In the immortal words of that sainted political guru, Tammy Wynette, “sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.” But it’s a complete skoosh compared with how hard it is to be a feminist confronted by Boris’ cabinet.A line up hailed as emblematic of modern Britain, and allegedly, one letting more female talent punch holes in that stubborn glass ceiling.But here’s the rub. Page 32, paragraph 4, section 2a of the feminist handbook –OK I made that bit up -exhorts us all to rejoice in the sisterhood clambering up any available ladder. The theory goes that women on top, (outside the bedroom), has been an ambition long delayed by the men in suits clogging the rungs.
That theory barely survived the stratosphreric rise of Margaret Hilda Thatcher, commonly thought to have swiftly kicked the ladder away behind her when she grabbed the top job. And commonly believed to have much preferred the company of men, most especially if they had courage to flirt with her. (The late Alan Clark, Tory minister, and talented diarist, was one of many Conservative colleagues to pronounce her sexy. Each to their own.)
Then the Tories got the double up with a second female premier in the rather less charismatic guise of Theresa, a woman only known to have extra curricular dalliances with unattended wheat fields. But now, post May, we suddenly have a nap hand of maidens getting an innings from Captain Johnson. Of Amber Rudd, I admit, I did once harbour hopes. Though when your debut at the font had you christened Amber Augusta Rudd, it’s a safe bet that mummy and daddy didn’t envisage you blossoming into a fast food waitress. Plus the fact that Richard Curtis hired you as the “aristocracy co-ordinator” for Four Weddings and a Funeral: testament to the quite extraordinary number of Dukes and Earls with whom you are apparently on chummy, first name terms.
Yet even when you had to resign as Home Secretary over the disgrace of Windrush, it was just possible to believe that the genesis of that disaster lay at the door of your predecessor. And when you re-emerged at the Department of Work and Pensions, you did manage to concede that the Universal Credit system was not the bureaucratic cure all promised by its architect, Iain Duncan Smith. But then came Brexit, when you transitioned from staunch Remainer, via Hunt supporter, to a woman who suddenly thought having “no deal” hang around on Boris’ table wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Not compared with losing the ministerial motor.
Now there’s a whole posse of female appointees for whom it’s difficult to raise a sisterly cheer. Priti Patel, installed at the Home Office, has had what we might charitably call a chequered career. It includes being fired from International Development after freelancing in foreign affairs, lamenting the demise of capital punishment, and speaking up for the tobacco and alcohol industries for whom she had previously been a professional lobbyist.
She was still picking up £5k a month for five hours work from a new source as a “strategic consultant” before her elevation. Ms Patel’s other claim to illiberal fame includes being a hard line Brexiteer hostile to immigration. As the daughter of Indians who left Uganda pre Amin, she should perhaps reflect on what might have been had they been forced to stay. Then we have the fragrant Esther McVey, adorning Housing, Communities and Local Government. She does have a unique take on communities right enough, having once suggested that people using food banks were doing no more than their fair share of helping reduce the national debt.
She could see no evidence linking food bank use to welfare cuts or austerity, she assured the Commons. Not even when the Trussell Trust, who run the majority of them, flatly contradicted her. She almost got her P45 assuring the Commons that the National Audit office had recommended speeding up Universal Credit, when their report had actually called for a pause. Ms McVey is an enthusiastic exponent of all forms of social media, though she might like to delete the Instagram offering featuring her in an all girls together pose with Mrs May. She once shared a breakfast TV sofa with Eamonn Holmes, and stood as leader of her party this year. She got 9 votes. I think we should be told who the other 8 were.
Add in arch Brexiteer Theresa Villiers, who cheerfully picked up a full salary and expenses from the selfsame European Parliament she professes to hate between 1999 and 2005 when she swapped Brussels for Westminster.
And let’s not forget the equally hardline Europhobe Andrea Leadsom, one of the true believers in MrJohnson’s new golden age. Then there’s new Trade Secretary Liz Truss. And honestly, dear, it’s just not enough not to be Liam Fox. Her previous convictions include a spell as Justice Secretary when she failed to protect the judiciary from a tabloid monstering as they ruled parliament needed a vote on a Brexit deal. Ms Truss apparently went to primary school in Paisley. But a buddy she’s not.
And of course Nicky Morgan, once cast into outer darkness by Mrs May having made adverse comments about the cut and cost of the latter’s leather trousers. Ms Morgan joined the Conservative Party as a teenager which can only alarm those who contend that is likely to be the most liberal period of your life. So you might readily glean why this cohort of female ministers, many of whom have taken profoundly illiberal stances on issues like same sex marriage, can hardly be celebrated as standard bearers for a brave new world of female equality.
For a while this last week it was being rumoured there would even be a Scottish woman in the mix, Kirstene Hair who has been representing Angus for the last couple of years. Alas her phone seems to have stayed silent. Just as well really. Difficult to shove her up on the Brexit bandwagon when she failed to vote either way in the 2016 referendum because “to choose a side would have been very difficult.” She obviously missed the memo about “to govern being to choose”.
So didn’t bother her pretty little head.
Dear heaven. Sometimes it’s hard to be a feminist.
Published in The Herald 1.8.19