Maria Miller’s attempt to boost the Conservatives’ standing amongst women backfired as she put the spotlight on David Cameron’s privileged background.
The Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, who is also the Equalities Minister, is boycotting the Open golf championship at Muirfield in Scotland because the club refuses to admit women members. Downing Street backed her stance, saying Mr Cameron believed that all-male clubs “look much more to the past than the future.”
But to the irritation of Cameron aides, that provoked a flurry of questions about his membership of the hell-raising Bullingdon Club while he was at Oxford University, and his decision to join the exclusive all-male White’s club, where his late father was once chairman. His official spokesman said the Prime Minister Prime Minister resigned from White’s in 2008, two and half years after becoming Tory leader.
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, described Muirfield’s policy as “old fashioned” and “anachronistic.” Andrew Lansley, the Tory Leader of the Commons, called it “entirely reprehensible.”
But Mrs Miller’s intervention led to Labour calls for a ban on all-male sports clubs. Harriet Harman, the shadow Culture Secretary, said she should match her words with action and offered Opposition support to speed a law through Parliament. “A boycott is a kind of symbolic, angry gesture. I think if you’re Secretary of State sitting around the Cabinet table, you can do more than that. You can actually take the action,” she said. But Number 10 ruled out a ban, saying there were no plans for legislation.
Mrs Miller also joined the two-week-old controversy over the sexist remarks by BBC sports presenter John Inverdale, who described the Wimbledon singles champion Marion Bartoli as not “a looker”. Although he and the BBC had already apologised, the Culture Secretary wrote to the Corporation asking for “an update on any further action.”
Lord (Tony) Hall, the BBC director-general, told her yesterday that Inverdale’s remarks “were totally unacceptable and fell well beneath the standards we expect of our presenters.” He added: “John sincerely regrets that he made such an inappropriate statement and for the offence caused. As he said on-air the following day, he has written to Marion Bartoli to apologise and the BBC has also apologised for John's remarks. In addition, the director of sport and the controller of 5 live have both spoken to John to make it clear that his comments were unacceptable and that an incident of this nature must never happen again."
The BBC director-general said the corporation had a proud record of supporting women’s sport, and is looking at its equality and diversity policies, with staff being given a clearer idea of what is "inappropriate behaviour or language".