, Labour’s former deputy leader recalled the occasions on which she had fallen victim to seemingly sexist behaviour during Gordon Brown’s premiership.
After being elected deputy leader, Harman had thought she would get to sit next to the Prime Minister at Cabinet:
‘You’re elected deputy leader, amazingly — against all the odds and against the runaway favourite. You get to be deputy leader. You go to your first Cabinet leader with your new government chaired by Gordon Brown, you’ve got the Prime Minister here, opposite you’ve got the Chancellor — it’s all very official.’
Alas there was a catch. Jack Straw was in the seat — and he even had a name-tag:
‘So, you go to sit in your seat next to the Prime Minister and it’s not your seat because Jack Straw’s is sitting in it — and Jack Straw has got a label saying ‘Jack Straw’ in case there was any wrong identification. Then you think where is my label and you look around and you kind of can’t see it anywhere until you go right to the flipping end of the room and that’s your name place.’
Brown’s decision to relegate his deputy leader to the fringes of Cabinet shows that under New Labour a woman’s place was at the far end of the Cabinet table. But then again, under Jeremy Corbyn no women — or man — is likely to get anywhere near the Cabinet table.