Jokers in the pack
As David Cameron’s reshuffle shifts the Coalition to the right, Sarah Ditum warns of trouble ahead for women's rights
It’s a little redundant to say that the cabinet reshuffle is bad for women when this makeshift government is obviously bad for everybody. The Coalition squats in parliament like the most unwelcome of unwelcome guests, delivering horrible gifts to the host nation (“Look, we made you another recession to go with the one you already had!”) and pissing on the floors (“Oh, we didn’t think you really cared about your stuffy old post-war settlement on health, education and welfare… Sorry, got to go again!”).
The reshuffle is not so much a change of direction as a clearing of the tubes, squeezing out any calcified deposits of public service or manifesto commitments (like Justine Greening, who stuck to her pre-appointment opposition to a third Heathrow runway, and loses the Transport as a result) to allow the steaming golden stream of right-wing horror to arc unimpeded across the country. Not good news for anyone, then. But if you’re interested in women’s rights – and you probably know some women even if you’re not one yourself, so you should be interested – this reshuffle is very bad news.
In terms of numbers, female MPs lose. There were five, now there are four – out of 27. In terms of authority, women lose again, with Baroness Warsi dramatically bumped down from Chairman to Foreign Office minister. There’s one new female face among the lower ranks, as Liz Truss joins Education in a junior capacity; but as she’s part of the Britannia Unchained neoliberal mob, she’s very unlikely to give one about the disproportionate effects on women of this government’s social and economic policy.
But shouldn’t we be more concerned about the policy itself than the gender of the people delivering the policy? Yes we should. We should be phenomenally concerned about the policies the new cabinet, even-more-male-dominated-than-the-old-cabinet, is going to deliver on women’s rights. Maria Miller has been promoted from Minister for Disabled People to Culture Secretary (with brief for women’s and equalities issues), but doesn’t even mention her parenthetical responsibilities on her ministerial biography. Maybe that’s because her record on women stinks: in 2008, she voted for the abortion time limit to be lowered to 20 weeks, despite the medical and scientific consensus being for 24 weeks. And last September, she voted for Nadine Dorries’ bad-faith amendment to the health and social care bill that sought to prevent abortion providers from also offering counselling.
Bad, but not as bad as the reason she’s got her new job as Culture Secretary: previous incumbent Jeremy Hunt has been shuffled along to become Health Secretary. And when he voted on the abortion time limit in 2008, he went for 12 weeks, which is about as close as you can get to demanding a ban without coming out and saying that all women who get pregnant but don’t feel capable of having a baby deserve to get septicaemia. His predecessor, Andrew Lansley, courted the pro-life lobby cynically, but at least it was just cynicism. With Hunt, denying women choices about their own body (despite the medical and scientific, etc, etc) seems to be a matter of conscience.
And the biggest sign that this reshuffle will hurt women? Arch anti-choicer Dorries declared that she was “liking” it. Which means that the rest of us definitely will not.