Conservative Diary

« Now the good news.... the orange-fleshed sweet potato | Main | New sleaze allegations emerge - this time about Tim Yeo »

Why is every Conservative Secretary of State who's a woman being tipped for the sack? (Bar one.)

By Paul Goodman
Follow Paul on Twitter.

This morning's Sun listed the following Ministers as being at risk in a reshuffle: Philip Hammond, Oliver Letwin, Justine Greening, Maria Miller, Andrew Robathan, Theresa Villiers and Helen Grant. The Times (£) also listed Greening in its report, and its worth noting that the reports of the two Murdoch papers overlapped significantly. (Both referred to a possible comeback by Liam Fox.)

Does anything in that list jump out at you?  Something does to me - namely, that if the Sun and Times are correct, every female Conservative Secretary of State except Theresa May could leave the Cabinet this summer.  And remember, David Cameron has already sacked two woman Tory Secretaries of State - Cheryl Gillan and Caroline Spelman.

It may be that the Murdoch papers have the wrong end of the stick - though, either way, they have plainly fired the starting-gun on the summer round of reshuffle speculation.  Or it may be again that they are correct in every particular, but that any woman Conservative who leaves the Cabinet will be replaced by another female Tory.

It could even be that the number of Conservative secretaries of state who are women will have risen by September.  But I am struck by the way in which women Tory Cabinet members are vulnerable to this kind of speculation - especially since I think those now serving in it are no less capable of doing their jobs than most of the men they serve alongside.

Theresa Villiers deserves her chance in Cabinet, having been left out of David Cameron's original one; Justine Greening was unfairly briefed against before being moved from Transport, and is striving to ensure greater value for money at DFID - and Maria Miller, who I served alongside on the front bench, is very able.

Not everyone shares this view, to put it mildly.  For example, the Daily Telegraph is running a sustained campaign against the Culture Secretary, who has also been brutally savaged in the Daily Mail.  But regardless of who merits a place in Cabinet or not, I think that Conservative women politicians face a particular reshuffle problem that their male counterparts do not.

Namely, the interaction between David Cameron's desire to promote them and the relative shortage of them.  (There are now about 50 on the Tory benches, and there were far fewer pre-2010.)  One shrewd observer compared his conduct as being like that of those England cricket selectors who for years conducted a hunt for a successor to Ian Botham.

"For years," my friend said, "the selectors would pounce on anyone who could score a century and take five wickets in the same match, and promote them to the England team.  And then when they couldn't pull off the same trick in quick order, they'd promptly be sacked - and the hunt for a successor would begin all over again."

The point certainly applies to politics, even if it may not to cricket.  (I don't know enough about the latter to be sure.)  It would be better were women Conservative secretaries of state kept in place for longer.  It is unfair to place great expectations on the shoulders of newcomers - who one moment are built up, and the very next torn down.


You must be logged in using Intense Debate, Wordpress, Twitter or Facebook to comment.