Politics

Cameron's Cull: Reshuffled off this mortal coil

Article published on July 17, 2014
Article published on July 17, 2014

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.