David Cameron's misogynistic reshuffle

The PM doesn’t want the new women in his cabinet to do anything but look nice

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

19 July 2014

9:00 AM

Ask anyone who really knows David Cameron and they will tell you he likes a certain kind of woman. He has a very specific type, the Prime Minister. It is almost spooky the way all his women conform to it.

They are all attractive, accomplished, articulate and well-dressed. But there is something else that makes certain women irresistible to Mr Cameron. While giving the appearance of being feisty and uncompromising, his sort of woman usually seems to know when to fall into line.

I am not speaking of romantic conquests, but of the type of woman the Prime Minister likes to promote. Mr Cameron has an eye, like Tony Blair before him, for a good physical specimen — perfectly blow-dried, impeccably styled. But he most appreciates the kind of girl who doesn’t have too strong an urge to get something particular accomplished. She must not be too wedded to a specific area of expertise, experience or knowledge.

This is because it is extremely important that a female minister be ready to drop everything at any given moment and go to wherever the Prime Minister needs her to go on the cabinet re-shuffle chessboard. She should ideally be able to conveniently forget, for example, that for years she has been an expert in education. She should be prepared to dust off her Hunter wellies and pretend to have an instinctive feel for farming as the PM packs her off to Defra.

She will be expected to go at any time to any place, any department in Whitehall. Regardless of where her talents ought to be sending her, she is headed for a department that is considered too male, too pale, too stale. Her mission, if she chooses to accept it, is to act as a decoy.

Virtually nowhere in British life does this method of using women to balance the look of an organisation exist any more. When he reshuffles his cabinet by quota, Cameron is being sexist in a way that has largely died out in every other walk of our nation’s life.

As women routinely break through the glass ceiling purely on their merits, in arenas from banking and law to engineering and information technology, Cameron presides over the last bastion of soft misogyny.

Maybe this is because he is the sort of old-fashioned Tory who deep down, in spite of the rhetoric about valuing women for their abilities, believes that a woman’s place is in the PR strategy. Women are there for presentational reasons: to sex things up, to add pizzazz, to style things out. When times are good, you hardly ever see one promoted. When times are tough, when the polls are downward, when an election year is imminent, he performs a massive landslide of a reshuffle, shifting out the stale and male to make way for the blonde blow-dries and the Vivienne Westwood outfits, and resulting in the sort of carefully choreographed headlines we saw this week: a third of tories in the cabinet now women!

As such, the sooner the women promoted in this latest reshuffle get used to the harsh reality, the better: they are seen by the PM as tokens.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the tokenism worked, if it resulted in the promotion of women who genuinely made a difference to the way the government connected with real people. But one could argue that after the latest purge of ‘male and pale’, the cabinet has become even more dominated by a metropolitan elite. Out go a few of the men who have limited grasp of the concerns of working families, in come a raft of women who exist almost exclusively in the Westminster bubble.

This is because in his search for women who will look good, sound smart but make minimal fuss behind the scenes, Mr Cameron often opts for politicos: newly promoted Priti Patel and Penny Mordaunt, for example, are both seasoned ex-Tory press officers. They understand putting loyalty and strategy on a par with, or even ahead of, substance and policy.

In fact, if you consider the loss of Hague and Gove, the balance of people who are genuinely in touch with Middle Britons and know what it is to come up the hard way has actually shifted in favour of the privileged with this reshuffle.

But for the women themselves, this state of affairs needn’t be too depressing, because if you settle down and get on with it without making a fuss, life as a token can be pretty good. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, being put at the helm of a Whitehall department for expediency, but it’s a quieter existence than being put there to actually accomplish something. As one leading countryside campaigner said of Liz Truss’s appointment as secretary of state for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs: ‘We don’t care. It doesn’t actually matter, because she’s obviously been put there to do absolutely nothing until the next election. The animal rights lot wanted Owen Paterson’s head on a platter and Cameron has given it to them. In his place, he’s put Mrs Nicey Nice to keep every-one happy. She’ll just do whatever Cameron tells her to.’

They could be wrong, of course. This could be an outrageous slur on Ms Truss, who might be about to set the world alight with ambitious plans to cull more badgers than ever, or push for an early vote on repeal of the hunting ban.

Somehow, I doubt it. It would be kind to say that Ms Truss, though a woman of considerable talent, is not known for her instinctive feel for the issues that matter in the countryside. Anyone who has followed her meteoric, and controversial, rise to the top will agree that it is hard to think of anyone less suited to tackling the problems facing the rural community than this former A-lister.

Cast your mind back to 2009 and you may remember that Ms Truss was the subject of a furious row when she was adopted as the candidate for South West Norfolk. Shortly after she was adopted, the local Conservative Association were shocked to discover that she had not been forthcoming with them about an extramarital affair she had conducted with a married fellow Tory MP. They launched an attempt to get rid of her — on the basis that she had lied and they couldn’t trust her — but the Tory hierarchy came down on them like a ton of bricks. After a deeply embarrassing and undignified battle, the Norfolk Tories, dubbed the Turnip Taleban, finally gave in.

The suspicion then and now was that Ms Truss was protected and forced on an unsuitable seat because she was favoured by Cameron. She had been marked for high office before she even got selected not simply because she was a woman, but because she was just the sort of woman the Prime Minister likes: trendy, metropolitan, modernising, non-confrontational.

It is a similar story with the other female ministers promoted this week. Nicky Morgan, Esther McVey, Penny Mordaunt, Priti Patel… I would put money on the fact that none of them will have a stand-up row over policy direction. They will be happy to play the game the PM has invited them to play: dressing up. Whatever their abilities, they are being used as Barbie dolls put into different outfits. Mr Cameron starts with a costume — or government department — and then picks a doll to wear it.

Or is it worse than that? Sometimes, it is almost as if he deliberately puts a woman in precisely the wrong job, mismatching their talents on purpose, to restrict their effectiveness. After all, Ms Truss, an education minister with a background in public sector think tanks and pamphlets on child care and schools policy, would have made an excellent Education Secretary. But the PM gave that job to Nicky Morgan, a former corporate lawyer in mergers and acquisitions and Treasury minister. It is as if he wants the reflected glory of having talented women around him, but he doesn’t want to give them anything to do that they will be so good at that they will become potent enough to challenge him.

The one minister to buck that trend is, of course, Theresa May. But I’m sure Dave didn’t realise when he made her Home Secretary how good she would be. I’ll wager he put her in there thinking she would come and go without a peep, or make a muck-up, as all Home Secretaries do in the end. Perhaps he thought she would have a couple of years, then preside over an immigration scandal and get sent to the great Home Secretary home in the sky.

I’m certain he didn’t envisage her performing with such aplomb that she rose and rose in popularity until, emboldened by her growing reputation as the voice of real Tories, she started to challenge his authority and question his judgment on key issues — on which she was right, incidentally. Speculation that she might make leadership material was the final straw. She was roundly slapped down and briefed against, and she might have been done for were it not for the fact that a keen survival instinct told her to quietly back down. There’s a good girl.

Of course ministers must be loyal, and there is a fine line between rebellion and speaking your mind. But it is one thing to be loyal and quite another to be so slavishly happy to be at the Prime Minister’s quota service that you report for duty in Downing Street wearing a pretty dress, a wide smile and an identikit blow-dry.

Will the Stepford Ministers prove the naysayers wrong, or will they do exactly what Dave has put them there for? Look good and behave themselves.

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Show comments
  • Liz

    Anyone who talks of “types” of women and puts a disparate number of people in to a category on the basis of them being “attractive” (they are just normal looking women) and “well dressed” (well they’re dressed) and “feisty” (ugh) and illustrates their article with that ridiculous “ironically” sexist Spectator front cover is on thin ice when it comes to criticising misogyny.

    • Gwangi

      Well, the biggest misogynists are feminist activists themselves – who are constantly disparaging women who are not just like them (that’s most women then). Women Beware Women, innit?

      • Liz

        No, the biggest misogynist is you, I think you hate everyone else because ultimately you hate yourself.

        • Gwangi

          Oh spare me being lectured by a manhating feminist loon with very weird ideas who now thinks she’s a counsellor!

          Thank crikey most women are not like you and hate hairy-chinned misandrist feminuts like you too. You are the misogynist as well because you cannot accept that most women hate women like you are would rather die than be as sad, lonely and pathetic as a manhating femiloon like you too.

          No, I do not hate myself Ms Freud. I don’t even hate man-hating dangerous lunatic feminazis like you – because you make me laugh several times a day! The stark hypocrisy of feminism is SO predictable – you support race and gender discrimination when it unfairly affects men; you defend blatant unfairness if it benefits egomaniac women (who use pathetic useful idiots like you, love); you always take the side of any woman against any man in any situation. One word for you: bigot.

  • Gwangi

    Typical feminist argument: if Cameron doesn’t put more women in to his cabinet, he hates women; and if he does, he hates women! Brilliant logic!
    Just like the twisted manhating feminist logic that blames men whenever women kill their babies and children. Feminist theories have a lot to answer for…
    Personally, I believe in merit even if that means 100% white males. But in our age of rampant hatred, racism and gender discrimination (and abuse) against white males, I can see we’ll all have to accept a great many 4th rate bints in government to make up numbers and thus attract the women’s vote. Yawn…

    • global city

      These things are not supposed to make sense, merely cause confusion and division.

      If we start with the principle that we are all British, then advance people based on their competence and abilities we will be fine, but that ‘solidarity’ (of being British or sharing a unifying culture) is what is under sustained and relentless attack.

      Conservatives conceding to the cultural Marxist narrative about group identity will lead to the collapse of our society….as it is intended to do.

    • TNT

      I shall never be able to get out of my mind the image of Germaine Greer’s flaming gusset. Ever.

      • Gwangi

        It’s the way I tell ’em, in’tit?

    • Liz

      Melissa Kite is the first woman in the Spectator to accuse the new female cabinet members or being promoted on something other than merit. Prior to her there have been a slew of men saying it, and they ain’t feminists love, just good old fashioned sexists.

      • Gwangi

        I don’t care who says it – I look at the EVIDENCE.
        We now have an education secretary who knows nothing of education (promoted coz she is a woman), an environment minister who knows nothing, and cares less, about the environment (coz she is a woman), not to mention an arts minister whose idea of ‘the arts’ is watching a book set of The Sopranos and Goodness Gracious Me (promoted coz he is brown).
        Would a manhating feminist secksist loon like you ever accept that less able women have been promoted above more able men? Because that is precisely what has been happening at so many public institutions for years now (education organisations, the police, universities, regional government, councils, charities etc). Cressida Wotzit even admits as much – but many women do pretend they were appointed because they were the best candidates for the job. And many other women like to promote gender discrimination when it unfairly advantages them too. It is NOT secksism to state the facts, love.

        • Jack

          Your inability to get a girlfriend has sent you insane. Go to the gym and tidy yourself up and then you won’t be so repugnant to women.

          • GraveDave

            When I saw ‘Jack’ I was looking for the smiling black.
            Wrong Jack.

          • Gwangi

            Yep, this Jack is a bint, for sure – and is using the typical bi-itch women use against men: belittling them, trying to de-man them by mocking their secksual abilities, disparaging them in personal and abusive ways, and finally of course saying they have a small willy. Ad hominem attacks lose the argument though – Ms Jack knows NOTHING about me so is projecting her own hatred onto a straw man, her perpetual hate figure. If she does have a boyfriend, I pity him.
            Men are abused like this day in day out, then get into trouble when they hit back. That is repugnant, for sure.

          • Shenandoah

            As always, Eddie, someone takes a little poke and you run them through with a sabre in return.

          • Shenandoah

            Heh heh heh. Eddie has tried and now he tells himself he’s really not interested. Or so I guess.

          • Gwangi

            No – Ms Jack – your abusive ad hominem post proves you have lost the argument, and that your only tactic is trying to silence the truth with abuse against men. Now THAT is repugnant, not to mention ridiculous – and really rather sad.

            Apparently you’re a psychic too and know all details of my life! But I think the word psychotic would be more accurate, eh?

            If you want to answer the intelligent points I have made, then please do so – or perhaps ask a grown-up or a man – someone who has the ability to debate and not just splurge femi-bile against anyone who exposes the gender discrimination men now face and the over-promotion of mediocre 4th rate women in all areas of tax-payer-funded life.

        • GraveDave

          CresidaDick. Remember ‘her ‘ ?
          She even got promoted for being one.

          • Guest

            No, she got promoted for not having one.

          • Gwangi

            Yep, AND she has the guts to admit it! Most don’t.

    • hitchslap11

      I could care less about merit. Merit doesn’t rebuild economies or replace heart valves, ability does that. That’s what’s so infuriating about this. Women (younger women) will always tend to the left despite the conservatives being the only party to have a female prime minister.

      If the women have greater ability than the men they are replacing then promote them, otherwise I could care less if the entire cabinet of either hue comes from the Eton-Magdalen conveyor belt.

      • Shenandoah

        If you could ‘care less’, why don’t you? A careless mis-turn of phrase.

      • Gwangi

        Merit is based on ability and NOTHING else (not race, gender etc). You seem confused…

        • Liz

          Ability for what? They’re administrators!

          • Gwangi

            The same applies to women administrators, of course (whom you worship and always defend).
            Merit for ability in ALL jobs and positions is what I believe in. So no all women shortlists; no appointments of mediocrities who have leapfrogged over more able people just because they are female or ethnic. For real merit, look at a free and fair competition – watch Mastermind or University Challenge on TV. More than 90% white male, not? Those competitions are free and fair; when the BBC appoints contestants you get 50% women and 25% ethnic non-entities – as on Celebrity Mastermind. Get it no, love?
            Now I know femi-twerps like you will disagree – you believe in gender discrimination – so long as it’s against men. Bigot!
            The fact is, males dominate the highest levels of IQ and there are twice as many men with above average IQ than women, many of whom are just rather middling – that is good in terms of evolution as it makes women rather boring and risk-averse, perfect to being safe when pregnant and caring for small children. That is what women evolved for, after all.

  • Damaris Tighe

    As I suspected, all appearance no substance.

  • RaymondDance

    It’s a complete mystery why the Spectator – or the Guardian for that matter – publish articles by Melissa Kite. Oh, wait a minute, she’s a woman and there’s a shortage.

  • Terry Field

    A stupid article. Damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t. Kite is clearly from her article a bitter little creature; very nasty, but representative of a particular type of modern woman.
    The contents have no arguments worthy of detailed response. Spectator should drop her and replace her with someone more profound; less damaged, more wise.

  • perdix

    Bitchy article!

  • Stephen Green

    Dithering Dave shows, once again, that there is no lead in his pencil. But stuff the failing state sector- anyone who matters can send their children to Eton.

  • Iain Hill

    Melissa,are you becoming a soc-a-ist? All this talk of the needs of ordinary families! Well done you! Best for months.

  • Amir

    Read this article about Michael Gove’s demotion:


  • Always Vigilant

    Citizens: Alter and abolish the ever-shifting mirage of illusions conjured up by today’s liberals and progressives: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0094KY878