The Labour Party is in a sour mood at present, that much we already know. Usually, most of the sourness expressed by MPs is directed at their own party comrades. But this afternoon, at the Labour Women’s Conference, speaker after speaker decided to turn fire on Theresa May. Angela Rayner congratulated her on being the second female Prime Minister of this country, but said ‘I cannot celebrate her arrival’. Kezia Dugdale attacked both May and Nicola Sturgeon for not being real feminists, saying:
‘Look at Theresa May - she has the audacity to wear a ‘this is what a feminist looks like’ T-shirt. She could wear it at the dispatch box - but we’d still know the truth…’
And Harriet Harman also described the Prime Minister as ‘no sister’, arguing ‘we’ve got a new Tory prime minister – and she’s a woman. But like Margaret Thatcher before her, Theresa May is no supporter of women’.
Now, it’s probably quite irritating for Labour to have to hold a women’s conference while the Tories are still crowing that they’ve got another female Prime Minister. But is this sort of ‘you’re not a real feminist’ moaning very, well, feminist? Naturally, Theresa May has a different interpretation of what a feminist politician should do to some Labour MPs: though perhaps not as different as they might think. After all, she did set up Women2Win, which has increased the number of female Tory MPs in parliament by lobbying the Conservative party and mentoring candidates. And after all, she did do quite a lot of work on domestic violence when in the Home Office, including working with the now Labour MP Jess Phillips when she was working as a national adviser on domestic abuse, and introducing the offence of coercive and controlling behaviour. And she also introduced a number of measures on female genital mutilation and forced marriage. But still, she’s not a Labour MP, so that means that obviously she’s not really a feminist.
Sorry, ladies, but feminism is even more important than partisanship. If you start claiming that only women who meet with your politics are real feminists, then you break into the People’s Front of Judea when feminists haven’t run out of problems to solve. You also alienate those on the right who are feminists but who you tell aren’t welcome in your special exclusive left-wing ladies’ club. Feminism has to span the political spectrum, otherwise it gets stuck in one party. And given the Labour party isn’t going anywhere right now, that’s not much use to the women who still need a politician who’ll show them what a feminist in government looks like.