Prescott bemoans Harman’s focus on women’s rights.

// 28 September 2009

John Prescott complained in yesterday’s Independent that his replacement as deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, has spent too much time focusing on gender equality issues:

“I suppose, if I was being honest about it, I think too much of the emphasis has been on female rights, which I have supported all my life, and we’re not getting other messages across. Most of it is about the equality issue. It is very important, but it is not our biggest campaigning issue, whatever they say about it.”

Given that only 27% of Labour MPs are female (a better figure, nevertheless, than the Conservatives’ 9% and Lib Dems’ 14%) and Harman has faced a blatently sexist backlash to her attempts to tackle the gender pay gap, to name but one issue that has a negative impact on half the country’s population, Prescott’s complaint is laughable. It’s no wonder Harman has chosen to use her position to push for positive change for women; she can hardly leave it to the likes of him. Grrr.

Comments From You

sianmarie // Posted 28 September 2009 at 4:05 pm

argh this makes me so depressed!

how dare we want equal representation ey mr prescott? how dare we presume to ask government to take women’s concerns as seriously as male concerns? how dare we?

let’s talk shall we, mr prescott, when women make up 50% of parliament, when rape conviction rates are fair, when we’ve ended violence against women, when we’ve done something about family poverty, when the gender pay gap is closed shut for good, when forced marriage and circumcision are no more, when all absent fathers pay support and take an active role in raising their children, when Special K ads are banned from tv, when women are no longer seen as sex objects, when lad’s mags are top shelf, when young women are given strong role models, when women’s bodies aren’t commodities to selll…

when all that and more is sorted we can talk abuot whether government is too concerned with women’s rights.

Kit // Posted 28 September 2009 at 4:46 pm

@sianmarie it’s not women’s rights, but “female rights”. Something just sounds really off (and telling) about the way he phrased that…

It’s not as if politicians haven’t been focusing too much on men’s rights for, ooh how long now?

eleanargh // Posted 28 September 2009 at 5:16 pm

Actually I can sort of see what he means, if we can take ‘too much of the emphasis’ to mean ‘too large a proportion of what the party is talking about overall’. The Independent has over-emphasised that quote to make it into their headline, when Harman was not the only person he targeted. From reading his website I can see that Prescott is very annoyed that many of his colleagues are not actively campaigning to stay in power, and not actively campaigning on class issues, thus missing out on huge sections of public support. What has been in the public eye this year has been the Equality Bill, and I believe his view would be that that it is important, but in order to successfully fight the Tories the emphasis on it should have been alongside an emphasis on other issues. I’ve been really glad for the attention the Equality Bill has gained this year and don’t think it should have been any less at all – but Labour does need to talk about other stuff too to win back the voters they dessssperately need if there’s any chance of avoiding Torygeddon next year.

Elmo // Posted 28 September 2009 at 5:44 pm

eurgh, john prescott

the worst thing is “which i have supported all my life”,

perhaps he meant “waaaaaa! ive done LOADS of sucking up (not) but ur still being mean to teh menz! waaaaaa! its not fair, and its okay for me to be sexist though, cos, as i just mentioned, i SUPPORT YOU! waaaaaaa!”

why bother mentioning it at all, its such a pathetic excuse. okay, Mr. p, if you’ve supported “female” rights (that sounds rather clinical, doesnt it?) your whole life, how about supporting us NOW?


Jennifer Drew // Posted 28 September 2009 at 6:04 pm

Mr. Prescott is an excellent example of myopic vision because in his considered and so-called ‘expert view’ women’s rights are not remotely important. This is despite fact women make up 51% of the UK’s population.

But then given Mr. Prescott is white, male and held a very powerful political position it is not surprising his focus

was solely on men’s issues because men’s issues supercede women’s. For evidence just take a look at his tory because herstory is always missing.

Mhairi // Posted 28 September 2009 at 6:11 pm

The depressing thing about this is that most people (including many women) would probably agree with Prezza. It’s part of the fairly endemic characterisation of gender equality issues as somehow ‘niche’; over-egged identity politics that get some mad harpies in a tizz when their time could be better spent on issues that affect ‘us all’ like poverty, education or health etc. Never mind the fact half of us domestically and globally fall into this particular ‘minority’ and gender (in)equality cuts across most of these same issues in pervasive and insidious ways.

Is there no small possibility that this should matter to all of us, male and female?! Rather than poor old Harriet railing as best she can, with uneven success and finesse, to widespread derision and abuse?!

I get similarly riled by the way violent abuses abroad get the ‘niche’ treatment – with stonings for adultery or rape as a war crime being described as issues of ‘women’s’ rights – as if ‘human rights’ isn’t sufficiently expansive to cover the routine sexual violation and suppression of women across the world.

alison // Posted 29 September 2009 at 12:02 am

I am so relieved so FEW women pursue politics at this level. Fact is most women are as damning and undermining of their own gender as any men are. It is not a man ruthlessly seeking to undermine abortion rights, it is a woman. And before anyone points out that Dorries is a Tory, Thatcher voted for liberalising abortion laws. It is vital for British politics that this issue remains a free vote and that politics does not get skewed along gender and I resent the way Harman while well intentioned is trying to do precisely that. Identity politics suck.

Hannah // Posted 29 September 2009 at 6:58 pm

I don’t think Prescott’s comment is that bad, in the context of the Labour party’s current woes. With the election looming just around the corner, reflections on the party’s time in government are bound to be shaped by considerations of what policies have in the past pleased the electorate and what might do the same in the near future. The giveaway phrase here is ‘it is not our biggest campaigning issue’. It’s a fact that Labour has alienated a lot of its traditional support base (you know, the white male working class that us middle class liberal women often find ourselves in opposition with) and you could say that they have neglected this group (or there has been a perceived neglect) in favour of tackling gender equality issues.

I don’t think it’s that Prescott is uninterested in gender equality, more that he is expressing the opinion that progress in this area is not that likely to win the party votes, particularly with its traditional core voting group.

I hope this post isn’t taken the wrong way, because I really like Harriet Harman! I would love it if she ran for party leader; one can always dream…

eleanargh // Posted 30 September 2009 at 12:10 am

Hannah – glad you agree with what I said – though I have to say the white male working class isn’t the only group of their traditional supporters that Labour needs to re-appeal to. Middle class people who believe in social justice (e.g. me, and my Mum, who used to be a Labour campaigner but left the party in the last few years) have very long supported them, and more recently other minorities – e.g. gay voters – who have felt Labour consider their rights more than the Tories do. And working class women of course. But at the moment none of us are being given persuasive reasons to vote for them again (I’m leaning Green instead); and we really need to be, in order for Labour to be able to continue putting forward equalities legislation in future. Even those of us who the Equality Bill benefits need more reason than just that.

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