Belfast Telegraph

It's great that David Cameron is acting like a woman

By Jane Graham

Isn't the Coalition Government getting girlie? And boy, do I approve. David Cameron last week shelved Ken Clarke's misjudged plans to halve sentences for rapists who offer early pleas of guilty. It's the latest in a long line of government U-turns.

In the last few months we've had a climb-down from (stupid) proposals to sell off Forestry Commission land, a backtrack on the (ill-advised) scrapping of the School Sports Partnerships Scheme, and a long-term 'listening exercise' in the face of widespread dismay at Andrew Lansley's vision for the NHS, which will be used as an excuse to dump Mr Lansley's most ambitious/nightmarish ideas.

Ed Miliband pointed to the abandonment of Clarke's recommendations as proof of the 'total mess' the coalition is in.

His response was opportunistic and predictable, in line with the way UK politics has worked for decades.

Any admission of a re-consideration, the merest hint of self-doubt, has long been pounced on as a sign of weakness.

Margaret Thatcher's hard-line 'lady's not for turning' speech in 1980 formed the philosophical basis of her 11-year tenure, and Tony Blair was applauded for echoing it with his proud insistence that he had 'no reverse gear' after the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Ours is a male-dominated political system, not just in terms of the gender balance of MPs but with regards to principles.

It values individual leadership over consultancy, tough guy tenacity over common sense compromise - and often, a firm commitment to wrong over a slow journey towards right.

It's no surprise that Thatcher embraced the idea that listening was for losers.

Steely, stony, with the eyes of an aggrieved Rottweiler and the voice of a cornered dalek, she was never the most feminine of gals.

Ronald Reagan called her 'the best man in England', while PLO boss Yasser Arafat preferred 'the Iron Man of British politics'.

So it's little wonder that she prioritised sticking to her guns - literally when it came to the Falklands war - and pressed on with the implementation of the poll tax when even the Number 10 cat could have told her it was going to be one of the most disastrous and divisive policies in post-war history.

But for most women, amending our opinion after exposure to a persuasive new argument isn't weak, it's sensible. We're more comfortable than men taking advice from experts (because experts, uh, KNOW MORE THAN US) and it doesn't kill us to admit a mistake or make an apology. (It's notable that it was a woman - Caroline Spelman - who stood up in the Commons and actually said 'sorry' for the land sell-off debacle).

Unconcerned with the maintenance of our metaphorical manhood, we're free to change our minds (lady's prerogative) if it's clear that the result will be an improved outcome. Simple.

Cameron is a naturally touchy -feely type, but it's unlikely he would have had the nerve to govern in such a feminine way had he not been forced into a spirit of compromise by the realities of coalition politics.

That's something we know about in Northern Ireland, having witnessed some of the world's most macho politicians sit down and talk things through like sensible big girls.

The ConDems are still getting a lot very wrong but their chances of getting some things right are undoubtedly raised by their willingness to backpedal on dodgy ideas.

If we could get more women MPs - and a Commons timetable that allows working mothers to actually work in it - we might really be on to something.

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