Maria Miller’s departure from Cabinet this week created a vacancy for the portfolio for women, as well as for her role as Minister of State for Culture Media and Sport.
The incoming Minister for Women is Nicky Morgan – a woman – unlike Miller’s replacement as Minister for Culture, Media and Sport, Sajid Javid. He will apparently take over the equalities brief, working on areas apart from women’s equality. In a remarkably ham-fisted set of announcements, it was confirmed that the new Minister for Women will report directly to the Prime Minister, thereby reversing an initial perception that the Women’s Minister would have to answer to a man en route to influence in Cabinet. But Nicky Morgan will not have a full seat at the table, as the Minister for Women now enjoys only ‘attends Cabinet’ status.
It has been reported in the Guardian that ‘Morgan will only attend [Cabinet] when issues pertaining to her brief are on the agenda’. This rather suggests that the Government does not consider that issues affecting women are a part of every Cabinet meeting. For a Prime Minister and Government already widely accused of having a ‘women problem’ this seems to confirm the message that ‘women’s issues’ are an occasional add-on to the mainstream of Cabinet business.
As she has a child, Nicky Morgan helps the Prime Minister avoid having a Cabinet devoid of mothers. It seems a salutary reminder of the ways of the world that whilst the majority of male Cabinet ministers are fathers, none of the three fully-fledged female Cabinet ministers (Theresa May, Justine Greening and Theresa Villiers) are mothers. Given that less than 10% of children attend private schools (and only a small minority of University students go to Oxford or Cambridge), but around 80% of women have children, the current Cabinet seems a very odd reflection of reality indeed. The UK now ranks 20th out of 28 EU countries in terms of the proportion of women at ministerial level, and more Cabinet ministers attended one Oxford college (Magdalen) than there are women ministers. These statistics should ring alarm bells not only for politicos advising on the government’s electoral strategy, but for female voters who wish to call their ‘representatives’ to account.