A woman leader could give LAB the polling breakthrough that it is looking for

A woman leader could give LAB the polling breakthrough that it is looking for

Don Brind on Corbyn’s successor

I was on holiday last week with an old mate who is intensely proud of his northern roots. Born a scouser he made his mark on Yorkshire newspapers before his well-honed shorthand, bulging contacts book and nose for news earned him a transfer to Westminster.

He became a popular and respected member of the lobby but decades after his arrival there it still rankles with him that his accent was mocked by a southern, middle class colleague.

That snobbery is alive and well, according to research showing teachers often feel under pressure to change their accents. Surveys by Alexander Baratta, lecturer in English Language at the University of Manchester / revealed that “many teachers – notably those from the North and Midlands – are being told by mentors to adopt a more general (less broad) version of their accents to help construct a more professional identity.”

The country has a wide variety of accents, she said, “but not all are created equal – with some accents deemed to be more socially acceptable than others.“

It’s an issue dear to the heart of Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner who popped up Twitter Angela Rayner?Verified account @AngelaRayner to declare “it’s important that regional accents are celebrated & not “poshed up” … I have myself faced attacks on my accent but have no plans to change it”. Rayner is undoubtedly a contender to become Labour’s first woman leader, especially if you share my assumption that the next leader must come from the Corbyn wing of the party to have any chance of being elected.

By chance, another person who fits the bill, Emily Thornberry was also taking about accents. “You sound posh” said the BBC’s Nick Robinson  in a podcast interview with the Shadow Foreign Secretary. The Today presenter observed that she has none of the shrillness that some women are accused of. Thornberry explained that being sent off to a choir at the age of seven taught her to breathe properly and project her voice, which also “benefited” from years of smoking. Twenty years as a criminal barrister have also given Thornberry the confidence and poise which she displays to great effect in the Commons espcially when standing in at Prime Minister’s questions.

So Thornberry probably has the edge but, for the record, I would be happy with either. Or both. How about a new dream team of a female leader and deputy leader?

“In your dreams. Jeremy is here to stay”, could well be the response of  loyal Corbynistas to my musings. And indeed, Corbyn’s position has seemingly moved from unassailable to impregnable, with the triumph of Momentum candidates, including founder Jon Lansman, in the elections to the expanded National Executive Committee.

And yet. And yet.Unconscious of the irony that he polled just 65,000 votes Lansman  hailed his victory as a landslide, tweeting that that he was “really honoured to now represent almost 600,000 members on the national executive”. His vote was 11% of the total membership and less than a third of the “200,000 supporters” claimed by the Momentum website. Some landslide.

    A much more serious question for Team Corbyn, though, is why, given everything that’s happened to Theresa May and her ministers the Tories are still level pegging in the polls.

Corbyn is rightly credited with performing well in the General Election but we can be sure the next election, whenever it comes, will not be a straight re-run, especially if the Tories can arrange of change of leader.

It’s worth recalling what happened in the early 1990s. The poll tax had made Margaret Thatcher deeply unpopular. Guardian ICM polls in 1990 shows that Labour, under Neil Kinnock’s leadership, enjoyed double digit leads throughout the year, peaking at 24% in the April.

The polls at the time almost certainly had a Labour bias but the key point is that the election of a new leader, John Major, in the November transformed Tory fortunes.

Should Labour now wait and see what happens if the Tories change leader — or should we get in first?

The Labour benches are packed full of talented women. They form 45% of the PLP and Corbyn has ensured that this is reflected in his front bench team.

He would earn his place in Labour history if he stood down voluntarily and declared that he wanted his successor to be a woman.

Don Brind

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