FORMER council leader Sarah Hayward was back on our television screens yesterday defending Claire Kober and criticising Labour’s National Executive Committee for asking Haringey to pause its housing deal, the Haringey Development Vehicle. This is, of course, in contrast to her successor Georgia Gould’s decision not to pass comment on the controversy unfolding on the other side of the borough boundary. Apparently, some of Cllr Gould’s groupies inside the party at first felt the media rounds were undermining the newish leader in Camden, but have since reached the view that it actually does the opposite by showing she is not overly influenced by the leaders of the past.
There are at least two different debates going on: was the HDV a good thing (see a thousand internet articles on this), and are Labour’s women facing intolerable abuse if they defer from Jeremy Corbyn’s script. On the claims of sexism, Cllr Hayward has always been an interesting speaker, because she gives examples of where she has faced hurdles that she says would not be put in front of men. We’ve covered some of the talks on this she has given before: she said she was hampered in the Labour selection contest in Holborn and St Pancras, eventually won by Sir Keir Starmer, for example. On one occasion, she recounted how she had been told she would not be taken seriously as an MP because she was a woman, and on another, she said people raised doubts about whether she should be selected because it was not clear as to whether she wanted children or not.
“A number of people asked what my plans were to have children – questions that would actually be illegal in any other job situation. I’d go: ‘No, no, don’t worry about that. I don’t plan to have children. It’s just a choice I’ve made,” she said on International Women’s Day last year. “And they look at you as if you are some kind of devil woman for not wanting children.”
On the Sunday Politics yesterday, Cllr Hayward, who is stepping down from the council in May, explained some level of sexism has always existed in the Labour Party, as she was asked by BBC presenter Norman Smith whether it was getting worse. “I think the atmosphere has got very, very difficult internally within the Labour Party since Momentum has been on the scene,” she added.
Another studio guest, Dawn Butler, the Labour MP in Brent Central, had a slightly different interpretation of the party’s performance on this in the last few years, insisting sexism and bullying was being cracked down on. “I know the media always tries to blame everything on Momentum. I don’t think that’s the case,” she said. “There isn’t a new culture and there never will be and we will make sure that if there is one developing, it will be stamped out.”