R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Find out what it means to me, Mr Cameron

By Jenni Tomlin

Have you ever read or heard of Jesus’ comic metaphor for hypocrisy? It turns up in the book of Matthew in the Bible where Jesus asks his followers, ‘How can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye’. It is supposed to be a comically over exaggerated metaphor to highlight the folly of hypocrisy.

When David Cameron appointed Laura Trott as his female policy adviser last week, the first post of its kind, I couldn’t help but think of that speck and plank. It seems to me as though David Cameron and perhaps the coalition government in general, are trying to take the tiny speck out of their left eye, whilst wilfully ignoring the massive whacking great plank sticking out of their collective right eye.

Is Cameron the first PM to take women's equality seriously?

Laura Trott will be responsible for counselling the Prime Minister on how policies will affect women. This many say, is a positive step forward for women’s equality; a central role, a person with influence to draw to the Prime Minister’s notice inequality in legislation. For some this is a sign that the government is finally taking seriously their commitment to equality impact assessment in legislation.

It is well reported that women have been carrying a heavy burden where current government policy and legislation is concerned. Female unemployment is at a 25 year high according to ONS data, twice as many women than men lost their jobs in the last quarter of 2011 and there has been an 18% increase in unemployment amongst women compared to a 1% increase in men’s. On top of this we are faced with the massive reduction in Sure Start, the cuts in child tax credit, the dismantling of women’s services in councils around the country and the Fawcett society’s claim that the coalition’s policies are pushing women’s equality back a generation. All of this has led to the impression that the coalition isn’t quite on top of things where women’s equality is concerned.

Now as a woman with a firm belief that our society should enshrine equality at its heart, I sincerely hope that Laura Trott’s presence will stem the tide of collisions taking place. I also hope that the purpose of her appointment was sincere and that she will be genuinely listened to, not simply used as a women friendly PR puppet.

But back to my speck and plank- how can we take such a move towards equality seriously when there are still only 3 women in the cabinet? That’s 3 women out of 22 cabinet roles, a representative share of 13.6%.

How can we trust a government to take women’s equality seriously, when they can’t even take women’s representation seriously?

David- it’s time for a reshuffle.

  1. Ray said:

    Wikipedia lists 5 women in the cabinet: Theresa May, Caroline Spellman, Justine Greening, Cheryll GIllan (me neither) and Baroness Warsi.

    Also- pretty sure Nick Clegg decided the Lib Dem Cabinet members- all 5 of which are men. Bit harsh to blame DC for that. So out of Conservative cabinet members- DC picked 5 women from 17 positions- that’s 29.4%.

    Furthermore- virtually all cabinet members are chosen from the list of elected MPs, and therefore the pool from which DC can choose is heavily male dominated. The proportion of female Conservative MPs is 16% (49/306- quick check on website- could be out of date).

    Therefore I’d actually argue that David Cameron is statistically almost twice as likely to pick a woman as a man.

    By contrast- Gordon Brown’s last cabinet had 4 women from a total of 22 (18%) despite Labour having a lot more female MPs to choose from. (Current numbers are 48%- couldn’t find the figure but I imagine it was fairly similar before the last election)…

  2. Ray, that’s true – we should have checked the exact numbers. Thanks for providing the stats.

    I do wonder though – those stats may win the battle for Mr Cameron, but they would appear to lose him the war. 16% of Conservative MPs are female? I think that should lead to another blogpost.

    The reason the Labour Party is so much more ‘equal’ is because of the All-Women Shortlist system which, to date, only it has adopted (Seema Malhotra, who recently won the by-election in Feltham & Heston, for example, was selected through this system). Of course, many do object to the system of quotas on the grounds that it is not meritocratic, but the woman chosen by the Labour Party to stand does still have to win the popular vote and get elected, meaning she does still have to display a sufficient level of competence (unlike some of the ‘mama grizzly’ female candidates chosen to stand by the Tea-Party Republicans during the mid-terms – and we saw what happened there).

    In Parliament, I don’t think there has ever been any suggestion that the women aren’t up to it, or that they were somehow less competent, even if they were chosen through an AWS (Seema Malhotra, for one, has very good credentials). The wikipedia article on AWS cites a couple of articles suggesting Cameron is thinking about introducing AWS, but I do not know how this has progressed. At the next election, the boundaries will have been redrawn, so perhaps that would be a good opportunity to gradually introduce it to boost the number of women MPs. After all, if the system doesn’t lower the calibre of MPs, and boosts gender equality, I think it would be a good sign for Mr Cameron to show that he is actually serious about the issue.

  3. Ray said:

    Thanks for the response Babak- I’m undecided on all-women shortlists. But I don’t think david cameron is! http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/7265221/David-Cameron-I-will-impose-all-women-shortlists.html

    Makes it clear that he has already done this to boost women and ethnic minority MPs in a few cases- in spite of what I suspect was very stiff opposition from local conservative branches as well as here:

    He’s already taken the political flak on this so I think he is serious.

    Personally- I’d rather people focused on what I see as the real reasons for the lack of female MPs- they’re the same reasons that there are hardly any women in top jobs in any industry (except the civil service which has pioneered flexible working arrangements/women friendly policies but not introduced all women shortlists- http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/mar/03/civil-service-glass-ceiling-equality-bronwyn-hill)

    • (Thanks for the reply and the links, Ray. Perhaps if this is something you are really interested in, you could write a piece on it for us?)

      Yes I saw those Telegraph articles, but I also saw their date… I was just wondering what has happened since, given that those comments were from a few years ago, and still while he was in opposition. You say Cameron has taken the political flak, but Telegraph readers form a core Tory voting bloc, so I don’t think he really ever needed to worry about upsetting them a little – rather, the point of making these comments was to buttress the claim that he is a new, modern, more compassionate Tory, appealing to the centre-ground, independent voter, and such comments were part of a pre-election triangulation strategy.

      Perhaps that’s just me being cynical, but I can’t say I’ve seen enough evidence to say he is decided on the issue, as you suggest he is.

      I think all-women shortlists are themselves a short-term solution, but they will make parliament more representative in the long-term, not least by encouraging more women to get into politics (who can then push forward the arrangements that you suggest have worked well in the civil service). Simon “angriest man in the world” Heffer’s argument that the best person overall should be chosen – as opposed to the best person from half the population – relies on the premise that the best candidate IS chosen when there is a free choice, which seems to be a rather rudimentary fallacy. For one, the ‘irrational’ psychological factors are ignored, and men, traditionally, are seen as more powerful, charismatic figures than women, which people find important but strikes me as irrelevant for when it comes to assessing the best for the country (if indeed, this is what Mr Heffer cares about, and sometimes I’m not sure). Indeed, this line: ” Does it not occur to Mr Maples that the eight men chosen might just all have been superior to any women who were up against them?” raises the obvious question – namely, what does superior mean? There is perhaps something to be said for the potential problem of men disrespecting their female colleagues who were chosen through an AWS, but as I said previously, she would still need to actually get elected. And if anything, does this say something bad about the woman who is chosen, or the man, who still doesn’t realise that being a man gave him a measurable advantage?

      In principle, and according to the democratic ideal, politics should be all about substance, and the “superior” candidate would be the one who has put the most thought into policy and is best able to articulate with clear, cogent arguments how their thinking will improve our society. It should have nothing to do with image, and would also, therefore, be blind to ‘irrelevant’ factors. But as long as humans are homo sapiens, not homo economicus, and are divided into groups by arbitrary factors, and, thanks to inequality of opportunity, some not-so-arbitrary factors, that remains a wishful dream…

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