Cameron's Cull: Reshuffled off this mortal coil
In his last reshuffle before the 2015 election, David Cameron carried out a mass cull of middle aged white men, trying to detoxify the Conservative's old boys image with a few female faces. But thanks to Cameron's tinkering, Britain now finds itself with a eurosceptic foreign minister, an anti-equality equalities minister and an anti-green energy environment minister...
This reshuffle has been branded the “massacre of the men in suits”, the cull of the “male, pale and stale”. In my mind I cheerfully imagine a litter of middle-aged middle-class white men rounded up, shuffling despondently into Number Ten like pigs to the slaughter, conveniently forgetting that I will one day be a middle-aged middle-class white man.
One middle-aged white man who wasn’t culled is Philip Hammond, the new eurosceptic foreign secretary. He is endearingly known as “Big Phil” at conservative HQ. Despite an extensive search I was unable to verify his height. Perhaps the nickname is a tribute to his namesake, Big Phil Mitchell, the alcoholic crack-head in Eastenders. Although Philip Hammond doesn’t smoke crack, he is a eurosceptic, which is far more dangerous from a utilitarian perspective. It’s infinitely preferable to get out of your mind on crack and mess yourself up, than to get out of the EU and mess your whole country up.
David Cameron would argue that a staunch eurosceptic is the best person to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU before a 2017 referendum. I would argue that sending Big Phil to mend the UK’s seriously damaged relationship with Europe is like pissing into a hurricane. David Cameron antagonised European leaders by joining forces with far-right nationalist Hungarian PM Viktor Orban to oppose Jean-Claude Juncker’s Commission presidency. Putting a eurosceptic in charge of foreign policy adds insult to injury and does not bode well for Britain’s future in the EU.
Binders full of women
Until the reshuffle, just 3 out of 22 cabinet ministers were female. In France, 17 out of 34 are female. This imbalance was self-evidently toxic for the Tories, and the reshuffle sought to rectify this, doubling the number of female ministers to 6. Some say this is an important symbol, “a signifier to society at large that women are as competent, capable and ambitious as men when it comes to holding positions of power… you can't be what you can't see.” Others dismiss these last-minute promotions as “horribly tokenistic, and faintly misogynistic.” Is Cameron just a more eloquent Mitt Romney, desperately brandishing his “binders full of women” to assert his equality credentials before an election?
Gender balance in government is about more than symbolism, and it’s certainly about more than winning an election. It’s about representative democracy. And representation is important, because it’s naïve to trust ministers to put themselves in other people’s shoes. It is hardly surprising that an 86% male cabinet concocted a series of budget cuts that hit women far harder than men.
So who are the women Cameron has whipped out of his binder? The newly promoted female cabinet ministers are; Liz Truss, the anti-environment environment minister (she worked for Shell and opposes renewable energy), Nicky Morgan, an anti-equality equality minister and Priti Patel, an exchequer secretary who wants the death penalty brought back.
Goodbye Gove, Morning Morgan
Nicky Morgan has replaced the eminently unpopular Michael Gove as education secretary (only 22% of the country like him). She has been the talking point of the reshuffle, primarily because her appointment is so inexplicable. According to The Guardian, her primary qualification for the role of education secretary is that “She’s not Michael Gove.”
Morgan was supposed to become ‘minister for women and equalities’ after Maria Miller was hidden/destroyed like an inflammatory paedophile dossier in April. But, because Morgan wants abortion restricted and voted against equal marriage, it was concluded she could not credibly fulfil the equality brief. Instead of choosing someone else, someone with sufficient equality credentials, Cameron chopped off the troublesome equality part and split the role in two, making Sajid Javid minister for equalities and Nicky Morgan his minister for women. Thus, Morgan holds the dubious title of being the first ‘minister for women’ to be subordinate to a man.
Although her qualifications for the role of education secretary are few, her dis-qualifications are numerous. She voted to scrap EMA (Educational Maintenance Allowance- a grant to help disadvantaged 16-18 year olds remain in education, Ed.), she has no experience of the education profession, she has no experience of the state schools she will run, having attended a private school herself, she voted to deny equal rights to gay people, at a time when British schools are striving to stamp out discrimination. But hey, she’s not Michael Gove…
Although caricatures are more entertaining than balanced portraits, I overcame my aversion to reshuffle reflection, and reflected. This was not deliberate. I spoke to a senior teacher, expecting to hear a reiteration of the “Gove is gone” euphoria I’d been led to believe was universal. What he said showed me journalists can be just as cruel and detached from reality as the politicians they lambast for being cruel and detached from reality.
“I think that Gove was useful and honest as he was a ‘wolf in wolf’s clothing’ i.e. we all knew what we were getting!” said the teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, “and whilst he didn’t necessarily favour teachers, he did stand his ground, create academies and generally open up the educational debate whilst fulfilling government policy at a time of severe austerity.” On Nicky Morgan, he’s going to wait and see. So although slinging sensational dirt is delightful, it shouldn’t dirty our judgements on the work these ministers actually do.
Finally, the Conservatives have ended a century of pognophobia and made Stephen Crabb the first bearded Conservative cabinet minister since 1905. A great day for equality. The Beard Liberation Front hopes this “means the Prime Minister is at last coming to understand a ‘no cuts’ message.” Just like Crabb's elegant, meticulously maintained facial hair, this reshuffle is cosmetic. You cannot blame Cameron for tinkering with the Tories' image, but ousting important ministers in the middle of complex reforms suggests image trumps implementation.