DOES it matter how many women sit around the Cabinet table?
David Cameron clearly thinks so if his “women-friendly” government reshuffle this week is anything to go by.
Received wisdom has it that the Prime Minister suffers from “a problem with women”, and 10 months before the General Election he has tried to solve it.
So in come comparatively young women such as Nicky Morgan, the new Education Secretary and Liz Truss at Environment. Former TV presenter Esther McVey and Baroness Stowell will also sit in Cabinet, although not as full members.
The cynical take on this is that it is little more than a bit of window dressing – a desperate attempt by the Conservatives to look a little less “stale and male” in the eyes of voters.
But isn’t this attitude more than a bit sexist? Isn’t it just possible that these women have been promoted on merit? Surely they should be judged on their abilities to do their new jobs, rather than on their gender.
Another notion widely discussed in recent days is that women can bring a different and refreshing insight – more caring and less confrontational – into the traditionally testosterone-fuelled, male-dominated world of politics.
Much has been made, for example, of the fact that both Morgan and Truss are mothers – the first in the Cabinet since the resignation of Maria Miller earlier this year.
The idea is that women who have brought up a family and managed to hold down a career are somehow more in touch with the lives of ordinary people than men.
Perhaps, but Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg are both fathers – and they went so far as changing the time of Cabinet meetings so they could fit in the school run.
Could it really be true that a mother has a clearer notion of the difficulties of family life than a father? Don’t they each share the same experiences and want the same things for their children?
What is certainly true is that since former shopgirl Margaret Bondfield became the first female Cabinet minister in Ramsay MacDonald’s 1929 administration, there has been a succession of powerful and effective woman at the very top of British politics.
Margaret Thatcher, the first and so far only woman Prime Minister, is the shining example, but mention could also be made of Ellen Wilkinson, Education Secretary in Labour’s reforming 1945 administration; Barbara Castle who courageously tried to reform the unions under Harold Wilson; Margaret Beckett, who was a key member of Tony Blair’s team and, in the present day, the formidable figure of Theresa May as Home Secretary.
What all these women seem to share is a brisk, no-nonsense efficiency but also a steely toughness with perhaps more than a hint of ruthlessness. Perhaps women do bring a unique insight into politics, but on this evidence it certainly has little to do with a softer, more caring approach. Perhaps to succeed in politics women have to beat men at their own game?
Either way I can think of nothing more patronising than assuming women will vote for your party because you have more females at the top. Women are not aliens from the planet Zog; they care about the same things as men do – the economy, education, tax, health, housing, crime and immigration.
Come next May’s general election I suspect the key priority for women – and men – will be the economy, and they’ll vote for the party with the best policies to keep the recovery on track.
And that’s why I suspect Ed Miliband has a much bigger “problem with women” than David Cameron does.
Hot air forecast
Clipboard man is alive and well and issuing a finger-wagging lecture on how to survive the heatwave forecast for the next few days.
The quango Public Health England has warned the public to open windows at night, wear a hat and sunglasses if venturing out in the sun and to drink plenty of cold liquids.
Thanks guys – we would never have thought of that on our own.
It is going to be tough – but most of us will just about survive.
It’s called summer and it happens every year.