Politics first, Gender later.

Today has been focused on women. The Synod of the Church of England has approved plans to ordain women bishops, a new report on women suffering in conflict has been released by the UN and unforgettably…

It’s “#Reshuffle day”! This rare event, especially under this coalition government, gets political commentators, analysists, enthusiasts and apparently even ministers and hopeful high flyers excited and nervous in equal measure.

But today’s reshuffle is centred around on the ubiquitous message from both the government and the media: Girl power. It is almost unanimously agreed that it is time for women to take more positions as ministers within the ranks of the government. Cameron has faced high levels of criticism because of this apparent “blind spot.”

Today’s Daily Dispatch is called “Politics first, Gender later,” for three distinct reasons.

Firstly, because it feels like Cameron’s attention on women in cabinet is, while not an after thought, secondary to the main business of government. Public confidence in ministers and effectiveness of policy delivery seems to be Cameron’s primary concern, no matter how the office of Number 10 spins the situation. Let’s exemplify this, if the rumours are true, Cameron is dispensing of Tory veteran and ex-leader Iain Duncan Smith. This is probably because he is unpopular with the public, he also is seen as ineffective. I would argue that it is not because he is male. With the current omnishambles that DWP are deemed to be in, and especially the “Universal Credit” program, which is seen as disastrous. Cameron should not aim to replace IDS with a women due to public cries to have a women promoted, instead, he should aim to replace IDS with one of the most capable and thoroughly able minister he has within his ranks. Because selling Universal Credit to the voters, and returning the Conservative’s message on reforming the welfare state back to prominence will take the Conservatives best and brightest minister.

I’m not saying that this candidate isn’t female: I’m saying that this candidate should be chosen on the basis of “Politics first, Gender later.”

Secondly, I don’t think gender should be considered as an after thought. Quite frankly, it shouldn’t be considered at all. It’s highly patronising to promote women in cabinet on the basis of gender, rather than the fact that many of these women, while I disagree with them on a considerable number of areas politically, are highly capable and accomplished individuals in the political sphere and beyond.

Over the past few years, I’ve not always found myself agreeing with the politics and views of senior individuals in the Labour Party. But today Yvette Cooper, current Shadow Home Secretary, hit the nail when it came to analysing the politics of Cameron’s Reshuffle. Cooper argued that:

“Cameron is treating the promotion of women as a last-minute worry”

While I disagree with Cooper that promoting women should be Cameron’s priority, I think it’s highly notable that Cameron seems to have re-worked his cabinet reshuffle to increase the number of women within it. Women are invaluable and undoubtably, having a women’s perspective in government, and since they aren’t a homogeneous block, having multiple female perspectives in government, is an asset any government should strive for.

But is the problem promoting enough women to Cabinet? No.

Lastly, it’s time to identify the real problem: Only 16% of Conservative MPs are women. There’s a problem in engaging women with general politics, not just in getting them into Cabinet. Only 13% of Ministers of all levels of seniority are female. That’s only a 3% difference, and while Cameron will be frantically trying to promote women, the real issue is trying to engage women with politics, trying to get women into Westminster, so then Cameron doesn’t have such a select bunch of women to choose from. And before you cry that the Liberal Democrats are the solution, only 11% of their MPs are women. The party of “empowering women and minorities” seem to have a track record that leaves much to be desired.

What I want to see from Cameron is that he promotes the brightest and best today, not that he decides that talent should be second to gender.


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