Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Go on David, ignore the lads and place women in Cabinet

Time to listen: David Cameron has the chance to create a truly progressive cabinet with more female ministers like Villiers
Time to listen: David Cameron has the chance to create a truly progressive cabinet with more female ministers like Villiers

David Cameron is widely expected to shuffle the Cabinet this autumn, with Tories including Theresa Villiers, Amber Rudd, Nicky Morgan and Karen Bradley all hotly tipped for promotion.

The amateur detectives among you will have noticed that these names all happen to be female. Imagine that, eh?

Actual, honest-to-goodness women sitting up at the big table, injecting their ancient and mystical female energies into the sleepy mix of mothballs, testosterone and old-school pride that is the current Cabinet.

Actually, hold on. Let us not celebrate too soon, as here comes overseas aid minister Alan Duncan banging away at the big drum marked 'Beware: Progress ahead'.

David Cameron, Duncan says, should avoid "tokenistic" gestures in an effort to boost women in his top team.

"I never wanted to be a token gay," Duncan said. "And now things have progressed, so there is no need for it. Nobody should want to be a token woman; it should all be based on merit."

Golly gosh, I had no idea that homophobia had been wholly banished from politics and public life outright, but I'll take Duncan's word for it.

Alan, after all, due to this new-fangled meritocracy, is a jolly clever chap. He is much, much smarter than me, you, or anyone else in the country today, or thanks to the stiff rules of fairness within the Westminster establishment, he would not be a top dog (which he clearly is).

Alan, as a white, male Oxford graduate who attended Harvard, worked in the oil industry and, by the 1990s, was firmly entrenched within the daily Conservative hubbub alongside William Hague, Michael Howard et al, must be wholly certain that, in 2013, he has his job via pure merit.

Or, perhaps, just perhaps, very occasionally, Alan considers that, if Westminster jobs were doled out purely via a series of stiff written exams, blind interviews and vigilant cronyism-weeding, he might have been replaced several years back by a 35-year-old British Sikh woman with a Masters from Loughborough University.

Now, I don't wish to pick on Alan Duncan unduly. His rise to power is no more remarkable, or privileged, than several dozen other Government faces.

Alan's "tokenism" concerns over prising just a little power from male hands and handing it to women only echo the views of many terrified souls, when the age-old apple cart is rocked.

Sorry, excuse me while I splutter about a word as innocent as "tokenism", but merely breathing it in relation to the job world suggests that one believes that the current dispersal of power and wealth to be beautifully just and fair.

These people must examine the FTSE 100 and notice only two female FTSE 100 chief executives, or see only 9% of executive director appointments during 2012 were women and think: "Well, now. There were clearly no women available. Perhaps they had their feet up watching My Life With Peter Andre on ITV2, or discovering the magical world of macrame".

And, then, when we do appear, a side head-tilt and, "Oh, there must have been some pressure from the PC brigade to have a woman. One of those women-only lists. Tokenism. I'm sure there was a better man for the job."

"Nobody should be the token woman," quips Alan Duncan. This is complete and utter balderdash. Women should, in actual fact, squeeze power out of the hands of men in any way possible, rise above the tedious labels thrown at them and have the last laugh handing the idiots their P45s. David Cameron has taken a drubbing from all sides in recent years for making only four women Cabinet members; then, following a stiff day of abuse for upholding the mighty patriarchy, it seems that he returned home to Sam Cam bending his ear.

"My wife likes to say," he admitted in Mumbai earlier this year, "that, if you don't have women in 50% of top positions, you are not missing out on 50% of the talent; you are missing out on more than 50% of the talent. And I think that she's right."

The idea that Cameron's strident feminist pronouncements are more than just hot air is truly marvellous.

Let us hope that he stands firm in the face of friends and colleagues, who realise that jobs for the girls actually means a decrease in jobs for the boys.

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