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Cameron’s reshuffle is promoting women, yes – but risks patronising them too

15 July 2014

12:18 PM

15 July 2014

12:18 PM

After today’s hiring and firings, the women ratio in the Cabinet rises from 14 per cent to 24 per cent. There is something horribly tokenistic, and faintly misogynistic, about boasting about what percentage of women you have in the Cabinet – as if this is a sign of how ‘progressive’ you are. It’s not clear that the brains of these women have been taken into account. Liz Truss, a committed (and award-winning) education reformer, is miscast as Environment Secretary. Gove’s replaced by Nicky Morgan, who is being introduced as ‘a working mother’ by the BBC as if this was, in itself, qualification for Education Secretary. She is a bright, accomplished minister – must she be reduced to a maternal status?

Does Morgan’s being a woman with children make her any more equipped to swim with the sharks in education (the smile on Christine Blower’s face says it all – as chief of the NUT teachers union, she seems to have think that she has won). And where is one of the smartest women on the Tory benches, Priti Patel? (I hope the answer will be that she’s going to the Treasury). Why is the notoriously under-performing Theresa Villiers still in her job?

The Spectator's cover - out on 17 July

The Spectator’s cover – out on 17 July

All this fits a trend: Sajid Javid has one of the finest financial minds in Parliament – yet he was moved into the Culture brief. I’m a huge fan of his, and imagine that he’ll do good things. But I’d have left him in the Treasury – George Osborne needs all the good economic ideas he can get right now. Moving Nick Boles from planning to schools where the PM tells us he will be ‘implementing equal marriage’ is also tokenistic –yes, he’s a gay man. But must he really be typecast in this way?

When you hear Ken Clarke on television talking about how the PM needed to replete his stock of women, it sounds deeply patronising. How many other leaders of any other companies would hire on the basis of gender? At The Spectator, two thirds of our staff are women – not that we’re seeking applause from the Fawcett Society. We just want the best, and hire appropriately. Cameron should have done the same, rather than present this reshuffle as a massive gender outreach programme.

Today’s reshuffle was about faces, not about ideas. And it reminds me of a superficial side of David Cameron that I had hoped had been eroded by the experience of office. The purpose of government is to govern. The polls and bookmakers both suggest he’s heading for defeat and has only one year left: what does he want to do with that year? The answer, it seems, is play it safe and focus on presentation. For those of us who believed in the reforms he was making – reforms that are still unfinished – this is a rather depressing day.

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