A couple of weeks ago, the Daily Mail had a field day as Labour unveiled its latest PR gaffe – a van whose ‘magenta’ sheen alone was supposed to transfix the female population and have them running (hysterically!) to the voting booth. To vote Labour, because they care about women – didn’t you see the van?
Maybe Labour do care about their female voters, but to target them in such a crude way is nothing more than patronising. The damage was most probably unintentional; it’s unlikely that Labour wanted to tell prospective female voters that they think a ‘Barbie bus’ will be enough to sway their vote. That doesn’t change the fact that they appealed to half the voting population much like toy manufacturers appeal to six-year-old girls. Lucy Powell’s comment about meeting women ‘around the kitchen table’ was really the final nail in the coffin though, reminding female voters that in addition to their universal love for pink, that’s where all women are to be found.
It seems like yet another failed PR stunt that Labour’s image just cannot afford. The top suggestion for ‘Ed Miliband’ is ‘Ed Miliband bacon sandwich’ – at the end of the day, many people vote emotionally and won’t vote for Miliband because they ‘can’t imagine’ him being Prime Minister. The Pink Van Incident may have been unintentionally patronising, but that just goes to show how out of touch the party is with its female voters. This is, perhaps more importantly, reflective of the broader issue of engrained sexism within politics. Ironically, the campaign was to bring more women into the political sphere and Harriet Harman, the longest serving female MP in Parliament, has long campaigned against inequality within Westminster politics.
Even though it is patronising and aims to win over all those ‘silly’ women who just can’t resist pink, it’s worth pointing out that at least Labour’s van isn’t telling immigrants to go home. You can’t have it all – this van avoided the lure of blatant xenophobia and opted for some prettily marketed #everydaysexism instead.
And although this is terrible PR and really does call into question the way Labour sees the female electorate, it’s important to note that a lot of the failed gimmick’s biggest critics in the media are hardly the type to challenge gender stereotypes themselves. The Daily Mail was absolutely overjoyed to see ‘Har-person’ labelled as patronising towards women, precisely because she is a feminist, not in the least because they saw the pink van campaign as crass themselves.
Of all the colours they could have picked, pink is the one that ironically conforms to gender stereotypes more than any other. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a woman who likes pink or that women who like pink are ditzy; it’s just extremely politically shortsighted as an example of encouraging a ‘pink is for girls’ culture which is particularly out of place in politics. Surely someone in the brilliant ‘collective’ that thought this up will have pointed this out? It’s a shame as well, because with all the talk of the pink van, the focus of the campaign’s actual policies – childcare, social care, domestic violence, equal pay and political representation – are being drowned out. These are all important issues that Labour would do well to focus on, but whilst they continue to make embarrassing PR blunders like this they will continue to be muffled.