Corbyn's reshuffle condemned as a 'pat on the head' for women

Jeremy Corbyn Meeting

Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle appointing a record number of female shadow cabinet ministers has been criticised by Labour MP Jess Phillips as a “bit of a pat on the head” for women in the party.

Before the reshuffle, Phillips called for Corbyn to promote women to one of the four great shadow offices of state as a sign the leadership was prepared to tackle low-level misogyny within Labour, but she said the end result was a missed opportunity.

The Labour leader now has 17 women and 14 men among his top team, after Emily Thornberry was promoted to shadow defence secretary and Michael Dugher was sacked as shadow culture secretary.

However, some Labour MPs are still unhappy that the leader, deputy, shadow chancellor, shadow home secretary and shadow foreign secretary are all still men. Former acting leader Harriet Harman has publicly called for Labour’s rules to change to put an end to all-male leadership teams.

Writing for the Guardian, Phillips said: “I had hoped post-reshuffle I could have written an apology. A jubilant ‘they are listening sisters’ piece. Instead there has been another missed opportunity to reorder the feted top four jobs and give at least one to a woman.

“Now that those in the leadership have had time to find their feet, allies and enemies, I think they could manage at least 50/50 across all of the positions in the party.

“In fact I feel that the result of the smallest reshuffle which took the longest time is a bit of a pat on the head. ‘There, there dear, you got a couple more women’. I know it is hard and is like a house of cards, but if it were me I’d have managed it.”

Phillips said she believed the Labour leadership team did want to fight for equality for women but they “think it is a happy byproduct of the cause”.

“And because of this they could potentially turn a blind eye to some terrible misogyny in some of the causes they support,” she said.

In particular, Phillips cited the fact that former Labour and Respect MP George Galloway, who has made controversial comments about rape and forced marriage, has “said he is great friends with some of Labour’s top team”.

Phillips, who said last week she might one day like to lead the Labour party, has become one of the party’s most outspoken backbenchers since entering parliament just eight months ago.

It was widely reported in September that she told the shadow international development secretary, Diane Abbott, to “fuck off” after confronting the Labour leadership team about the lack of women in the most senior positions.

The Labour leadership has said it is an outdated view to see those four roles as the most important over portfolios such as health and education.

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During the reshuffle, Corbyn appointed two women to the only shadow cabinet posts that he changed and promoted six women and two men to junior shadow posts.

Kate Green, shadow women and equalities minister, said it showed Corbyn’s Labour party was “again ahead of the curve, with women now making up 55% of the top team compared to just 33% for the Tories”.

Cat Smith, shadow women’s minister, added that the party was “doing more than ever to improve representation, backed by a political plan to call time on Tory austerity measures which are hitting women three times harder than men”.

In an interview with the the Yorkshire Post, Corbyn likened his frontbench reshuffle to “a multidimensional game of chess”.

The Labour leader said of the process: “You start off with a chessboard and that’s fine, then you realise you’re playing a game on a parallel board as well and then you suddenly find there’s a third board down the way.”

The Labour leader explained the length of time it took to complete the reshuffle on the fact he was listening to what MPs and advisers had to say.

“My great failing in life is to listen to everybody at whatever great length they wish to speak to me,” said Corbyn.

“I sat in my office until midnight for two nights running to go through all of this and we finally completed all the appointments last night by a series of text messages whilst I was on the platform at a huge rally in support of legal aid.”

After the first two days of negotiations, Corbyn avoided a mass shadow cabinet walkout of up to 10 MPs after he reached an agreement to keep Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary, in his post in return for an end to public dissent over policy.

“I’ve had lots of conversations with Hilary Benn and we get on fine,” said Corbyn.

“Hilary and I did not agree on Syria, that was very obvious. We have had a long discussion about how we approach foreign policy issues. We are not in hugely different places.

“I’ve now got more staff in place to be able to help that liaison process. I want to see Britain’s contribution to international affairs being one of not necessarily intervention, but one of democracy, human rights and political process which is why the emphasis I made on the Syria debate was about a political outcome in Syria.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason and Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Thursday 7th January 2016 18.00 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010