Was Anna Soubry grateful to be promoted to the health department in last September’s reshuffle? She doesn’t exactly give that impression in her interview with Total Politics magazine this month.
‘To be quite frank, when the PM said to me, ‘I want you to do public health’, I thought, ‘Oh boss, I respect you so much, but I’m the only woman here and I get public health – I hope there’s no connection there.
‘Maybe I can make people realise that this is not a soft bloody girly option, it is a big serious job. I’m a huge fan of our prime minister… but I did sit there in the cabinet room and think, ‘Boss, you do know what you’ve just done? You’ve given public health to the girl again, except I’m not a girl, I’m a tough old bird’.’
The thing about Soubry is that she can’t be faulted for enthusiasm or indeed her ability to say things that she either didn’t quite mean, or that she shouldn’t have meant to say at all. I suspect that her motives in saying this, based on the way she describes herself as ‘a tough old bird’ and her willingness in her interview with The Times last autumn to draw a distinction between the type of woman that she is and the sort of woman who makes cupcakes, are as much about telling people that she’s a ballsy, ambitious female minister.
But does Soubry think the PM sees some jobs as ones that should only be done by women? That’s not a particularly complimentary implication about his approach to equalities, and will also be a gift to Labour, which likes to make a big fuss about the Prime Minister’s women problem.