This extraordinary election has seen one horrible irony for women traded for another. At the start of the campaign, when Theresa May looked to turn her high personal ratings (lol) into an even higher Conservative majority (lololol), it seemed that the UK’s second female prime minister was going to bring about a depressing decline in female MPs: because only Labour has a substantial record of getting women into parliament (thank you, all-women shortlists), anything that hurts Labour hurts sexual equality on the benches.
Back when a 1930s style collapse seemed plausible (lololololol), names on the line included Jess Phillips and Thangam Debbonaire, among other redoubtable feminists who have brought their feminist politics into parliament. Well that didn’t happen. Instead, Labour’s surge saw Phillips add 10,000 votes to her majority; Debbonaire’s vote share went from 33.7 per cent to a dizzying 65.9 per cent.
Instead of losing women, Westminster gained a record intake of them. And the Tories lost, lost, lost (one final lol here). But this is where the next irony comes in, because the only way for the now-diminished Tories to form a government is for them to join a coalition with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland. And a ruling coalition that includes the DUP is profoundly bad news for women.
Read the full column at the New Statesman
Let’s call it the Thatcher Problem. Women with power make a lot of people very uncomfortable, because power is essentially anti-feminine. The echo of John Knox’s warning against a “monstrous regiment” of unsubjugated women has never really gone away. A woman in power has to prove she’s womanly enough to be acceptable, but not so womanish that she can’t do the job. And up pops the answer: Margaret Thatcher with headscarf neatly tied, head poking out of a tank: impressively martial, but always ladylike.
It’s easier – a bit – for women in politics now. You no longer have to burnish your gender credentials by showing off your ironing board. You can leave your handbag at home. Trousers are tolerable. Women now make up 29% of all MPs in Westminster, in what is shamefully an all-time high. Shameful, because there are still more male MPs currently sitting than there have been female MPs in the whole history of parliament.
Read the full post at the New Statesman
My piece on the ill-conceived, crassly-executed #Kerryout campaign went up yesterday on Comment is Free:
Labour MP Kerry McCarthy has had an unobtrusive career since she entered parliament in 2005, voting along party lines with relentless loyalty. Her parliamentary expenses are a bit more interesting, if you’re keen on interior design – McCarthy furnished her London home from Habitat – but even then, she’s a fairly middling figure. TheyWorkForYou gives her claims for 2007/2008 a ranking of 215th out of 645 MPs. That leaves plenty of more spectacular receipt-flashers ahead of her.
The Guardian, “The trouble with Tory Twitter”
Follow the link to read the full piece – although with today’s news, I’d guess the PLP is more worried about internal enemies that the little blue gnats behind #Kerryout.
© Sarah Ditum, 2010
Grazia knows what’s next. Thigh-high boots on the catwalks. Leather for AW09. And a Conservative government at the next general election. The Tories have been working their way around the style press for a while now – GQ editor Dylan Jones has authored a book of interviews with David Cameron and has taken several opportunities to celebrate Conservative politicians in his magazine, and Samantha Cameron’s role at luxury-goods firm Smythson has probably contributed to an uptick in pictures of her and her husband appearing in Vogue.
In 1997, Labour made much of their supporters from pop music and the arts. For Conservative politicians, style mags offer the same sort of sympathetic access to mass audience beyond the political hardcore: the NME is very unlikely to turn blue, but fashion (with a business structure based on individual entrepreneurs selling very expensive things to very rich people) is probably wide open to Cameron’s “compassionate conservatism”. Tara Hamilton-Miller’s bizarre “How cool are the Conservatives?” feature in The Telegraph is just another push at the same angle, from a depressing world where banalities like “riding a bike” and “wearing Converse” count as achingly now.
In Jane Moore’s Grazia interview (15 August, above), David Cameron is presented in the same way as the next label or designer or model. His ascendancy is a fait accompli: the reader just has to catch up. Policies and politics don’t come into the feature: this is about learning to love David. He’s a “leader, campaigner and grieving father” according to both the ed’s letter and the strap. He talks about his admiration for his wife, his grief at the death of their son, his hopes for another child. Moore tells us that Cameron is hard-working (“David Cameron is addressing a packed hall of voters […] But, hang on, this is August”) and affectionate (when talking about Sam “his face visibly softens”).
The only questions that go beyond the warm domain of the personal are the reader ones, dealt with in a boxout where the splurge of figures and initiatives can go unchallenged. Fiscal policy isn’t Grazia’s domain, and there’s no reason for a politician to go looking for scrutiny, but it’s grim stuff to have a politician presented to you on these terms. Cameron is the object you will be adoring when the next collections arrive – he’s as inevitable as a new style of hosiery, and like the legging, you’ll want to know everything about him (how long? what colour?) but never question his fundamental reasoning. Flick to page 30 of the same issue and you’ll find out that the language of compassionate conservatism is a part of stylespeak now. David Cameron might be considerably less important than Cheryl Cole’s wardrobe, but he’s something you’ll want to consider buying all the same.
Related: “Who is wearing what, and why!”
Text © Sarah Ditum, 2009