NOW that Jeremy Corbyn has been crushed at the polls, attention will turn to which MP should succeed him as Labour leader.
It is not clear how quickly the party will move to replace him, but the devastating scale of his defeat suggests it will be sooner rather than later.
What is easier to predict, though, is that the next Labour leader will be a woman.
This can be posited firstly because there has never been a female Labour leader (unless you count Margaret Beckett’s brief stint as acting leader in 1994 following the death of John Smith). Many in the Labour movement regard this as shameful, especially since the Tories picked their first woman leader in 1975.
The second reason that Labour might well opt for a lady is that it will want to demonstrate that it is open to change and prepared to move away from the failed Marxist experiment that has just cost it its fourth defeat on the trot (no pun intended).
What better way to catch the eye and attract some positive headlines than to place a woman in the top job?
This article is not intended to argue whether these are the right reasons for a woman becoming leader. Most reasonable people would agree that the best candidate should get the gig, regardless of sex. But since Labour is the original party of the all-woman shortlist, creating a politically correct mindset that has infected much of the Labour movement, it seems perfectly possible that this is now on the cards.
The bookmakers seem to agree. They think Sir Keir Starmer, the early 5/2 favourite, is the only male MP in with a chance.
According to Ladbrokes, Rebecca Long-Bailey is next in the betting at 4/1. Only 40, she became an MP in Salford in 2015 after receiving backing from Len McCluskey’s union Unite. She is the beneficiary of an all-woman shortlist. What counts against her is that she is a creature of Corbyn. She nominated him for the leadership in 2016 and he in turn promoted her to be shadow chief secretary to the Treasury and then shadow Business Secretary. Is she clever enough to lead the party as well?
Next in the betting at 5/1 is the arch-Remainer and Blairite Yvette Cooper (aka Mrs Ed Balls). She’s 50 but has been an MP for 22 years and many would argue she has the baggage to prove it. She was brought up in Hampshire, went to Oxford University, and lived in the US and London before becoming an MP in Yorkshire at 28. Prior to that, she worked on the Independent from 1995 to 1997. Ex-colleague David Walker has observed: ‘She wasn’t as identifiable in those days as a northerner. It would be going too far to say that her accent has strengthened but there is a slight sense in which she has made herself as the voice of her constituency and the north of England and in a sense has moved culturally as well as literally from south to north.’ Cooper, who now speaks with a northern accent, has certainly reinvented herself successfully.
Next, at 7/1, is Angela Rayner. She certainly has a story to tell. Still only 39, the most remarkable fact about her may be that she became a grandmother at 37. The second most remarkable fact is, perhaps, that under Corbyn she was elevated to the post of shadow education secretary despite having left school aged 16 while pregnant and without any recognised qualifications. She trained as a care worker, joined the Labour Party and won her Greater Manchester seat in 2015. Might her age and association with Corbyn count against her?
That leaves the Birmingham MP Jess Phillips. This hardcore Remainer, aged 38, is another product of an all-woman shortlist. She has been heavily backed to take the top job. Initially she was a 20/1 shot just after the polling stations closed on Thursday evening. By Friday morning she was into 8/1. That was until this news hit. We might have to strike her from the list! (Though I doubt it).
Phillips, who some say is self-obsessed, is certainly very good at drawing attention to herself – not always for the right reasons. This anecdote tells you all you need to know about her. In October 2015, she mocked the Tory MP Philip Davies for trying to secure a parliamentary debate about International Men’s Day. Davies cited men’s issues such as increasing male suicides, lower life expectancy relative to women, male victims of domestic violence, low educational achievement by working-class white boys and male experience of child custody as reasons for needing the debate. Phillips openly laughed and pulled faces while Davies spoke, and then stated that: ‘You’ll have to excuse me for laughing. As the only woman on this committee, it seems like every day to me is International Men’s Day.’ Davies responded by stating: ‘If a male MP had reacted in that way about the need for debate on International Women’s Day, there would have been hell to pay. It’s entirely possible you’d be removed from Chambers or have the Whip removed. I’m surprised she finds that a laughing matter.’ MPs agreed with Davies, and permission for a debate in Westminster Hall was eventually granted. Of this disagreement, Phillips wrote in the Independent: ‘I commend Philip Davies for changing the thrust of the debate to focus on male suicide – but in and of itself this day serves no useful function’. Charming.
Others in the running are Emily Thornberry (12/1) – perhaps the most smug MP in the Commons – and Lisa Nandy (16/1) the worthy and serious MP for Wigan. My money is on her.
Of course, the question is: do any of these MPs actually want to be the next Labour leader? Given the party is almost certain to be in opposition for another decade, they may just feel they have better ways to spend their time.
Or maybe not, and not if the 2019 election marks the point when the Labour Party, once the proud political voice of the working man, began its transition into the Labour Working Women’s party. The numbers suggest this could indeed be first socialist feminist party – the coming to fruition, politically, of Polly Toynbee’s long-held mission to do away with women’s need for men. And, if so, what will be the influence of this highly unrepresentative but very powerful ‘gender’ voice on policy? What will be the costs to children and the family?
If a female Labour MP does become leader, and if she was herself the beneficiary of an all-women shortlist, don’t expect her to be the most fair or reasonable person in the House of Commons.