In the so-called “change” election, the men in suits won the day

Amid all the talk of “change” politics we are presented with a parade of privileged white men in the Cabinet and two Oxford educated men in a garden, watched by, let’s face it, rows of mostly male political journalists.

What’s going on when Nick Clegg is able to claim he hopes this is the start of a new kind of “diverse, plural” politics and get away with it?

Perhaps in all the drama David Cameron forgot he had pledged to give a third of jobs in his government to women. Will any of the criticism – and there’s a fair amount of it from #wherearethewomen comments on Twitter to former Labour foreign secretary Margaret Beckett calling on Cameron to promote more women – make a difference?

Beckett’s suggestion that the lack of female talent in the Cabinet could alienate women was echoed by Kirsty Wark on Newsnight, Kath Viner in the Guardian and Jean Seaton in Prospect, who asked how it is that women have come to be so marginalised in politics. The Times, while welcoming the “modernity” of David Cameron and Nick Clegg, said the lack of women “strikes a jarring, retrogressive note”.

After a report by Kylie Morris on Channel 4 News, Lesley Abdela of the Electoral Reform Society challenged 26-year-old Tory MP Michelle Donelan when she claimed that her generation would finally bring change: After all that is what Abdela had believed about her generation in 1979 – and here she was thirty years later “furious” with the lack of progress.

There are now 139 women MPs compared to 126 in the last Parliament – a modest 21.4 per cent increase. From this week there will be 48 Conservative women, 36 of whom are newly elected,  78 Labour women, 31 newly elected, and seven Liberal Democrat women – one new, along with 6  from other parties. That puts us behind many countries in Europe and elsewhere in the world.

And in the Cabinet we have Theresa May with the Home Secretary job and Caroline Spelman as Environment Secretary. Then there is Cheryl Gillian, who was named Welsh Secretary, and the new Minister without Portfolio Baroness Warsi who becomes the first female Muslim in the cabinet.

It is, Ceri Goddard of the Fawcett Society said, as if feminism has never happened. And those women who are in the Cabinet and in Parliament won’t necessarily be fighting for women’s rights in this new parliament.

Both Baroness Warsi and Michelle Donelan said that they were happy with the current situation and Donelan in particular seemed irritated at suggestion of quotas aimed at getting more women into politics.

But this election has shown us that all is not well for women in the world of politics: All three parties showed they were “stuck in the old groove of male-dominated politics” wrote Joan Smith in the Independent on Sunday. “What’s modern about an election in which the two front-runners are former PR-men who went to single-sex public schools?

From the obsession with the leaders’ wives and the absence of women MPs from the campaign, women were left out of the picture and even the promise of a Mumsnet election aimed at winning their vote never came to pass.

And while the representation of women in government has been highlighted by the broadcast media, TV coverage during the campaign rarely challenged the men in suits agenda and in many ways reflected it: Coverage of the leaders’ debates and of election night itself was determinedly male. As Joan Smith said:

Not one of the big broadcasting networks – not even the publicly funded BBC – could be bothered to find a woman to moderate the historic leaders’ debates. It was pretty much the same on election night. My admiration for David Dimbleby’s stamina, at 71, was tempered by irritation at the bias towards male anchors and commentators.

Even Janet Daly, agreed with Joan Smith taking the BBC to task in the Sunday Telegraph for its “elimination” of women in its election coverage:

Watching the long vigil of election night itself, let alone the four weeks of extra political programming that preceded it, was like a trip down memory lane: a return to the days when politics was an activity carried out by men, for men.

Photocredit: Andy Martini via a Creative Commons licence

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