As soon as former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale announced her resignation, the Labour right began agitating for a woman to replace her. However, confirmation emerged that the battle for the leadership would be contested between the pro-Corbyn Richard Leonard and ex-Progress vice-Chair Anas Sarwar, meaning that the leaders and deputy leaders both the UK and Scottish parties will all be male.
Former acting leader Harriet Harman was among the first, tweeting:
Yardley MP Jess Phillips also sounded off, telling the Guardian:
The Labour party has a thorny issue to face, as if [Kezia] was replaced by a man all of our leadership positions go to men. People will shout meritocracy as if women aren’t good enough and the best person for the job is always a man, but what’s not good enough is if Labour women are always sidelined.
Other anonymous sources joined in with even more florid comments – but it wasn’t only politicians, although the contributions bordered on the ridiculous. Kate McCann, for example, made the point that Corbyn ‘chose’ Watson as his deputy – how the Telegraph’s senior political correspondent explains her ignorance that Labour elects its deputy leaders would be interesting to find out.
Right-wingers are perhaps desperate to engineer either a walk-over female accession to the Scottish leadership or to try to force out the Corbyn-supporting Alex Rowley from the Scottish deputy position before Corbyn gets chance to use Rowley’s immediate presence on the National Executive Committee to push through the democratisation of the party that the vast majority of members are crying out for.
However, both Labour women are highlighting the right issue – while looking in the wrong direction.
In March, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was said to be considering a challenge to UK deputy leader Tom Watson and to be very close to the number of nominations she would need to force a contest. Watson, now despised by most Labour members for his undermining of the democratically-elected leader, would be almost certain to lose.
Now, the news that only male candidates have come forward for the Scottish leadership election has triggered revived calls for Thornberry – or one of a number of other possible candidates – to remove Watson, solving two problems simultaneously: the replacement of a poor deputy leader by a far better candidate and a better leadership gender balance.
Here are some of the calls on social media:
Moves toward a challenge have gone onto the back burner lately as Labour focused on its strategy to prepare for another General Election by campaigning in key target seats – but it’s time to turn up the heat again – not just to meet the justified need for a female presence in the national leadership, but to cement a deeply necessary pro-Corbyn advantage on the NEC.
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