Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Self-Defeat of Political Tokenism

Diane Abbott must face serious questions about the seriousness of her candidacy

At the risk of sounding politically incorrect, it must be noted that defeated Labour Party leadership candidate Diane Abbott was a token candidate.

Not a token black candidate (although she was keen to invoke race when she declared Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy PM Nick Clegg to be "posh white boys"). Rather, she was a token female candidate.

Looking back on the Labour leadership campaign, it's hard to view her otherwise. She was never a serious contender. She very seldom brought anything of interest to the table.

In fact, the only attention-worthy statements from Abbott during the entire campaign were far-from-Earth-shattering speculation on the role of major donors on the leadership campaign, and questions about the legality of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In other words, Abbott strove to be little more than a standard left-wing candidate.

There seemed to be little compelling reason for her candidacy. Her campaign's sole boost came when disgraced candidate John McDonnell -- who obliterated his own slender chances at the leadership by musing about a desire to assassinate Margaret Thatcher while she was Prime Minister of Britain -- withdrew from the contest and threw his support behind her.

His reasoning? The Labour leadership contest needed a female candidate.

If Abbott being a woman was truly the only reason why electors in the campaign -- consisting of Labour Party members, Labour MPs and members of affiliated groups -- would want to vote for her, Abbot's candidacy was in trouble from the very get-go.

This shouldn't be mistaken for a suggestion that women shouldn't run for the leadership of political parties.

In fact, strong female candidates speak volumes about the strength of a particular political party. That Labour couldn't produce a strong female candidate for leadership does precisely that.

Even Abbott's own constituents declined to support her. Of the electors within her riding of Hackney North-Stoke Newton only 20.55% cast their votes in her favour.

While her candidacy may have been based on the best of intentions -- providing demographic diversity in the Labour leadership contest -- it certainly hasn't met those intentions.

In fact, Abbott's candidacy could be considered to have done a disservice to women in the Labour Party. If Abbott's candidacy -- a waste of time and resources by any account -- is the best the women of the Labour Party could produce, the role of women within the party should be very much a matter of question.

This is how political tokenism -- in the name of feminism, race, or anything else -- defeats itself. The next token candidate should leave such matters to serious contenders.

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