Well, it’s looking good for Esther, Liz and Priti, isn’t it? The one handle most of us have by now got on the reshuffle is that it’s one for the girls, an opportunity for the PM to remedy his woman deficit. Out with fatty Pickles, grand Sir George and genial Ken Clarke; in with go-ahead Liz Truss and the photogenic Esther McVey and the feisty Priti Patel. I suppose this swings and roundabouts business is fair enough, though as the Daily Mail rather wearily put it in its editorial yesterday, ‘ministers should be chosen for their talent, not their gender.’ Boring but obvious but true.
So let’s pause now to roll round the tongue the following names: Theresa Villiers, whose one achievement in Northern Ireland was to be boring enough to anaesthetise the most contentious issues (no, they don’t have a problem with women there; Mo Mowlam got on fine), and Maria Miller, the universally unlamented Culture Secretary…the one who drove gay marriage through the Commons. It’s quite something for Theresa to be dropped from the Cabinet at the very time the PM is desperately casting around for more women, but she seems to have pulled it off.
And, outside Tory ranks, let’s have a special mention for Cathy Ashton, Gordon Brown’s gift to the European Union, and a woman whose want of charisma is pretty well a phenomenon in itself. (As for her finest hour, her Kosovo settlement, just don’t get me started.) I’m a bit concerned, in fact, about the rumour that Patience Wheatcroft, the former editor and quango stalwart, could be the new Cathy. Not because she’s anything but pleasant and intelligent; just because she’d be yet another individual to scale the heights of the establishment without taking the trouble to get elected; bit like Baroness Warsi, really.
The point of the above list isn’t just to be gratuitously unkind but to say the obvious, that it’s honestly not enough to put women centre stage for the sake of it. Yet you do need as many perspectives as possible in Cabinet…what Kate Chisholm pointed out last week as being true for radio, viz, that everyone, both sexes, should get a fair share of the space, is equally true for politics; it’s the unanswerable case for women’s share of the Cabinet cake to be increased.
And the obvious dearth in the Cabinet isn’t just women. It’s normal people, the sort who know the price of milk without sending a research assistant out to the shops, the Tory equivalent of Alan Johnson. I suppose Sajid Javid is the nearest the Tories get to it, but you have to think really hard to come up with the contemporary equivalent of John Major – you know, the PM who took inflation seriously because his family was broke enough to mind when prices went up faster than wages. Or, come to that, a contemporary Margaret Thatcher. It’ll be nice to have more women in Cabinet, but Mr and Ms Normal would be even better.