It was a savvy move. As well as bringing some much-needed diversity to his male, pale and stale pitch, picking her showed he wasn’t afraid of a whip-smart, articulate and spirited woman. When he won, it was all the sweeter because she won too and together, they made history.
But what next? Harris helped Biden win. But will he make her a true co-pilot or will she be the junior partner? I hope it’s the former, but have some anxiety. I interviewed a senior Democrat adviser on my Times Radio show soon after the result was called.
I was slightly alarmed when he said Harris would be an important asset to help the President reach out to women, minority and young voters. Don’t get me wrong. Outreach to these groups is vital and something which I advocate but it’s often easy for the white, male leadership team to outsource that to the minority in the team so they can crack on with the heavy-duty, big-ticket ‘man’s work’ like the economy, infrastructure and the pandemic.
Just because you are the rare woman or brown person, why should you have to do all the heavy lifting on diversity when your white boss is the one who needs to go on a journey? You’ve lived it your whole life. You are the destination.
I hope Harris will want to make life better for people of colour and women but she can do that better from a position of real power, if Biden allows it. Being the no 2 is tough. One of the reasons why Armando Iannucci’s satire Veep is so good is that it’s close to the bone.
The Vice-President character is frustrated at being so close yet so distant to power. The constant refrain “has the president called?” is painful in its eternal disappointment.
While Labour has never elected a female leader, it has elected deputy leaders, Angela Rayner, Margaret Beckett, and Harriet Harman who I advised for almost a decade. While she had great admiration for her bosses Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband and was close to them, it was often difficult for her to carve out her own authority on issues other than women and equality.
She was not made Deputy PM by Gordon Brown, and Ed Miliband appointed other men to be the general election coordinators. Even though Harman achieved great things such as the Equality Act, many women felt disappointed their voices were not taken seriously at the top. And they were right.
Biden must make Harris his true equal, and not treat her like a token, instructing his team, and this is critical, to treat her and her staffers with respect, and give them a permanent seat at the table. Don’t fob her off with pet projects to keep her away from the ‘big-boy’ politics. Don’t dupe, gaslight and ‘handle’ her. We want to see her by his side on all the big calls.
If Biden can show that arguably the most powerful man on the planet is all the stronger in his leadership for having this incredible woman by his side, that really will make history and create lasting change.