Opinion

It’s still a man’s world

Photo in the public domain

What a statement to make in January 2021, no its not January 1921 when this was most definitely true. As a father with two daughters, I constantly tell them there is nothing that they cannot do now, if they want to. Perhaps there is one exception though, readers may wish to build on my initial short list. My list is very short, but it’s so representative of the country, our society and of our democracy and its unforgivable that this is happening. My list starts with the leaders of our country and the Conservative Party cabinet. There are 21 members of the cabinet, 16 are male and five females. Perhaps we should be lucky that there are even five female members, but when it comes to the flagship political TV programmes on Sunday mornings, it appears that the government is applying its ‘stay at home’ message to the female ranks of the cabinet. Perhaps the women are at home ironing on a Sunday and doing household chores.   

It is understood that Allegra Stratton, the prime minister’s new spokeswoman, has been tasked with implementing a new strategy to redress the gender imbalance within the party, parliament and policy. But this is going to become an impossible job isn’t it? The government is led by an elitist class of ‘posh boys’ who all principally went to private school followed largely by Oxford, Exeter, Cambridge or Durham university where behaviour towards female gradates has been shocking and has featured in national news reporting recently. 

What kind of behaviour did these members of the current cabinet practice when in university? We know that Mr Johnson had a colourful time at university and was notorious in his reported activities and why does it matter now? His multiple marriages tell their own story.  These male members of the cabinet seem to like the sound of their own voices and being in front of the camera and have totally dominated all the appearance of these flag ship political programmes.

Details of the latest snub to Johnson’s female cabinet ministers have provoked a backlash among senior women in the party. Caroline Nokes, the former minister who chairs the Commons women and equalities committee, said: “By not putting up female ministers to speak on the main political Sunday morning programmes, the party is failing to engage with half of the electorate. It also smacks of a government led by men for men”.

Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, who co-founded Women2Win to promote women in politics, said: “Women make up 51 per cent of the population, and it is unhelpful when they don’t see anyone who looks like them and sounds like them on the main political programmes.”

In total, male cabinet ministers have appeared on the programmes 65 times since the start of the first lockdown, while Patel — the only female cabinet minister to be put forward — has appeared just twice during the same time period. Thérèse Coffey, who runs the Department for Work and Pensions and has overseen the expansion of universal credit, has not appeared once, and nor has Liz Truss, the international trade secretary.

By contrast, Labour has put forward 17 male and 17 female shadow cabinet members on The Andrew Marr Show. On Sophy Ridge on Sunday, 18 male shadow cabinet ministers and 17 female shadow cabinet ministers have made an appearance since the first lockdown.

Johnson has previously been accused of not valuing the women in his top team after it emerged in December that Downing Street had not used a female minister to lead its coronavirus press conference for more than six months. Patel has since led two press conferences.

A spokesman for the BBC said: “We request female ministers and representatives from all of the political parties, but we can’t control which political guests agree to appear.”

A spokeswoman for Sky said: “Sky News believes in parity of opinions and voices and is an advocate of diversity on screen and off screen.”

One political party where diversity is embedded in their DNA is the Green party. There are two co leaders a man and woman, Jonathan Bartley and Sian Berry. I had the pleasure of meeting Caroline Lucas MP, their only member of parliament, and being photographed with her at a Channel 4 debate in November 2019. She was the only woman in a debating panel of four but she got the best response and reaction from the audience.  Why is it strange that we remember so well the strong articulate consummate performances given by some of our top women MP’S like Caroline Lucas and Yvette Cooper, who is chair of the Home Affairs Select committee.?  Out of 650 MP’s in parliament there are only 191 women, just 21% of the total.

 But this male dominance has even spread into Covid-19 official messaging. The government was forced to withdraw an advert which featured women home schooling, doing domestic chores like ironing while the male who featured in the advert was relaxing on a couch while his wife and daughter was curled up beside him. The advert provoked furious criticism and was withdrawn. 

Lorraine Candy, former editor of Sunday Times Style Magazine who reported on the advert, along with Glamour magazine, said: “Are there no intelligent, smart women advising the government about this? I am perplexed by the lack of awareness.”  It would appear none are around in the cabinet or in senior roles within the civil service and who could have approved this advert.

A report last November by the Fawcett Society, a charity campaigning for equal rights, found the pandemic was having a ‘devastating’ effect on gender equality in the workplace, with women more likely than men to lose their jobs or be left dealing with childcare.

So, with females making up 51% of the population, these old male and pale stereo typical males better watch out. There are smart women out there in every political party who will, given half a chance, take their jobs and be much better at them and the Green party is leading by example.

We need enormous political change. Let’s make it happen now, the suffragettes didn’t die for nothing did they?

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