New politics? Looks like more of the same to me

May 13, 2010

When I interviewed David Cameron earlier this year after an event at Thomson Reuters in which he, George Osborne and Ken Clarke delivered their views on the economy under a “Vote For Change” banner, I suggested that watching three white, middle-aged men talking about what was good for Britain didn’t feel much like change to me. Cameron jokingly replied that Clarke, 69, would be flattered to be described as middle-aged.

The Conservative leader then shifted in his seat, sat up straight and talked seriously about all the hard work his party was doing to field more female and ethnic minority candidates. His new Deputy Prime Minister, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, talks repeatedly of a “new politics” and how this time politicians will do things differently.

True, we have a coalition for the first time since the Second World War — but, after that, the handful of ministers who will be running government don’t represent much of a change. Of the 16 senior cabinet positions Cameron announced on Wednesday, there are just two women — one of whom is also the only one non-white cabinet member.

And, true, one of the top cabinet jobs — Home Secretary (interior minister) — has gone to a woman but, as someone joked to me yesterday, the fact that’s she’s also minister for women and equality looks like a typing mistake. Her real title, they suggested, should actually have been ‘Home Secretary, and token minister of women and equality.’ Theresa May, the new Home Secretary, will struggle to shake off suggestions that she got the job not on merit but rather because Cameron and Clegg didn’t have a lot of senior female politicians to choose from.

In the parliamentary parties, I count 42 Conservative women MPs (14 percent of the total). The Lib Dems fare even worse: I count just six female MPs, little over 10 percent.

Tackling our debt mountain has got to be the new government’s first and top priority, but unless something urgent is done to improve diversity in senior political jobs — as is slowly being done in business — then all the talk of new politics will end up being nothing but wrapping for old government.


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As the cabinet and other senior ministerial positions were being announced I too was concerned to see how many white, middle-aged, middle-class men there were, even drawing from both parties.

But on reflection I’m not sure who the alternatives were. There are a lot of senior front-benchers from both parties who really had to be given cabinet jobs to keep the peace as part of the deal, and perhaps more importantly with the challenges the government faces in the short term, it’s important to have the best people for the job in the cabinet rather than picking people in order to maintain some sort of racial/gender balance.

I do hope we’ll get a raft of much younger, less white, less Y-chromosome-heavy junior ministers and PUSSes appointed over the next couple of days and as they and the new MPs find their feet over the next year or so we might see a few “old hands” making way for them in the inevitable reshuffles.

Disclaimer: I’m a white, middle class, about-to-be-middle-aged, male product of the same public school as Ken Clarke and Ed Balls.

Posted by raimesh | Report as abusive

To further the cause of diversity and truly reflect the consensus of public opinion, I would have liked to see some labour party nominees included within the new CONDEM cabinet and senior ministry postings.

Posted by Shortsqueeze | Report as abusive