This post originally appeared on Labour Uncut.
Watching Maria Eagle open an opposition day debate for Labour on rail fares on Wednesday, with a woman shadow transport minister sitting alongside, I couldn’t help contrast that with the phalanx of men on the government’s new transport team. Four ministers all men.
When he was modernising and “detoxifying” the Tory party, David Cameron made much of getting more women into Parliament. And to be fair the 2010 intake of MPs showed a step change for the Tories in terms of women on their benches. Further Cameron said he wanted to see that one third of his ministers were women by the end of the Parliament.
Half way through it is just one in six. That includes some peers – the situation in the House of Commons remains overwhelmingly male. A lot of press attention was paid to the cabinet (one woman less) but the interesting thing to look at is the junior ministers, those from whom future cabinet members may hope to come. What do we see?
In the treasury there are now five men. The only woman there before, Chloe Smith, has been shuffled off to the cabinet office, doubtless on the back of her now notorious Newsnight performance. But she was only trying to defend the indefensible, with Osborne, as is his habit, happy to hide behind his junior ministers at such times.
And it continues. Defence – five men; foreign office – five men; local hovernment – four men; energy and climate change – four men; and environment – four men. A few of the smaller departments are all male as well, but these bigger ones should have given Cameron at least some scope for gender balance.
Yet the women, especially the women elected in 2010, have been widely seen as being effective and talented. I may not agree with what they say but see them being active in the chamber, in select committees and running various campaigns. Scanning quickly down the list I came across one man whose name was so unfamiliar I had to look him up. Turns out he’s been undercover in the whips office for the last two years. A few months ago I overheard a couple of male Tory MPs saying that whips’ threats about promotion were meaningless now because they were the “wrong age and gender.” They can breathe again. Their party has reverted to type.
The 2010 intake (both men and women) have been particularly rebellious on Europe and the House of Lords, and few prime ministers would quickly forgive that, especially with the House of Lords scars being so raw. But there are a number of loyalists among the women who have been inexplicably overlooked, especially if Cameron was serious about bringing the proportion of women up by 2015.
But then like “the greenest government ever” it is doubtful he really believed in it.