A strategic look at Yvette Cooper’s positioning as the champion of women

Yvette Cooper will be jubilant with Thursday’s events. Following her endorsement for the Labour Leadership by The Guardian, she gave a well-received speech criticising Jeremy Corbyn’s radicalism as “offering old solutions to old problems”.

Cooper has previously received criticism for not taking a clear position in the Labour leadership contest. Sandwiched between Corbyn on the left and Liz Kendall on the right, Cooper and Andy Burnham have come to represent the margarine in this leadership race.

This is understandable, as the candidates, with the exception of the authenticity of the Corbyn campaign, have been weary to say anything that could come back to bite them in a General Election.

Since the nomination of Corbyn by Labour MPs, it has become clear that the party membership has moved substantially to the left. Tony Blair has become a toxic symbol within the Labour Party; Cooper and Burnham have thus made an active attempt to distance themselves from the New Labour project. Both Cooper and Burnham are hindered, however, by the fact that both served in ministerial roles under Blair.

The Labour Party membership’s increasing appetite for radicalism has made it clear that in order to win the leadership contest candidates must move to the left of the perceived ‘centre’.

As the enormity of Corbyn’s lead in the polls has become clearer, Burnham and Cooper have had to make concessions to the left. Burnham has advocated a five-point plan that includes a Graduate Tax and renationalising the railways. Cooper instead is using her currency in the feminist movement in order to court their vote, a strategy that could be powerful and may cut into a substantial part of Corbyn’s support. In her speech on Thursday she said:

“So tell me what you think is more radical. Bringing back clause IV? Spending billions of pounds we haven’t got switching control of some power stations from a group of white middle aged men in an energy company to a group of white middle aged men in Whitehall?”

By placing her emphasis on women in governance, she establishes her radical credentials and diminishes Corbyn’s appeal. Many of Corbyn’s young supporters will identify as feminists and may feel that advancing gender equality should be a higher priority than other forms of social justice.

Leveraging her position as a popular feminist to establish her radicalism also means that she is under less pressure to outline her policies. This will give her a certain advantage over the other candidates if she manages to become Labour leader. She will effectively have a clean slate with which she can establish her claim of the centre ground.

It could also give her an advantage in a General Election campaign. Supporters of social justice in the Green Party, SNP and Plaid Cymru will be enthused by the chance to elect a progressive female Prime Minister. Whilst women are already more likely to support the Labour Party, the appeal of a female Labour Prime Minister could also be strong for aspiring young women trying to get ahead.

Could she alienate the social conservatives who previously voted Labour but voted UKIP in 2015? This demographic is largely male so this is a real danger for Cooper that she will have to manage carefully. However, as Labour leader she would have the flexibility to advocate for policies that they may find appealing.

There is still a long way to go and Corbyn’s support could still prefer the authentic radicalism of the veteran left-winger. Nevertheless, thanks to Cooper’s shrewd positioning in her Labour leadership campaign she is now the best placed candidate to defeat Corbyn and remain largely untainted by the leadership election.

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