Speaking at an event in Cambridge titled Where Are the Women?, Harman said: “I think that the strand of the left that Jeremy comes from has never been a gender motivated part of the left.
“It comes from a time in a way when gender was a new insurgency that arrived later on and was seen as a bit of a distraction from the proper left-right struggle.”
The MP for Camberwell and Peckham also repeated criticism that the party’s most senior figures are all men, including the deputy leader, general secretary, London mayoral candidate and the MPs shadowing the “four great offices of state” – the leader, shadow chancellor, shadow home secretary and shadow foreign secretary.
“It is very difficult to be a party arguing for women’s advance when your top swathe is men,” she told the audience at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge, on Sunday.
Following Corbyn’s shadow cabinet reshuffle – in which half of the posts were given to women – the party’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, said the idea that there were four great offices of state came from the 18th century and that the posts of education and health secretary were just as important.
“We have a shadow cabinet of a majority of women covering all areas of policy and public life and I think it’s a great team. And it reaches out to the entire party and I think that is a bit of an achievement, if I may say so.”
Asked about McDonnell’s defence, Harman said: “[Education and health secretary] are very important jobs, but I’m thinking about the leader, the deputy leader, the general secretary, the London mayoral candidate. Before you even get to the appointed jobs, there are those voted-for jobs so Jeremy needs to think about how it is being perceived.”
Harman, who has twice been her party’s acting leader, suggested that Labour should introduce the role of an additional deputy leader, elected by the membership, that could be filled by a woman: “So we would have a leadership team of three, of which one would be a woman and she would be there in her own right, not appointed by Jeremy.”
Asked about the party’s change of direction under Corbyn’s leadership, Harman said she was in the Labour party to change laws and not for “doctrinal purity”.
“I think that the ultimate responsibility of a leader of the Labour party is to take us, a Labour party, nearer to power and that is what needs to happen because we can protest about what the Tories are doing but we have got to understand why it is that they are in government,” she said.
“They are in government because people voted for them in sufficient numbers and didn’t vote for us in sufficient numbers.”
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Monday 16th November 2015 17.39 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010