As Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign surges forward, Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall are scrambling to find ways of defeating him, hoping to convince voters that they are the only “sensible” choice for Labour Leader.
Yvette Cooper, out of a sense of desperation, has decided to push her feminist “credentials” to get votes. While attacking left-wing Jeremy Corbyn for being “out of date”, Yvette promises “a more feminist approach”, urging voters to “smash our own glass ceiling and get Labour’s first elected woman leader and first woman prime minister”.
Our first woman prime minister? Has Yvette forgotten our beloved Margaret Thatcher? The so-called “Iron Lady” boasted the honour of being Britain’s first female prime minister - and what a horror she was! This clearly goes to prove that it is the political programme of a leader, and not their gender, that matters most. Thatcher was a women who waged class war against our working class communities. Her gender did not make her any better or worse. She represented her own class – the bankers and capitalists – and on their behalf attacked working class women and men.
Yvette Cooper’s remarks about the “boys’ club” and the “girls” is so far wide of the mark when it comes to Jeremy Corbyn. While the “girls” are firmly in the right-wing “Blair-Brown club” of New Labour, Corbyn has never been part of the establishment. Far from it, in fact: Jeremy’s popularity arises precisely from the fact that he is not seen to be part of the despised Westminster bubble of careerist politicians.
Careerism vs feminism
Tony Blair also used the women’s issue to promote his big business agenda. He brought in female Labour MPs, through all-women shortlists, to support his right-wing policies, which they faithfully followed. These women MPs all voted for cuts to public spending and privatisation, which directly and adversely affected the lives of ordinary working women. These MPs voted for the Iraq war. They all faithfully toed the Blairite line, including Yvette Cooper. Liz Kendall has made her support for Blairism (i.e., Toryism dressed in Labour clothing) even more blatant. Such women are not interested in changing society, but only in making a nice career for themselves.
Liz Kendall is also raising the women’s issue. Lord Falconer’s recent comment that only Burnham could handle the challenging years ahead, prompted Kendall to cry misogyny, stating that "it is depressing to see a senior man in the party dismiss the contribution of women so easily". Similar blunders have also occurred between the two women, with MP Helen Goodman backing Cooper because she is a working mother, a statement that has caused offense among Kendall’s camp, who view this as a slight towards their childless candidate.
There is no doubt that there is sexism in politics and the media, exemplified most blatantly by The Mail on Sunday, which focused on Kendall’s appearance and even predicted that she weighed the same as Kate Middleton. In response Kendall stated “I cannot wait for a world when women are judged the same as men and not by those kinds of questions”; although her limited role in achieving such a world was not mentioned.
The media’s negative role in the leadership race is not surprising; but it is Corbyn who has been the focal point for these attacks, for having the audacity to oppose and question the capitalist status quo of austerity. In response he asks, “can we please – and I say this to everyone – just talk about the issues that people are facing: the poverty levels, the inequality levels, the health problems, the way in which austerity is impacting on the lives of the most vulnerable in society? That is what’s most important.” Absolutely correct!
Indeed, despite the best attempts by Cooper and Kendall to court the votes of women, it is Corbyn who is predicted to gather the most support from women, with the latest YouGov polls showing that 61% of female Labour members and supporters plan on backing Jeremy's leadership bid. This again shows that women are far more interested in the political programme of their leader than on their gender.
Biology or capitalism?
One strand of feminism, called “difference feminism”, suggests that women leaders are more likely to address these important issues because there is something inherently biological within women that means they will oppose war and resolve conflicts using non-violent means. This “theory” is not too difficult to disprove. Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel are prime examples of women elected to power who are not naturally opposed to war and violence when the need arises. US Secretaries of state Madeline Albright, Hilary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, also fail the test of “difference feminism”, despite Albright’s absurd claim to refugee girls from Afghanistan that women around the world “are all the same, and we have the same feelings.”
The extreme hypocrisy of such statements is shameful when you consider that the tears and blood of millions of Afghan women and men have been spilled to protect the imperialist interests of Albright’s Democratic capitalist government in the US. The reality is that ruling class women in leadership positions will inevitably exploit, oppress and murder other women (and men), both in their own countries and internationally in the interests of capitalism.
The millionaire Hilary Clinton is also using the same feminist argument to get votes to become the Democratic nominee for US President. “Vote for me, I am a woman.” But hundreds of thousands are judging her not on her gender but on the basis of the establishment pro-business politics she represents. That is why many are looking to the self-confessed radical and socialist Bernie Saunders, who happens to be a man, but connects with both men and women.
Today, the tale of womankind’s tearful solidarity has been cynically recycled yet again. Yvette Cooper has repeatedly told the story of one of her constituents who, crushed by the bedroom tax and her rent arrears, broke down in front of her. Cooper comforted this woman by telling her to vote Labour. Privately, the Guardian discovered that “what Cooper does not mention is her own tears, shed (…) in her constituency worker’s car after the vexing encounter”.
But despite her tears, she nevertheless wants to win elections at any price: you may feel sad about austerity, but if you want to become leader you have to be “rational”, “fiscally responsible” and willing to compromise.
The logic of the system
If elected, Kendall and Cooper both promise a “credible” capitalist economy, lower public spending, a budget surplus and appeals to the “middle ground” to win. In other words, more of the same pro-capitalist agenda.
In contrast, the Corbyn campaign is proving that left-wing policies are incredibly attractive to people, which has been demonstrated also by the electoral successes of the SNP in Scotland and Syriza in Greece. In his document “Working with Women”, published at the end of July, Corbyn outlines policies such as universal childcare, a National Education Service and ending cuts to public services and welfare, all of which would benefit women. In response, Cooper has simply stated that Corybn’s economic policies are “not credible”, and promises instead to “promote” gender equality, which doesn’t require public spending.
Presenting herself as “sane, rational and intelligent”, Cooper states, “I think it’s a good thing to be interested in the way things work.” As Marxists we also analyse society on a materialist basis to understand “the way things work”. Under capitalism, the reality is that economic crisis is inevitable and austerity is the means to try and save this failing system without damaging the profits of the 1%.
By protecting the capitalist establishment, Cooper and Kendall, despite being women, will be forced to cut public services and the state welfare, thereby drastically attacking the quality of life of ordinary women. Their attempt to roll out their gender is clearly only a cheap way to appear radical. They cry crocodile tears for the injustices of austerity while steadfastly clinging to the need for austerity.
Freedom from oppression; freedom from capitalism
The emancipation of women is vital. But this can only come about, not by patching up capitalism, but doing away with it. Only through a united struggle of women and men, fighting for socialist policies, will women become free from capitalism, exploitation and division in the workplace. As Lenin wrote in 1919:
“There cannot be, nor will there ever be real “freedom” as long as there is no freedom for women, (…) as long as there is no freedom for the workers from the yoke of capital, (…) capitalists, landlords and merchants” (Soviet Power and the Status of Women).
Simply electing women leaders who uphold this rotten capitalist system will not eradicate gender inequality. Only through the class struggle and the socialist transformation of society will women and men be free from the fetters of capitalism.