Cheap Publicity Stunts Won't Work, Labour; it's Time to Take Women Seriously

In the wake of Labour's Pink Bus fiasco, equality lawyer and former Labour Party member Carol Fox argues that if Labour were really serious about gender equality, they would focus on more than cheap publicity stunts. 

Last week we witnessed further consternation from feminist advocates and equality campaigners following the launch of a bright pink van as part of Labour’s 2015 General Election campaign.

Let's be clear; this isn't about the colour of the van. We don't hate pink (or 'magenta', as Labour have taken to calling it), but the crass nature of gesture politics and the ‘drive thru’ nature of this stunt. If this pink van turns up at a supermarket near you and parks up for a ten minute chat will this amount to engaging the female vote? I think not.

The colour of the van bothers me far less than the fact that we are now only weeks away from General Election on 7th May and only now do Labour want to listen to female voters! This clearly begs the question - who have they been listening to for the past 5 years?

It is all so superficial and insulting and only serves to highlight the dearth of serious campaigning and serious politicians willing to build any long term commitment to involve female voters and to reflect our concerns in policy formation and political action.

The concerns of women are already well rehearsed and these bogus listening exercises are in my view just empty gestures which insult us further. I for one cannot abide that wide eye glee of party hacks and cynical politicians, who get all excited about meeting a real woman in an overall at a supermarket, take a quick photo for the papers or the telly before whizzing off in the pink van in a desperate attempt to rub shoulders with the masses ahead of another election. Such a waste of our time, and a real waste of all of their energy.

If I had the opportunity to drive this 15 seat pink bus I could offer a lift to the Employment Tribunal to the thousands of female claimants with live equal pay cases against Labour Councils. But hold on? With over 3,000 cases against North Lanarkshire Council we would need a fleet of over 200 pink vans to transport women to the Glasgow Tribunal. These 3,000 women would have lots to say to those silent politicians who have ignored their equal pay cases during a decade of litigation against Scottish Councils. But I imagine the air would be very blue, rather than bright pink. At least North Lanarkshire have been in settlement discussions for many months as someone locally must understand that it would be a clever move not to be knee deep in equal pay cases as female voters go to the polls in May.

Not so in Glasgow where silence and denial remain the order of the day, even after almost a decade of litigation. The first equal pay case was lodged in summer 2005. We would need a convoy of over 366 pink vans to take the 5,500 appellants against Glasgow City Council along the M8 to the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Edinburgh for hearing dates later in May, just after the election. Knee deep in QCs we continue to make legal arguments on behalf of the Cleaners and Carers employed by the largest authority in Scotland. How many Glasgow voters know that the highly paid QC instructed by Glasgow City Council cross examined low paid cleaners and accused them of exaggerating how hard they work? This QC’s legal submissions questioned the credibility of the very same women who are the back bone of our public services. The very same women that Harriet Harman says she wants to listen to now and who she wants to vote Labour in May.

You cannot disrespect your female workforce for a decade, wrongly defend unequal pay at great public expense, cross-examine cleaners and carers implying that they are lying about the demands of their jobs and then shrug your shoulders as we near another election and pitch for their votes. Look these politicians say, we are not as bad as Tories, look we have a nice bright pink van, listen we need your vote.

Women can only look back in disbelief at a generation of empty gesture, hypocritical politicians caught up in a trap of their own making of pink vans, football summits, media events and absolutely no integrity whatsoever. Until these labour politicians engage with uncomfortable home truths they will continue to fail themselves and women voters. Come on Harriet, you can do much better than this.

Encouraging Jim Murphy to break his silence on equal pay cases and the ongoing tribunal proceedings to respond to my tweets might be a start. Everyone tells me not to hold my breath but then as a campaigning feminist and equality lawyer I live in hope.

Follow Carol on Twitter: @feministfox

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