The problem with the referendum debate, Angela Eagle pointed out in the Guardian, is that it’s been dominated by ‘[David] Cameron and George Osborne on one side; Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage on the other.’
And you can see her point. The referendum was only called in the first place because the legacy of Margaret Thatcher had fatally split the political Right between unprincipled pragmatists and xenophobic Little Englanders, and the campaign so far has seldom ventured beyond the Conservative family feud: even Farage struggles to get a word in.
Except that that wasn’t what Eagle meant. What strikes the Labour Party’s business spokesperson isn’t the political colouring of the participants – it’s their gender. ‘Even the language of election campaigns can be unmistakably masculine,’ she writes. ‘The talk is all of civil war; of the big guns being rolled out; of the big beasts battling away. The problem is, all these beasts are blokes.’
It was in order to solve this problem that Eagle and three other female Labour MPs held a press conference. Disappointingly, though, ‘much of the coverage focused on a question about a comment [Harriet] Harman made about Kim Kardashian. That says it all, really.’
Yes, who would have guessed that the British press would ditch discussion of the EU in favour of a story that linked a reality TV star and Page 3? Clearly not Harman, who’s only been an MP for thirty-four years and hasn’t quite got the hang of the media yet.
If Harman hadn’t played to a tabloid agenda and given her opinion about Kardashian, there would certainly have been less coverage of the press conference, but maybe it would have been of a higher quality. When you’re trying ‘to highlight the missing voices of women and the importance of the vote on EU membership for women at work’, there’s nothing much to be gained by exploring the frothy fringes of popular culture.
So we didn’t find out what the distinctively female voice of Labour had to say about the EU. And when Eagle gets a Guardian piece to discuss the issues, we still don’t find out. Instead, the whole piece is about the marginalisation of women in politics. ‘It is absolutely vital too that we start taking female politicians in the UK more seriously,’ she concludes. ‘Women need to be seen and they need to be heard.’
This is true. It’s a genuine problem. But why not use the platform to talk about the issues? There’s an element here of the people who call radio phone-in shows to bemoan the fact that political correctness stops them talking about immigration; and when asked what they want to say, they merely repeat that they’re not allowed to talk about it.
I’ve long thought that Angela Eagle is one of the better politicians in Labour’s front-rank. But I still don’t really know where she stands on the EU.