For a long while now Prime Minister David Cameron, and the entire Conservative Party for that matter, have suffered from accusations of a ‘woman problem’, wherein critics have pointed to the lack of female representation within the Tory-led Coalition cabinet. Thus, the latest government reshuffle is a point of significant interest. Dubbed another ‘Night of the Long Knives’ by certain senior Conservatives, Cameron culled numerous middle-aged men from the top of government, to make way for a series of senior female appointments. This was likely be the last government reshuffle of this parliamentary term as we are inching ever closer to the increasingly tight 2015 general election. Cameron’s move allows him to address the Tories’ so-called ‘women problem’, and of course reel in more votes at the next election by staking a claim to diversity. Now, I do not for one second question the nobility of replacing middle-aged white men with talented women at the top of government, on the contrary, it is a cause I commend, and one that should be furthered in order to tackle the despicable level of gender inequality at the top of UK government; whereby the likes of Afghanistan, Honduras and South Sudan enjoy a greater proportion of female representation in parliament than Britain. What I do question however, is Cameron’s motives.
A recent article from The Economist made for very interesting reading, pointing out the idleness or inactivity of the present parliament, due to running out of a legislative agenda agreeable to both members of the coalition government, and forward-thinking policies for that matter. Thus, it is telling that the Prime Minister waits until now to make a much needed to change to the governmental elite by promoting women to the fore. Do not mistake me, from day one I’ve viewed Cameron as one of the most liberal and progressive members of the modern Conservative Party, and I don’t entirely doubt his commitment to diversity and equality. However, my question is, if Mr Cameron truly believed in these values, why did he not promote women to his cabinet sooner, rather than an opportune moment when his party was under-fire for a lack of female representation, when ministers were no longer highly active, and when the election was only a hop-and-a-skip away. I suppose I could be accused of being cynical for suggesting that this reshuffle was merely a tactical, vote-winning manoeuvre, aimed at answering the gender-fuelled criticisms from Fleet Street and the opposition benches, and closing the gap on the mother-intended-voter deficit the Conservatives are facing at the hands of Labour. However, I am confident that the cynical one here is our Prime Minister, taking note of a weakness his party faces entering the election, and addressing it at the 11th hour in an attempt to secure re-election. If David Cameron truly believed in equality, and the ample promotion of women to the cabinet, why I must ask, did he wait until now to oversee such a ministerial transformation?
The lack of female representation at the height of government is a disgrace that the Conservatives do not face alone, but previous Labour governments must also stand up and be counted for; Harriet Harmon’s recent outburst criticising not only Cameron but also previous Prime Minister Mr Brown for this very injustice must not be taken lightly. We find ourselves in a situation where women comprise the majority of the British population, yet only account for 23% of the seats in the Commons. This is why it is so insulting that our Prime Minister finally enacts a mass promotion of women as merely a form of tokenism, a political tool and a voting chip as opposed to a genuine effort to improve equality and representation. He looks down on women by inviting them to the table at a time when they’re in no position to make meaningful change to the legislative agenda, and he insults women by refusing to promote them to the cabinet until now. This is why I hope that voters see through this truly cynical reshuffle which is aimed not to address the gender inequality that exists at the heart of the British government, but rather at the procurement of votes, and frankly, at women’s expense, who shall be treated more as electoral chips than equals as long as this calculated political manoeuvring continues.
By Nathan Phillips