UK Politics

Harriet Harman: Labour needs ban on all-male leadership

Harriet Harman Image copyright Getty Images

Labour's former acting leader Harriet Harman has called for a change in the party's rules to prevent another all-male team from leading the party.

Another influential MP told BBC Newsnight the party's leader was guilty of "low-level non-violent misogyny".

Jeremy Corbyn has come under fire for appointing men to all three shadow "great offices of state" - chancellor, foreign secretary and home secretary.

He is under pressure to give more top roles to women in a reshuffle this week

Forty-three per cent of Labour's MPs are female, but the party leader, deputy leader, chair and London mayoral candidates are all male.

Speaking to BBC Newsnight Harriet Harman, who was acting Labour leader for four months after the party lost the 2015 election, said: "We can't have a men-only leadership when we are party for women and equality.

"Women expect to see men and women working together and we can't have an all-male leadership again and therefore we need to change the rules."

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Media caption"We can't have a men-only leadership": Harriet Harman

Jeremy Corbyn is believed to have started talks with shadow cabinet members as part of a reshuffle. Existing shadow cabinet members who are reportedly under threat include defence secretary Maria Eagle and chief whip Dame Rosie Winterton.

Jess Phillips, who was elected for Birmingham Yardley in 2015, has also criticised Mr Corbyn for failing to put women in senior positions.

"Had Tony Blair not given any of top jobs to the women - had that same make-up of his team existed - people would rightly have been up in arms," she told BBC Newsnight.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Too many men at the top? Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and deputy leader Tom Watson

"But it's a bit like some people in the Labour Party are accepting low-level non-violent misogyny because it's Jeremy doing it."

She said she would be prepared to run for the leadership herself at a later date. "It's not something I'm planning on doing anytime soon, but it's absolutely something that I would do in the future."

In another intervention on the issue, Dawn Butler, who chairs the women's Parliamentary Labour Party, said she was concerned about the impact of forthcoming boundary changes on female MPs.

"We can't afford to lose women because it's a fight. My fear is that women will be picked off so I've written to the leader and deputy leader because Tom [Watson] is doing a review and it's a huge worry for me."

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Media captionLabour Party is "accepting low-level non-violent misogyny" says MP Jess Phillips

A report released last month by the Fabian Society criticised the Labour Party for "poor representation of women at all levels". Women make up 44% of Labour's membership and 43% of Labour's MPs, but just 30% of constituency Labour Party chairs and 16% of Labour council leaders.

Women also account for only 11% of the most senior Labour Party staff.

The same survey also found that women standing for selection as Labour parliamentary candidates were almost three times more likely than men to be asked questions relating to their gender.

There will be more on this story on BBC Newsnight on Monday 4 January at 22:30 GMT. You can also catch up afterwards on iPlayer and follow Newsnight on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube

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