Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Why Labour's pink bus isn't so bad

As the theme of this here blog suggests, I'm not exactly one to shy away from pink. For the entirety of my adolescence, my bedroom was bedecked in varying shades of the colour, and even now, I have a certain soft spot for it - with a weakness for anything from pink lipstick to pink Penguin classics. But I can also confidently vouch for the fact that an interest in pink and politics do not have to be mutually exclusive.

This week, Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman and her 'Woman to Woman' campaign hit the road in what the Evening Standard has dubbed the party's "bright pink battle bus", and its reception has been lukewarm, to put it mildly. It's been decried as patronising and cutesy, with memes on Twitter drawing parallels with anything from Sheila's Wheels to the bus that Barbie drives. Lynn Barber, one of my favourite writers, didn't mince her words, labeling Harman simply as "thick" for travelling across country in this magenta mini bus.

I do see their point. In the same way that some people take issue with their daughters being marketed nothing but fairy princesses and love hearts while their sons are bombarded with pirate ships and dinosaurs, this campaign could be seen as a patronising attempt at wooing the simpering female voter - one who's apparently likely to respond to pretty colours, while men can be politically engaged merely by processing the cold hard facts. As a friend of mine ranted sarcastically on Facebook in response to the campaign's "Have a conversation about the kitchen table around the kitchen table" line: "Why would women want to learn about Labour's policies on education, the economy, the EU, the environment, or crime? Those are male policies!"

Aside from my own penchant for pink, though, there are a number of reasons why I can't muster up quite as much cynicism. The primary of which is that at the last election, 9.1 million women didn’t cast a vote, and young women in particular are statistically shown to be uninterested or disengaged, at least, from the electoral process. I often see this first hand - only recently I was involved in a conversation where at least three women, all in their early twenties, claimed to know "nothing about politics" or to be "not really that interested". I'm not suggesting a pink bus is going to be enough to change this attitude - nor should it be - but trying to address this lack of engagement with how our country is run, and who by, is surely no bad thing. It's worth bearing in mind too, that when pink is employed elsewhere - it completely dominates campaigns such as Cancer Research's Breast Cancer Awareness for instance - people aren't quite as quick to jump on the bandwagon.

As Harman said this morning, "I think the one thing that women will be discussing with us will not be probably the colour of the bus, they'll probably be discussing whether they get the same pay as men in their workplace, the same opportunities, whether they are tearing their hair out looking for childcare, whether or not, if they're looking after older relatives, they can combine that with work."

It would be easy to dismiss the bus and the campaign it represents as backbench MP Caroline Dinenage does, as little more than "just another divisive gimmick that the electorate will see through", but personally, much as I love it, I'd rather see past the pink and look at the actual politics.