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Labour's Jeremy Corbyn laughs off 'sexy sea dog' tag in call for gender equality

Published 28/07/2015

Jeremy Corbyn vowed unflinching support for women in the fight against violence and abuse
Jeremy Corbyn vowed unflinching support for women in the fight against violence and abuse

Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn has spoken of his embarrassment after women on an internet website branded him "very sexy" and "attractive in a world-weary old sea dog sort of way".

The bearded 66-year-old left-winger's blushes came as he launched his policies on gender equality with a promise to have a 50% female shadow cabinet and "work towards" ensuring half of Labour MPs are women.

Policies in Mr Corbyn's Working With Women document include forcing companies to publish equal pay audits and moving towards universal free childcare.

Appearing on BBC Radio 4's Women's Hour to discuss his ideas, the Islington North MP - who has been a surprise poll leader in the race to succeed Ed Miliband - was also asked about the discussion prompted on Mumsnet by a user who asked: "Anybody else think Jeremy Corbyn is very sexy?"

"This is the most embarrassing thing I've ever heard," he said. "I had a bit of a chuckle about it, but I'm actually a bit embarrassed, to be quite honest."

However, his embarrassment did not prevent him from appearing later alongside fellow-candidate Liz Kendall in a webchat on Mumsnet, in which he agreed that she and Yvette Cooper had been subjected to damaging sexist attitudes during the leadership campaign.

"I think people should be judged on the policies they're enunciating and not on levels of bad attitudes or abuse that are heaped upon them by anybody else and some of our popular media," said Mr Corbyn. "Actually, I don't do personal, I'm more interested in ideas and politics."

Speaking on Women's Hour, Mr Corbyn criticised the media for focusing on personalities rather than policies in a race which has already seen Chuka Umunna withdraw his candidacy because of the scrutiny directed at family members.

"It is very sad that some sections of the media are incapable of engaging in any of this at a political level and engage in it solely at a level of personal intrusion and personal abuse," he said. "Does it hurt those around me? Yeah, it does."

In his new document, Mr Corbyn called for an "urgent" end to Government cuts in public services and welfare, which he argued are pushing women and families into poverty.

"Women face abuse, mistreatment and persistent discrimination, and they face it in work, at home and on our streets," he said. "Yet they disproportionately shoulder our unpaid care work, the daily grind of surviving on low pay, and the pain of cuts that have closed domestic violence shelters and left them with no safe haven.

"The time for timid measures is over. Today's proposals would go a long way towards building a society where women and men exist as equals and flourish. Women deserve fair pay, fair chances and unflinching support in the face of violence and abuse."

As leader, he said he would offer equal protection from discrimination at work from the first day of a woman's employment, promote sex and relationship education in schools and take steps to ensure laws on sexual assault and protection from harassment are implemented.

Newly-elected Labour MP and Corbyn supporter Kate Osamor said: "We can't change the world overnight, but we can do much more together to achieve greater equality and opportunity for everyone.

"One of the main things that I like about Jeremy's approach to his leadership bid is it's not all about him - he knows that the model of the suited-and-booted media star leader is over."

Ms Kendall told Mumsnet that the contest has sometimes felt like the 1970s or 1950s, following controversies over whether the women candidates are strong enough to lead the party and whether a woman without children has the necessary experience to take the helm.

"Yep, sometimes it has felt a bit 1970s or even 1950s," said Ms Kendall.

"I'm a feminist - I believe women should be judged by their ideas, their values, and what they have to contribute, not by what they wear, what they look like, or their family situation or relationships. We have a painfully long way to go before that's the case."

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