The Real Reason You Should Care About The Labour Leadership Contest

I’ll level with you. I’m a journalist specialising in politics and I’m struggling to muster the energy to invest in any more political turbulence. We’ve had election after election, a game-changing referendum and now we’ve finally left the EU. Just when you thought British politics couldn’t serve up any more high jinks or drama, along came the Labour leadership contest. 
Jeremy Corbyn vowed that he would stand down as party leader after he oversaw Labour’s worst election defeat since 1935 – yes, 1935 – and, true to his word, he did. This sparked a Labour leadership contest, which has seen MPs from all corners of the party – some you’ve heard of, some you definitely haven’t – to have a crack at being the leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition. 
Advertisement
The final list of contenders for Labour Party leader has now been whittled down to four. They are: Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry. 
Long-Bailey is largely regarded as the Corbyn continuity candidate. She launched her leadership campaign in Tribune with an essay about socialism and its importance in Britain today. She talks a lot about the public ownership of our vital services such as energy, water, rail and mail. However, she has been criticised for holding anti-abortion views attributed to her Catholic faith. She has clarified that she would never implement policies to restrict abortion but, nonetheless, she has said that she is personally not pro-abortion. 
Lisa Nandy’s politics are more centre-left, to the extent that not everyone is a fan. The campaign group Momentum was recently accused of trying to smear her with a video claiming that she did not vote against welfare cuts in 2015 when, in actual fact, she was on maternity leave. 
Keir Starmer was the Shadow Brexit Secretary under Corbyn and did his best to sell what was really a lack of a concrete Brexit policy from his own party. He is pro-immigration and thinks Labour should argue for the return of freedom of movement, continuing it after Brexit. He used to be a human rights lawyer and, rumour has it, Helen Fielding based her Mr Darcy in Bridget Jones’s Diary on him. 
Finally, Emily Thornberry is a long-serving member of parliament who was first elected in 2005. She served as Shadow Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs under Corbyn. She is arguably the most experienced candidate in the race. 
Advertisement

The role of the official opposition party is to hold the government to account and the next Labour leader will be tasked with that at one of the most important moments in Britain's history. 

The winner will be announced on 4th April and until then, as with all leadership contests, it’s all blue-sky thinking, thinly veiled criticisms of one another and soundbites. Now, nobody would blame you if you’re experiencing a bit of news burnout and struggling to get excited about this. Nobody.
But there are many very good reasons for tuning into this one, even if you aren’t currently a Labour party member and therefore won’t have a say in who wins. Boris Johnson won his 2019 general election by a landslide. The role of the official opposition party is to hold the government to account and the next Labour leader will be tasked with that at one of the most important moments in Britain’s history. 
We’ve just left the European Union, embarking on a yearlong transition period which will see our country fundamentally change forever; crucially, several reports have suggested that all of this will disproportionately affect women. 
Even though we managed to agree a deal to end our 47-year relationship with the EU and avoid the much-threatened no-deal exit, Britain’s economy is expected to slow down as a result of Brexit. As the Women’s Budget Group has pointed out, women are generally occupying weaker positions in our economy and, as a result, this is likely to affect us more. 
In 2018 the majority of part-time workers in Britain were women, according to the group’s research. More than this, they have found that women are more likely to be living in poverty than men. And as the group has recently revealed, women are disproportionately affected by the cost of living in Britain – particularly the housing crisis. They analysed women’s wages and housing costs nationwide in their report "A Home Of Her Own" and concluded that nowhere – literally nowhere – in the United Kingdom is affordable for women to buy or to rent. 
Advertisement
If the economy does suffer because of Brexit – indeed, you might argue that it already has because of our weakened pound and slower growth – women will be hardest hit because their positions are already more precarious. 

If the economy does suffer because of Brexit – indeed, you might argue that it already has because of our weakened pound and slower growth – women will be hardest hit because their positions are already more precarious. 

In her book Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism, Kristen R. Ghodsee argues that unregulated capitalism is bad for women. Socialism, she argues, leads to economic independence, better working conditions and better work/life balance for women. The evidence - which Ghodsee collected over a decade spent researching in Eastern Europe while looking at state provision of education, maternity leave, domestic support and childcare - is compelling. Meanwhile, as the work of the Women’s Budget Group repeatedly shows, women are worse off in Britain right now. 
The Labour Party has always been Britain’s party of "democratic socialism". That’s exactly what the back of their membership cards read. Women’s position in the workplace has changed dramatically in recent years. As movements like #MeToo explode the sexism that endures, it’s worth asking what structural changes need to take place to level the playing field and rebalance power between men and women once and for all. 
Ultimately, this won’t be done on Twitter or on Instagram via a hashtag (useful as they are for story sharing). What will really empower women is more social housing, a strong welfare state, better pay, continued access to free abortion services and free universal childcare. Without these, women’s position will always be weaker than men’s. 
Advertisement
Whoever becomes the next Labour leader will represent Britain’s left-wing politics for years to come and, for women all over the country, they have the potential to champion policies which could actually make a difference and oppose those which could actively make things worse. 
Many of the rights women in Britain have today are enshrined in EU law. The reason we have at least 20 days of paid holiday is because of an EU working time directive which came into force back in 1998. More than this, protections for pregnant women at work and the minimum maternity leave women receive are rooted in EU legislation, too.
Now, I’m not suggesting that Brexit is going to turn Britain into Gilead. But if we’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that we can’t afford not to pay attention to the machinations of British politics. No matter how impenetrable they seem. While there has been no suggestion that Boris Johnson plans to chip away at maternity leave provisions, after Brexit becomes final there would be nothing to stop him trying.
The devil is always in the detail with politics. It’s no surprise that the endless news cycle and constant upheaval numbs us. After all, who can keep up? Who can continually maintain outrage? It’s completely understandable that so many of us find ourselves tempted to switch off. But that’s how they get you. That’s how societies sleepwalk into treacherous territory. 

More from Politics

R29 Original Series