When Harriet Harman announced that she was going to bring the election to women around Britain, via a bright pink bus, the media descended to see the wheel thing

12 February 2015

The Times

Democracy in the pink (or is it magenta?)

It is not the first time that I have waited for a bus, but this, of course, was not just any bus. It was, or so I was led to believe, a Barbie bus. Well, maybe a bit bigger. This is because it was pink or, possibly, magenta.

“There it is!” we cried as the bus turned into the approach road to the Stevenage Arts and Leisure Centre. The barrier rose and the Women to Women bus crept forward, as pink as you can be and still be legal, a giant blob of bubblegum on wheels. Cameras rolled. Cameras clicked. The media mini-scrum surged.

“I’m here in front of the pink bus,” reported a TV reporter, “or is it magenta?”

The pink side door slid open. Labour’s deputy leader, Harriet Harman, emerged and we all noted that she was not wearing pink. Other Labour MPs followed, also wearing an array of non-pink-ness. I waited until the last had emerged but, disappointingly, Barbie was not among them.

A posse of photographers, all male, circled the bus, shooting it from all angles. It reminded me of those automobile shows when photographers clicked away as a woman dressed, if not in pink then not in very much, writhed on the bonnet of a new car. Now, in Harriet World, there was no need for a scantily clad woman. The vehicle was fascinating in itself because it was, amazingly, defiantly, eye-poppingly, pink.

There was only one question on all TV reporters’ lips.

“Why pink?” they asked Harriet, before adding: “Or is it magenta?”

Harriet did not answer directly (she is a politician). “It’s an eyecatching colour,” she said. “This bus is not Just a colour. It’s about something. It’s about our democracy.”

Is it? I thought it was about being pink.

The entire (and overwhelmingly male) Westminster world is excited by its colour, deemed to be patronising and sexist, a gender stereotype on wheels, an insult to all. I must admit that I like pink (and magenta) but I may be wrong.

Harriet, shamefully veering off-pink, tried to talk about childcare and equal pay and how to reach the 9.1 million women who didn’t vote in the last election. But what was this? A protester had come up behind Harriet, holding a giant pink sign. Later I would discover his name was Bobby Smith, a New Fathers for Justice campaigner who is angry that a court has ruled that he cannot see his two girls.

“You didn’t want to see men in pink,” said Mr Smith. “Well here I am. This is the last straw. It’s definitely not equality.” He added: “When is the blue bus coming?” Or, indeed, the purple one?

Mr Smith opened his jacket and, chest pumped up, exposed a white T-shirt that said: “This is what a victim of feminism looks like”. Mr Smith quickly became a commonplace part of the scene, roaming round, posing before the bus, a man on a mission to make this all about him.

The women gathered for one last pink-tastic photo. Mr Smith sidled into the picture, sign aloft. A woman tried to move him along. He refused. “Hands off me!” he said. “Hands off me!” He stood firm. A moment later, a photographer boomed out at him: “Hey, get out of the picture, mate!” Mr Pink obeyed immediately, leaving the women to their photo in front of the pink (or possibly magenta) political icon of the day.