David Cameron's sex problem

Does the Prime Minister really believe in equality?

23 February 2013

This week David Cameron lectured a business audience in India on how far Britain has yet to go in getting women into the boardroom. ‘My wife likes to say,’ he said, ‘that if you don’t have women in 50 per cent of the top positions you are not missing out on 50 per cent of the talent, you are missing out on much more than 50 per cent of the talent.’

The irony seemed to be lost on him. Here was the leader of a government which preaches equality every bit as much, if not more, than Tony Blair’s Labour party: the law has been changed so that employers can use ‘positive discrimination’ to manipulate the gender and ethnic balance of their staff; universities have been bullied and threatened with loss of funding if they fail to reduce their intake from private schools.

And yet Cameron’s Cabinet and party have failed miserably to achieve the standards which he tries to impose on others. Never mind reaching the 50 per cent representation which he feels would be ideal, just four of Cameron’s 22-strong Cabinet are women. Far from luxuriating in their talents, he seems especially fond of sacking females who do make it in.

In last September’s reshuffle, Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan was sacked for her opposition to HS2. Caroline Spelman lost her job as Environment Secretary for no obvious reason, and Baroness Warsi was demoted from party chairman to a post outside Cabinet. Justine Greening was also demoted. There was also a notable sacking of Sarah Teather as an education minister. Not one of the fallen women received an honour, by the by, although four male ministers who left the government did.

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As for the educational background of Cabinet ministers, God help any university which showed such a bias towards public school types. In Cameron’s first Cabinet, 14 out of 23 government ministers went to private schools. Just five went to comprehensives. After the 2012 reshuffle, the number of privately educated ministers fell by two, with the number of comprehensive-educated ministers rising by a pathetic one.

Now, of course, there might be perfectly good reasons why there are only four women and hardly any comprehensive-educated ministers in the Cabinet. The Prime Minister can only choose from what talent is available to him and if fewer women want to be MPs than do men, so what? None of the sacked women had exactly excelled themselves in office. If few comprehensive-educated pupils go on to fill the top positions in society, it doesn’t necessarily imply discrimination either. Maybe our schools aren’t educating people properly. Maybe state school pupils think politics is a dirty business.

I suspect that most Spectator readers will have a great sympathy for these arguments. But they are not arguments which David Cameron will accept — not in public in any case. You don’t hear him saying, ‘Oh, well, maybe fewer women than men want to be on the boards of FTSE companies — you can’t drag them into managerial roles.’ Rather, he lectures businesses on how brilliant women are at business, using his wife as an example, and hints that they are somehow guilty of inadvertent discrimination.

Tony Blair was no different. In 2004, his government bizarrely tried to impose 25 per cent female representation on the Iraqi transitional assembly — a target which he had been unable to reach with his own government. At the time, only five of his Cabinet were women.

His government went on to pass a whole raft of equality and diversity legislation, lumbering firms with punitive fines and costs for firing staff without first going through all the hoops: verbal warnings, written warnings and meetings attended by trade union representatives. Businesses were punished for falling foul of often dubious claims of discrimination by frustrated job applicants.

Yet Blair himself took no notice whatsoever of the rules he was happy to impose on others. When he wanted to fire an under­performing minister he didn’t go through that series of verbal and written warnings; he just picked up the phone and told them that their services were no longer required.

As for Blair, as for Cameron: equality and diversity are concepts for other people to observe. But since our leaders cannot seem to live with their own silly equality and discrimination laws, might it not be an idea to exempt the rest of us from them, too?

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Show comments
  • Austin Barry

    Cameron’s sex problem is that he is a eunuch in the EU brothel.

  • http://www.facebook.com/brendan.commins Brendan Commins

    His wife seems to be as innumerate as he is.

  • http://twitter.com/TheRedBladder The Red Bladder

    I suppose that it’s always possible that the Invisible Woman of Eastleigh is penciled in for a cabinet post?

  • Colonel Mustard

    That photo does not fill me with any confidence. They look like a middle-ranking corporate gaggle of suits on a sales junket. Where is the maturity? Where are the statesmen?

    • Alastair_93

      He’s just walking along the street.

      Do you think that he should instead carry a makeshift podium tied around his neck all the time? Or perhaps pose every 5 seconds to stroke his chin?

      Policies are more important than how someone dresses.

      • Rhoda Klapp

        No he shouldn’t be allowed near a podium.

  • Eddie

    So, if we don’t have 50% male nurses, council workers, child carers, teachers, florists, hairdressers etc – are we missing out on more than 50% of the male talent?
    People are silly to confuse correlation and causation. There is not a scrap of evidence that women are somehow discriminated against unfairly. Merit is all. Men are women are not the same, as is evidenced by males filling most senior positions, especially in certain fields (eg technology).
    The moaners and whingers who want quotas or positive dsicrimination (ie sexism against me) are just mediocrities annoyed at having reached their natural level of incompetence.
    We need the best people; gender should not be a factor.
    Some are discriminated against by circumstance of course – that would be poor people, not women or ethnic minorities though; and plenty of socalled disadantaged groups (eg all those privately educated women and ethnics) play their wickle race and gender cards for all they’re worth.
    Time to appoint on merit only. And if that means mostly white men get through (as in TV quizzes like Mastermind) then so be it.

    • Alastair_93

      Good in theory — but what if the people responsible for the hiring have a penchant for croneyism?

      There’s a lot of good research showing that men will discriminate against female CVs, even when they’re the same as the male CVs but with the names switched around.

      I’m not saying it’s conscious or malicious — but we all have prejudices and biases.

      In such a case, it would be impossible for someone with equal or greater merit to become successful.

      Quotas aren’t ideal, but to me they seem like the least-worst option.

    • Daniel Maris

      Yep, Eddie I agree. We really are in cant country (and I come from London so the pronunciation is more ambiguous than might appear on the page).

      Women are (as a general rule, exceptions accepted) basically not interested in keeping our sewers running freely, motorway maintenance, mending our railways in the middle of the night, engaging in the messy business of construction or putting up scaffolding. Also, I think not many of them are very interested in the

      intense, 24/7 psychologically disturbing battle to get to director level in a company – which to me is a laudable characteristic.

      When women demand parity in sewerage work I will be impressed by their demands for parity in the boardroom.

    • Sam Ashman

      I’m afraid that, barring the physical differences, research has shown that men and women have much the same interests and strengths.

  • Smithersjones2013

    My wife likes to say,’ he said, ‘that if you don’t have women in 50 per
    cent of the top positions you are not missing out on 50 per cent of the
    talent, you are missing out on much more than 50 per cent of the

    Oh so SamCam is another of the self indulgent self promoting world owes us a living privilege agenda misandrists is she? Well I thought Cameron looked like the type who had a bloody great thumbprint (the bald patch) on the top of his head.

    Contemporary women in the political class make lousy politicians because they never try to speak to more than 50% of the population. They only speak for women and generally in doing so reflect the current bigotry and prejudice of their gender alongside a blatant sense of entitlement in their demands to be treated in a privileged manner. Such women have become in so many ways the epitomy of what they try to portray men as. All most of them do is bang on about ‘wimmin’s issues’

    How on earth can Cameron who at least tries to reach out to woman (even if it is in the worst pandering and condescending way possible) keep women in his cabinet who are utterly incapable of reaching out to men?

    The reality is that there hasn’t been a decent female politician for 20 years or more so its little wonder so few of them ever appear in cabinet and most of them quickly pass their sell by date..

    • Alastair_93

      lol, do you have any evidence to back up that rant?

      • Daniel Maris

        Well Alistair, why don’t you name the decent female politician of the last 20 years…

        I’m not saying there isn’t one but I think we might be underwhelmed as in we won’t be talking Margaret Thatcher or Shirley Williams or Barbara Castle.

  • Roy

    There isn’t a problem on this count. You employ the best you consider for the job, man or woman. Now, just get on with improving the economy for everyone’s benefit.

  • AlexanderGalt

    David Cameron’s sex problem is to promote non-ideological, read non conservative, women like Claire Perry over any new Thatchers out there.

    Incidentally there’s a great love triangle story from a journalist infatuated with the delectable Perry in: “My Evil Temptress” at:


  • http://twitter.com/NewFallEve Samantha Ashman

    ‘Positive discrimination’ is one of the most hilarious phrases. To discriminate in favour of one thing implies a negative discrimination of something else. You discriminate in favour of cheesecake and Victoria sponge takes the fall for it. You discriminate in favour of women, then men are discriminated against.

    I think it is important to encourage women into more top jobs, as having good female role-models is important for the younger generation. However, promoting women on the basis of their gender just reduces their credibility in the workplace. I would not have it said that I got into a high managerial role because the company needed to fill its quota – I would find it insulting if that were the reason.

    Despite these arguments though, there is quite strong evidence of gender qualities being internalised by people at a very young age due to different treatment of the sexes. It is the same in adult life – people have certain expectations based upon the gender of the subject. This is what needs to be combated, because it is perhaps the root of a lot of the discrepancies between gender balance in population and in high-powered jobs, as well as in such things as nursing and construction.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Simon-Fay/1127268875 Simon Fay

    I must presume there is some sort of EU directive behind this, along with the Gay marriage thing, carrying the threat of sanctions if not demonstrably implemented by a certain date, and some sort of high-level D-notice-type thingy against said directive’s discussion/analysis by the supine, “isn’t it all strange?”-bleating media.

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