2015: Big year for Labour’s Northern women
In a year’s time Yvette Cooper or Rachel Reeves could be leader of the Labour Party or hold a senior post in government.
These two women, representing Yorkshire seats, head up an impressive cohort of northern Labour women
MPs ready to take office if the party wins (a big if by the way). This pool of female talent is a direct result of the introduction of all women Labour short lists for the 1997 General Election. The women elected then are now in key positions in Ed Miliband’s team. The fact that the Tories and Lib Dems have not favoured this system of affirmative action leaves them woefully short of good female representation in the North.
I continue to believe that the economic recovery and the irresponsible promise of an in/out referendum on our European Union membership will make the Conservatives the largest party next May. However UKIP will act as a drag on the ability of the Tories to win. So we must contemplate the possibility of Ed Miliband winning or being in a position to form a government with the remnants of the Liberal Democrats.
If that is the outcome of the General Election, who are the Northern Labour women who will be governing the country for the second half of this decade? Two of them represent nearly adjacent seats in Yorkshire. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper sits for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford and the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Rachel Reeves represents Leeds West. Both could be contenders for Ed Miliband’s job one day but for now they are the most prominent of the new generation of Labour frontbenchers.
Yvette Cooper has 13 years more experience in parliament than Rachel Reeves and held key posts under Gordon Brown as Housing Minister, Chief Secretary to the Treasury and finally Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. She might have become party leader in 2010 but stood aside for her husband, now Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls. She could regret that decision if another leadership election arises next year and the party wants to make a clean break with the past.
We know Rachel Reeves well at Downtown in Business as a regular attender of our seminars. A Bank of England economist, she supported Ed Miliband’s bid for the leadership and has held a number of key posts in his team including Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury. She is a credible future Chancellor. She emerged well from a spat with the editor of Newsnight who called her boring. That was wrong, but she comes over as very serious and needs to lighten up a bit.
In the North West there are a host of women contenders to be part of a Labour administration. The Eagle twins continue to serve in the Shadow Cabinet. Angela (Wallasey) is Shadow Leader of the House and her jousts with her opposite number William Hague should be a highlight this autumn. Maria Eagle was damaged by a row with Ed Balls over HS2 and was moved from the Transport portfolio to Environment.
Lucy Powell (Manchester Central) has only been an MP for two years but is already part of Labour’s education team and is tipped for ministerial office. Other Labour women to watch are Luciana Berger (Liverpool Wavertree) Kate Green (Stretford) and Lisa Nandy (Wigan).
On the Tory side Esther McVey is the bright star in a dull sky of maleness in the North. Appointed Jobs Minister in the recent reshuffle, it can only be a matter of time before this former Liverpool business woman becomes a full Cabinet Member. In the House of Lords watch for continued promotion for Baroness Williams, the former leader of Trafford Council.
The Lib Dems have always agonised over affirmative action to promote women candidates because of its conflict with the freedom of party members to choose the “best” person. The result is that there are no women Lib Dem MPs in the North that I can see playing a leading role in the party in the near future. Lisa Smart has been chosen to try and hold Hazel Grove but she is subject to sniping for not being local.
On the European front the North West continues to be ably represented by Tory Jacqueline Foster. She has a feisty reputation but will face competition from UKIP’s newly elected MEP Louise Bours.
So a rather unbalanced picture of women politicians to watch out for in the North. It is an issue that the Conservatives and Lib Dems need to address urgently.