I read a tragically funny tweet on the day that the new Cabinet was announced. “Why are there no women or black people in the Cabinet? Of course there are – who do you think’s cleaning the floor and making the tea?” Words to that effect anyway. And while it isn’t entirely true, we’ve hardly come on leaps and bounds this time round.
If you look at the make up of MPs and cabinet positions we’ve seen a tiny increase in representation. But that’s it. It’s tiny. And I was disappointed to hear Theresa May (the new Minister for Women and Equality) give a very unsatisfactory answer to the question: “do you think there should be more women in Parliament and in the cabinet?” on the PM programme on Radio 4. A straight “yes” would have done the trick. And I suspect – or at least hope – it would be her honest answer. But instead she skirted around the issue (no pun intended) in the style of a true politician and I was left wondering if anything would ever really change.
I was pleased today when Diane Abbott announced that she was throwing her hat into the ring for the leadership of the Labour Party. Until then, we were once again asking: where are all the women? Kira Cochraine in the Guardian wrote a heartfelt plea to those who may be in the running. But then again, on second thoughts, would I? Would any woman in their right mind want to open themselves up to the torrents of abuse they have to deal with day in day out as our high profile women politicians do. Just look at what Harriet Harman has to endure. Whatever you might think of her policies she has been treated with contempt for standing up and speaking up about what she believes in and that has taken the form of personal comments on her looks, her clothes, her sex life … . With one ‘respected’ commentator asking “well would you? Would you ‘do’ her?”.
Having been subjected to some of this treatment following Pinkstinks’ Early Learning Emergency campaign in December (and believe me it was nothing compared to what she has had to put up with), I don’t think I could ever be so brave and courageous as to do what she, Theresa May, Margaret Beckett, Lynne Featherstone, Caroline Spelman and their colleagues do. And Diane Abbott will no doubt now find her inbox full of vitriol and spite now that she’s in the limelight.
We all love to hate our politicians and often they deserve what they get. But what they do not deserve is to be treated like objects of ridicule because they are women and because they dare to speak out. When your shoes or the size of your arse are the only thing which people are interested in then it really is a sad day for all women. We NEED more women in Parliament. We need more minority ethnic MPs too. But I’m afraid to say that if I were one of the women mentioned in Kira’s article, I’d need more than a stiff drink to make me even consider saying yes. So I congratulate Diane Abbott for having the guts to do it. It shows real courage. I sincerely hope that she is not the only one.