Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Spice Girls of Westminster

Sometime last week, I was moving house and doing trips in my Smart car from my empty hulk of a house to the storage place, and I heard Kirstie Allsopp on Radio4. She reminds me of a girl I used to know, confident, brazen, bubbly, conservative. Slightly sad eyes, with a child-like innocence. Anyhoo, it was some debate about how there were so few female cabinet ministers in the coalition government, and so few female MPs.

I'm paraphrasing, but Kirstie's point was that being an MP is a male game, there are plenty of women in politics, but they're mostly behind the scenes as lobbyists and researchers and officers, rather than chasing the fame game as MPs. Some sectors are dominated by women, publishing and lobbying she said.

Her point reminded me of some article I read in the Daily Record in 2007 about how grave diggers (a male profession) were paid more than primary school teachers (a female profession). Its not quite as simple as women get paid less than men, rather, people are free to take whichever jobs they want, women don't chose grave digging and so don't earn the same pay.

The thing is, the barriers stopping women from becoming grave diggers and men becoming primary school teachers are different to the barriers stopping women from becoming MPs.

Charlotte Gore has a neat take on the subject of female cabinet ministers.
You know what I’d love? I’d love to be able to write something along the lines of “every single woman who’s a minister or cabinet minister is there out of merit and ability to do the job, rather than tokenism. That matters more than the numbers.”

I’d love to be able to write that… but I’d have to be a fool to believe it. For it to be true, it’d have to be true of every single minister – not just the women. The exception that disproves it, quite obviously, is George Osborne, someone who’s as qualified to be Chancellor as I am.
To become a cabinet minister, you've got to not just personally choose to pursue that career, even if there are all women shortlists and special arrangements for childcare and family friendly flexible working hours, you've still got to get elected, persuading your constituents to vote for you over voting for the other candidates, male or female. Your ability to be elected has to outstrip the electability of your competitors.

Even then you've got to stick at it for more than one length of government.

And then to become a cabinet minister, as Charlotte points out, you've got to become part of the prime minister's trusted circle, you've got to be amongst his best mates. Its not enough to be great at your job, or to have carved out a specialist subject niche, like Housing or Defense. You've got to do that and be mates with the PM.

And clearly these things are difficult to do.

The one strategy that occurs to me, that might get more women into cabinet, rather than having diversity targets or all-women short lists, would be a girl-group, collaboration between the women PPCs or MPs, a gaggle if you will.

So, that in the same way that when Dave is PM you get George as Chancellor, or when Nick is PM you get Vince as Chancellor, you know that when you elect Diana, you get Mary and Florence too, or when you elect Geri, you get Victoria, Emma, Mel and Mel.

Its a brand thing. Some political brands ought to be WOMEN, not a pro-women party or policy, but something self-evidently dominated by women.

Hmm, maybe some folk already do this.

1 comment:

  1. you missed out that MI5 also give the PM feedback on potential Cabinet appointees (per the BBC article t'other day). Bet that puts an interesting spin on things...