UK: Harriet Harman MP gives governmental and financial patriarchy a richly-deserved roast Print E-mail
 London ~~ Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Harriet Harman: 'If only it had been Lehman Sisters'

By Nigel Morris, Deputy political editor

Harriet Harman yesterday laid the blame for the financial crisis on the male domination of the top jobs in banks. The deputy Labour leader suggested that the presence of more women in the boardrooms of financial institutions could have eased the impact of the meltdown.

Ms Harman, who is in charge of the day-to-day running of the Government while Gordon Brown is on holiday, was defending her call for one of Labour's top two jobs to be filled by a woman.

Asked whether the turmoil would have been avoided if more women were in senior positions, she referred to the US investment bank whose collapse triggered the crisis. "Somebody did say ... that if it had been Lehman Sisters, rather than Lehman Brothers, then there may not have been as much," she said.

"I do seriously think half the financial services industry is women now," she told GMTV. "Women make up half the workforce of insurance companies and banks. Why shouldn't they have a say on boards as well?"

Just five of the 61 board places in Britain's "big four" banks are occupied by women and the boards of Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland are entirely male. One senior banking source admitted: "There is a poor representation of women but that is true in many walks of life."

Ms Harman's comments came a day after she said that men "cannot be left to run things on their own" in the Labour Party. Ms Harman, who is also the minister for Women and Equality, refused to back down from her stance.

  • Females on the board: The 'big four' banks
  • 0 Number of women who sit on the 15-member board of Barclays Bank
  • 3 Women, alongside the 15 men, who form the board of HSBC Holdings
  • Female directors at Lloyds TSB: one non-executive and one executive from a total of 15
  • 0 Women in director roles at Royal Bank of Scotland from a total board of 10
 London ~~ August 2, 2009

Harriet Harman: you can’t trust men in power

Isabel Oakeshott, Deputy Political Editor

HARRIET HARMAN has demanded that one of Labour’s two top posts should always be held by a woman ­ because she believes men cannot be trusted to run organisations on their own.

Labour’s deputy leader secretly tried to change party rules two years ago to ensure that it could never again be led by an all-male team, but she was foiled.

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Harman reiterates her belief in the principle and says her role as Gordon Brown’s second-in-command has changed for ever the way the party will be run.

“I don’t agree with all-male leaderships,” she said. “Men cannot be left to run things on their own. I think it’s a thoroughly bad thing to have a men-only leadership.”

Harman tried to change the party’s rules shortly after winning the deputy leadership contest. An insider who was involved said it was rejected out of hand by the party hierarchy.

Harman said it was put on the backburner because Labour was busy “getting on with the job” of running the country. She insisted she had been right to press for the change.

“In a country where women regard themselves as equal, they are not prepared to see men running the show themselves,” she said.

“I think a balanced team of men and women makes better decisions. That’s one of the reasons why I was prepared to run for deputy leader.”

She said the party “owed it to women” to have a female in one of the two top jobs, to ensure concerns of women voters were properly taken into account when decisions were being made.

“Actually, I don’t ever think there will be a men-only team of leadership in the Labour party again. People would look at it and say, ‘What? Are there no women in the party to be part of the leadership? Do men want to do it all themselves?’ It just won’t happen again,” she said.

Her attempt to change Labour’s rules was discussed by just a handful of senior party officials.

“There was amazement when Harriet suggested it,” one said. “It was seen as a naked attempt to position herself [for the leadership]. We didn’t think it was the right step.”

Harman said that, internationally, female political leaders were “coming of age”. She refused to be drawn on her ambitions, saying she believed Brown would win the next election and remain in the top job.

Harman has led a determined campaign to promote more women to top jobs, particularly in the City. Under her controversial new equality bill, employers will be given a legal right to choose female candidates in favour of equally qualified male applicants.

She faced a battle with Lord Mandelson over fears that the legislation could increase red tape for businesses struggling in the recession. She admitted her feminist agenda had sometimes caused “creative tension” in government, but said she was determined to ensure women’s voices were heard.

In a wide-ranging interview, Harman also admitted to mistakes over the Equality and Human Rights Commission. She defended her controversial decision to reappoint Trevor Phillips, its chairman, which triggered a spate of resignations from commissioners.

She revealed she has ordered Phillips to restructure the troubled organisation, which brought under one roof advocacy groups on disability, race and gender. “We put it all into a melting pot when in fact it needs to be distinct strands,” she said. “I think the model was not one that was likely to succeed and it hasn’t.”
 London ~~ Monday, 3 August 2009

Joan Smith: Men, power and a reality check

Harman is right to say what she did, and millions of women are cheering her on

Thirty years after Margaret Thatcher became prime minister, the position of women in British politics could hardly be more dire. David Cameron, William Hague, George Osborne and Chris Grayling hold the top jobs in the shadow Cabinet. Nick Clegg, Vince Cable, Chris Huhne and Edward Davey lead the Liberal Democrats. Only Labour has a woman in one of the very top jobs – Harriet Harman, who was elected deputy leader of the party two years ago – but even she has been denied the deputy prime ministership enjoyed by her predecessor, John Prescott.

This is a disgrace and a scandal. It should also be a crisis, prompting the country's political leaders to ask themselves hard questions about their prejudices towards women. In that context, Harman's demand that Labour should never revert to a duumvirate seems modest and reasonable. That won't stop some Labour backbenchers muttering among themselves and making the kind of sneaky comments which will no doubt surface in right-wing journals: women wouldn't need special quotas if they were any bloody good, Harman's equal-opportunity agenda will ruin the economy, and so on.

But look at what she actually said in the interview which has caused such a furore: "I think it's a thoroughly bad thing to have a men-only leadership." So do I. What's controversial about that? I'm not suggesting women should rule the world, just that we should have equal access to the top jobs. It's a fair bet that Cameron's first Cabinet won't have a female Chancellor, Foreign or Home Secretary, and Harman herself is an anomaly in a Labour administration which has retreated from the heady days when almost a third of Tony Blair's Cabinet were women. As a rule, the Lib Dems don't matter as much as the two main parties, but they could hold the balance of power after the next general election and the absence of women at senior level exposes the emptiness of their claim to offer a radical alternative.

"In a country where women regard themselves as equal, they are not prepared to see men running the show themselves." That's Harman again, and millions of women – who have votes – agree with her. We don't think there's anything natural or reasonable about the preponderance of men in politics, and we've put up with it only because there hasn't been a choice; it is a well-known fact that parties have always tended to pick male candidates for winnable seats. In the old days – by which I mean as recently as the spring of this year, when for various reasons everything began to unravel – old loyalties were powerful enough to allow political parties to go on behaving as they always had. With an unprecedented number of MPs standing down at the next election, I'm not sure any of the parties can rely on that in future.

Here's a final quote from Harman: "I think a balanced team of men and women makes better decisions." Again, you would have to be an out-and-out misogynist to argue with that. Of course, no one who attacks Harman will admit to that, although they reveal their personal venom in cheap remarks about her name – they love to call her "Harperson" – and her posh background. The right has developed a sophisticated argument about gender difference that doesn't openly denigrate women but has the effect of maintaining the status quo, which is grossly unfair to women.

No one should ever underestimate the incredible power of the status quo. Most people believe that what they grow up with is normal, even if a moment's reflection shows that it's actually unfair and elitist. With notable exceptions, like Lady Thatcher, the political establishment in this country has always been male-dominated; anyone who challenges it can easily be portrayed as shrill and envious. The argument that something has always been done in a certain way has immense appeal, as the front benches of the three main parties show, unless you happen to be one of the people who lose out because of it.

In the case of British politics, it's undeniable that millions of women are not being properly represented and there could not be a better symbol than the fact that we don't even have equal pay. The percentage goes up and down by a few points year by year, but what doesn't change is that women tend to be paid less than men; on this issue, trades unions with their male general secretaries are as culpable as politicians, having consistently failed to make equal pay one of their top priorities. It's been left to firms of solicitors to bring lawsuits against employers, including local authorities and hospitals, which haven't complied with legislation that was supposed to address this unfairness more than three decades ago.

In her interview yesterday, Harman appeared sanguine that Labour wouldn't go back to the days when the leader and deputy leader of the party were both men. She may be trying to achieve though public pressure what she hasn't been able to do in private; her attempt two years ago to change the rules got nowhere because the party's hierarchy threw its collective hands up in horror. That was just after she became deputy leader and since then things have arguably got worse; Lord Mandelson, who isn't even an MP let alone elected by the party, is now Brown's No 2 and de facto deputy prime minister.

In the end, this debate is about being modern. Those of us who live in European democracies support a view of human rights based on equality and fairness, yet our political structures signally fail to reflect it. So do pictures of the present Cabinet and TV coverage of both houses of Parliament.

What kind of image does this country want to present to the world? Brown is scarcely better than Cameron or Clegg on this issue, and all three of them need to think about the message they are sending to women voters – and political leaders in other countries where women have many fewer rights. Our leaders should come clean about whether they believe their own rhetoric on gender equality, and accept that they're in danger of being regarded as hypocrites if they don't put it into action.

Harman is absolutely right to say what she did, and millions of women are quietly cheering her on.
 London ~~ Monday August 3, 2009

Men cannot be left to run the country, says Harriet Harman

Harman: "In a country where women regard themselves as equal, they are not prepared to see men running the show"

By Sam Coates, Chief Political Correspondent

Harriet Harman walked into a personal row with her predecessor yesterday after declaring that men cannot be left to run things on their own and Labour should always have a female leader or deputy leader.

Labour’s deputy leader and Equality Minister angered John Prescott by asking whether it was wise to have an all-male leadership team and suggesting it would never happen again.

“I don’t agree with all-male leaderships,” she said, in remarks that will be seen as an attempt to remain at the top table in the event of a leadership contest after the next election. “Men cannot be left to run things on their own. I think it’s a thoroughly bad thing to have men-only leadership.”

She even made a sly dig at Mr Prescott. Saying she inherited his office in Whitehall, she added: “That’s why it’s so big.” This irritated Mr Prescott, who reported on his blog that she of all people should know “you can’t dictate equality”, because she beat four men to become deputy leader because of her talent, not because of her gender.

“Quotes like this just raise leadership issues once again just at a time when we should all be pulling together and defending our record,” he wrote. “Success doesn’t come from saying all-male leaderships are bad and trying to change party rules to ban all male leadership ... Why take away from the party the right to choose its leaders on the basis of ability? You can’t dictate equality in leadership elections. You must let the party decide.”

This came as Ms Harman defended her decision to reappoint a man ­ Trevor Phillips ­ to run the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, an organisation which she admitted was giving her “great concern”. Denying that friendship had clouded her judgment ­ “he’s not a socialising friend of mine”, she told the BBC ­ the veteran equalities campaigner conceded that the body which has lost six commissioners because of Mr Philips’s leadership needed to be “stable”.

Lynne Franks, a PR consultant who campaigns on women’s issues, said that the existence of a gender balance in leadership made “good sense”. She said: “It’s not a question of talent. Women and men have different attributes that are better used together. On the whole, women are better at relationship-building and men are more linear.”

Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat women’s spokeswoman, said that Ms Harman’s sentiment was right, but her solution was wrong. “I think there’s a danger of us couching this as ‘no to men’ and stopping talented men, when it should be about recognising talented women are being put off going into politics.”

Tessa Jowell, the Olympics Minister who was one of “Blair’s babes” in the early days of new Labour, said that women voters expected to be more fairly represented. “I doubt that policy changes affecting childcare and flexible working hours would have been given such priority if there were still more MPs in Parliament called John than all the women put together, as there was when I joined.”

Today Ms Harman will begin her second week “minding the shop” in Downing Street. She sought to play down reports of a row with Lord Mandelson, deputy prime minister in all but name, over the extension of maternity leave from nine months to 12.

Reports that Lord Mandelson is being lobbied by Labour backbenchers to renounce his peerage and stand as an MP in the next election to be available for a leadership contest were dismissed as a “silly season” story by those close to the Business Secretary.