Business women spoke to Labour’s deputy leader as the party’s high-profile pink campaign bus arrived in town.
Harriet Harman arrived on the ‘Woman to Woman’ bus in Slaithwaite with Jane East, Labour’s parliamentary candidate for the Colne Valley, and talked about issues facing the local business women over a coffee.
The discussion ranged from VAT and sick pay to how to encourage more women to vote to the cost of looking after loved ones.
In an interview with the Examiner, Harriet defended the pink bus, which proved controversial when first unveiled, saying: “It has been lampooned as a gimmick, but I think everybody knows it is all about women and about getting more women to vote.
“It’s eye-catching and it has got a very serious purpose.”
The deputy leader said the party was trying to encourage women who didn’t vote in the last general election to cast their vote, but said the coalition government back-tracking on election manifestos had “injured democracy” citing u-turns on VAT promises, tuition fees and the NHS re-organisation as making people wary of politicians.
Harriet added: “Jane herself said that people see politicians as breaking promises once in government.
“It is important for us that every single thing we put forward sets out how we will do it and how we will pay for it because people are very suspicious and feel that promises are being made and broken.”
Jane, an international aid worker, added: “Coalition doesn’t mean you give in to your core policies, you hold true to your values and find the bottom line then you negotiate on the grey areas.
“I’ve spent 30 years of my life negotiating in difficult situations, it may require compromises but it doesn’t mean you break promises.”
During the discussion Emma O’Connor, of Slaithwaite Post Office, Jane McGrath, a B&B owner, and Janice Joyce, owner of the Vanilla Bean cafe, were among the women to highlight the range of issues facing them.
It included changes to sick pay for employers and VAT, business rates and promotion.
Harriet asked if they as employers had a sense of the cost of living for their staff, how they had overcome a difficult few years and how big business impacted on small businesses.
Talk turned to how many of the women were not only looking after grandchildren but also caring for elderly parents while juggling a business.
And encouraging women to vote was key, with Harriet saying: “At the last general election nine million women didn’t vote, after a long period of progression we’re seeing it slip back into the old ways.
“Pay rates in this area are £743 a year worse off than they were in 2010 for women, I want women to have their say, I want us as politicians to understand the issues they face and I’ve made notes because I don’t want to forget what I’m being told.”