I’m using my July TBR picture as this book was in that one. Pressing on with my 20 Books of Summer, this represents book number 7, so I’m probably not going to complete the challenge this year but I’m going to have a nice booky time trying! I bought this book during my May 2018 book token rounding up bonanza – see the whole pile here and it’s interesting that I obviously do NOT read my books in acquisition order as I claim, as I read the Zephaniah almost immediately (OK, reviewing it for Shiny New Books) and took “The Sparsholt Affair” on holiday in March. Ah well!

Harriet Harman – “A Woman’s Work”

(22 May 2018)

An excellent autobiography, very inclusive and team-orientated, with great insights into her beliefs and how she got where she got and did what she did. Harman explains in the Acknowledgements that she’d denounced men’s political memoirs as vanity projects and claimed she was never going to write one, but then she realised that none of those described the changes in women’s lives over the last 30 years, or mentioned the women who were instrumental in legislating for many of these changes. This is the result, putting that right.

And she certainly does, taking pains to give massive credit to her staff, friends, family, political peers and forebears and colleagues and constituents for her triumphs and wins, but remaining clear-headed about her own mistakes, for example not standing up for herself when she wasn’t made Deputy Prime Minister when she became Deputy Leader of the party, or being unprepared for government and basically messing things up and getting sacked.

From the introduction, which draws parallels between her and others’ experiences of sexual harrassment in their early working lives and the issues women face now, the discussion of the women’s movement’s different strands and where she fits in to them and her stories of her life as an MP, Harman shows herself to have remained resolutely woman-centric and concerned with pushing women’s rights and opportunities, working on massive reports in government and opposition. She even has a woman-centric attitude when Ed and David Milliband are fighting for the leadership: “What would happen to the one who won? And to the one who lost? And what must their mother be feeling about it?” (p. 327)

I hadn’t quite realised how ground-breaking she was, being the first woman to be pregnant in Parliament, at a time when there were more MPs called John than there were women MPs, at that! She admits she made mistakes about which conventions to obey and which to flout but it’s also fascinating to read about how she pushed forward relationships with women journalists in the press lobby and even mentored new Tory women MPs in this century – while never losing her Labour and feminist principles, of course. I loved the story of how she shielded her new baby from Margaret Thatcher’s gaze (while not taking him through the voting lobby as she was accused of doing).

A lot of this book is sadly relevant today – the 1980s divisions in Labour that they took such pains to heal and the feelings of the people that Labour wasn’t to be trusted to govern then. She lays out principles for moving forward near to the end of the book (in I think a new section added for the paperback) and bemoans missed opportunities, saying quite rightly that getting the full Equalities Act (the final act of the last Labour Government) through would have helped mitigate working-class people’s resentment of the Labour as well as Tory political elite.

A generous, warm and clear-headed account of an extraordinary life in politics of the woman who was briefly my MP (and a good friend and ally of my later MP, Joan Ruddock).

This was Book 7 in my 20 Books of Summer project.


I’ve moved on to Margery Sharp’s excellent-so-far “The Eye of Love” as my first Virago of All August / All Virago and Book 8 although I hope to fill in the other three non-Viragoes at some point!