Labour’s pink battle bus rolled into Gloucester today with deputy leader Harriet Harman on board in a bid to encourage more women to vote and to show her support for the party’s candidate for the city Sophy Gardner.
But the event was ambushed by two campaigners claiming to be from New Fathers 4 Justice after the shadow minister for culture, media and sport parked the infamous campaign bus at Gloucester Docks.
Police were called to accompany Miss Harman and Miss Gardner on a walkabout of Gloucester Quays, where they hoped to talk to female shoppers, after confrontations between the campaigners and Labour supporters became heated.
The pink bus tour, which has seen Harriet Harman leading a team of female Labour MPs around marginal constituencies, is intended to raise awareness of five key women’s issues: childcare, social care, domestic violence, equal pay and political representation.
The initiative is designed specifically to reach out to and engage the nine million women who failed to vote at the last general election – including 740,000 women in the south west.
But Bobby Smith, a father who says he has been denied proper access to his children, has been following the pink bus around the country accusing Miss Harman of ‘demonising men’.
He said he would “stop shouting” with his megaphone if Miss Harman listened to his story but the Labour MP said his issue was a matter for a family court, not a politician.
Speaking to the Citizen, Mr Smith said: “Yes nine million women didn’t vote but neither did eight million men. It this was a blue bus driving about it would get burnt to the ground.
“Fathers in this country falsely accused of domestic violence are lower down the scale when it comes to rights than a convicted paedophile. I haven’t seen my children for four years.
“I have tried everything else so I have to protest like this.”
Mr Smith, who had travelled from Hertfordshire, added: “This isn’t political. This isn’t against Harriet or the Labour Party. David Cameron has a restraining order against me. This is about equality and rights for fathers. This about changing the law. Domestic abuse is used by women to manipulate the system.”
Mr Smith has held several protests over equal rights for fathers in divorce and separation proceedings and reform of the family courts. He said he has tried to speak to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband but they have all “turned the other way.”
Speaking to the Citizen after taking refuge inside the pink bus, Miss Harman stressed that the gender specific campaign was important as “there are fewer women involved in politics and fewer women vote”.
She said: “I think it is striking that in the whole of Gloucestershire, across six constituencies, Sophy is the only female candidate from the main parties.
“In this day and age women don’t expect men to make all the decisions. They want to see women speaking up on issues as well as men.
“So many women are just coping one week to the next, one month to the next. If women are working hard and doing the important job of bringing up a family they should be supported.”
The decision to tour the country on a “Barbie Bus” has been criticised for being sexist and stereotypical.
Miss Harman said: “It is eyecatching and it looks great. People can see ti and recognise it and that was really important. We have got a very big message to get across to women – that we have come to listen to what they have to say.”
When asked whether she would take the time to listen to Mr Smith’s story, Miss Harman said: “I have talked to fathers’ groups over the years and I know what they are protesting about.
“He [Mr Smith] is protesting about his own family situation and that is not something that should be decided by politics. That is something for the family court.” source: imgur.com
Sophy Gardner said: “This is the sort of thing that puts women off voting or standing for parliament because it seems to be a lot of men shouting at each other.
“Unfortunately the attitude of the gentleman today was to shout very loudly which is quite intimidating and aggressive to some people.”
Former RAF wing commander Sophy added: “I have been to Iraq so I wasn’t intimidated myself but I know some people were. Although it gets attention it is not a conversation. It is confrontation.
“As a female candidate in a male dominated race I felt it was important to bring Harriet and the pink bus to Gloucester to show women that the Labour Party wants to talk to women and have that conversation.”