Harriet Harman paints Yorkshire pink in Labour’s battle bus

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Labour’s infamous ‘pink bus’ arrived in Yorkshire today, Harriet Harman in tow, to woo women voters ahead of the general election . Molly Lynch reports.

JUDGING BY the reaction of customers, the tables in this Morrisons cafe are rarely reserved. Today may perhaps even have presented a first.

But with a general election just weeks away, no one is safe from the politicians travelling the length and breadth of Britain in a bid to woo voters and score as many photo opportunities as possible.

Even the unassuming shoppers in the Rothwell area of Leeds, including one elderly lady who fails to spot the special sign. She has barely stirred the sugar into her mug of tea when she is shooed away.

“You can’t sit there - these seats are reserved,” a waitress tells her. Confused, she toddles off and does as she’s told.

The irony of this episode is that this is the table where Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman is to sit down and speak with the ‘real women’ of Yorkshire ahead of the election.

Harriet Harman in Rothwell, Leeds, chatting to staff on her Woman to Woman tour

Harriet Harman in Rothwell, Leeds, chatting to staff on her Woman to Woman tour

This big-name-politician-visiting-a-marginal-seat scenario is made slightly more exciting by Ms Harman’s chosen method of transport. The pink bus.

Ever since the launch of Labour’s Woman to Woman, a tour of the UK designed to engage women in the world of politics and promote the party’s first ever women’s manifesto, the colour of the vessel and campaign materials have been the subject of much discussion. Tory MP Angie Bray, among many others, called it ‘patronising’.

But to the group of supermarket staff and women assembled to grill Ms Harman, the colour of the bus is of little relevance. Typically feisty Yorkshirewomen Amanada Brown, 36, and Lyndsay Connor, 28, have much bigger fish to fry.

Both single mums struggling to make ends meet, they want to work more hours, earn a better income and gain promotions but they are trapped, they say, by the cost of getting someone to mind their young children outside of school hours.

I’ve been all around the UK speaking to hundreds of women and no one wants to talk about what colour the bus is.

Harriet Harman

“The summer holidays are the worst,” Miss Connor tells Ms Harman, who sits opposite, nodding and taking notes.

“My mum still works full-time but she uses her two days off to care for my son so I can go out to work. She doesn’t get a break.”

Ms Brown believes that earning the living wage, which would see her pay increase from £6.40 an hour to £7.85, would improve her life and the life of her two children.

She said: “I feel worse off every year. Everything goes up and your wages seem to go up less than everything else.”

According to Labour’s Veronica King, who is standing in Elmet and Rothwell, one in four people in the constituency earn the living wage. The national average is one in five.

Conveniently for this PR exercise, both these issues are covered in the women’s manifesto.

“We will give companies who pay the minimum wage rebate on their National Insurance,” said Ms Harman, “and every three and four year old would get 25 hours of free childcare a week to support working parents.”

Less clarity is afforded over what happens once children reach school age, which would really help women like Ms Brown and Miss Connor.

One thing for certain, however, is that the women of Yorkshire want their voices to be heard. All of the Rothwell group have strong views on what they want from the next Government - child care, the NHS and cost of living are high on their agenda.

“I’m not bothered what colour her bus is, I want a bit of cash to spare after bills,” one pipes up.

“I’ve been all around the UK speaking to hundreds of women and no one wants to talk about what colour the bus is,” Ms Harman told The Yorkshire Post.