Published on September 10th, 2012 |
by Kirsty McKellar
Image © [caption id="attachment_11020" align="aligncenter" width="390"] Theresa May kept her job but Justine Greening was bumped[/caption]
Cameron’s reshuffle to the Right: Have women been sidelined in the shift?
David Cameron was forced to step up to the plate this week when it was time for a Cabinet reshuffle. It was vital that he prove himself a man rather than a mouse, but the reshuffle has had mixed receptions. Although Cameron bragged about his (almost) new Cabinet during Prime Ministers Questions, some people have taken issue with his dismissal of women in Cabinet, some have taken issue with the apparent tilt to the Right, and some are questioning where this will take policy directives. What is clear is that this was not a Cabinet reshuffle for the coalition, it was all for the Conservatives. This may ease the tensions within the Tory party for a while, but it certainly wont last until the next election and cracks in the coalition will only spread.
After two and a half years in government, the coalition is undoubtedly in a tough phase of policy implementation. It faces calls to ease its austerity programme and is also under pressure to leave some form of legacy, as it seems increasingly likely that the coalition may only last a single term. Therefore it looks like Cameron decided to reshuffle around his own policy priorities; i.e. bringing in Right-wing thinkers to the Justice Department such as Chris Grayling (who one Lib Dem MP described as ‘a man who does not have a liberal bone in his body’), getting rid of Justine Greening due to her outward opposition to Hea
throw expansion, and dismissing Andrew Lansley from the Department of Health in order to rebuild support for controversial NHS reforms. Although Cameron largely got his own way, he unsuccessfully attempted to oust Iain Duncan Smith from the Department of Work and Pensions, which will cause tensions with George Osbourne who wants deeper cuts on welfare spending. However Duncan Smith is yet another minister with a determinedly Tory agenda and will no doubt force through the dodgy Universal Credit model.
It may be that these minor movements all add up to increase tensions between the Conservative and Lib Dem parties. Liberal Democrats will certainly not welcome Ken Clarke’s replacement with Chris Grayling. Grayling is anti-immigration, holds a tough love view with regard to prisons, and clearly does not share Clarke’s pro-European ideology. In fact, according to The Guardian he is likely to confront the European Court of Human Rights and the EU over national sovereignty, something which will not sit well with the Lib Dems.
One piece of legislation that is dominating the headlines is the expansion of Heathrow airport, it even seems to be overshadowing this Cabinet reshuffle with ministers being moved around according to their standing on the issue. Boris Johnson has spoken out about Greening’s demotion saying that it shows that the government will press ahead with the expansion regardless.
Another controversial issue surrounding the reshuffle is the representation of women in Cabinet positions, which brings with it the matter of race and other background representations. Three out of five female Cabinet ministers lost their jobs and Greening was demoted. Promoting Maria Miller and Theresa Villiers does little to hide this step back in time for female representation. This throws Cameron’s pledge to give one third of his first government’s jobs to women out of the window. According to the Centre for Women and Democracy the UK ranks 57th in terms of female parliamentary representation. Sweden, Switzerland and France all have equal numbers of men and women in their Cabinets, why cant we? Although Penny Mordaunt’s comments that women’s appointments must be on merit and ability are true, the entire purpose of parliament is to represent the electorate and it is certainly not doing this at the moment. Baroness Warsi (the only non-white member of Cabinet) has been demoted to a ‘non-job’. And we should also be concerned that Chris Grayling’s promotion now puts two opponents of expanding gay rights into Cabinet (alongside Owen Paterson).
With increasing evidence of rising child poverty rates it will be interesting to see how the new ministers handle pressure from the public to deliver along with pressure within government to cut back. It is doubtful that this reshuffle will do much to affect the outcome of the next General Election, even if it does rebuild some relations with the Right wing for a while. Its undeniably Tory agenda is likely to create further tensions and implement some controversial policies.