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UK Politics

New Equalities Minister attacks 'male and pale' coalition brokers

A senior Liberal Democrat protested yesterday over the lack of women in the new government as she was appointed the Equalities Minister.

Lynne Featherstone became only second woman from her party to secure a post in the new coalition administration.

She disclosed that she had told David Cameron that "we must do better" in promoting women after the Prime Minister offered her the Home Office job.

Ms Featherstone, the MP for Hornsey and Wood Green, will take over responsibility from Harriet Harman for championing equalities – albeit from a much more junior level of government.

She said she was "very disappointed" over the lack and turned her fire on her own party's failure to advance the cause of women, complaining about the composition of the Liberal Democrat and Tory teams which hammered out the coalition deal.

"When you look at the negotiating teams, they were male and pale. I think that is an issue," she told the BBC. "But if I look at the five Liberal Democrats, including Nick Clegg, who have gone into the Cabinet, they are, and this is one of the difficulties, extremely talented, extremely experienced and the heavy hitters in the Liberal Democrats.

"So the issue is how do you get women through the ranks of Parliament to those positions where they are then in a position to be in the Cabinet?"

Several other prominent Liberal Democrats were appointed last night to key posts in the new administration.

David Heath, who fought off a concerted attempt by the Conservatives last week to oust him from his Somerset constituency, will now find himself working hand-in-hand with the party as deputy to the Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young.

The MP for Orkney and Shetland, Alistair Carmichael, is taking on the tricky twin brief of serving as a government whip and the Liberal Democrat chief whip.

Ed Davey was made a junior business minister, Andrew Stunell a junior communities minister, Norman Baker a junior transport minister, Lord Wallace of Tankerness the Advocate general for Scotland and Lord Shutt of Greetland the Deputy Chief Whip in the House of Lords.

The most eye-catching Conservative appointment was the return of a former Cabinet minister, Lord Howell of Guildford, to the government after 27 years.

Lord Howell, 74, who served as Energy Secretary and Transport Secretary under Baroness Thatcher, became a minister of state in the Foreign Office.

Nick Hurd, the son of the former Home Secretary Lord Hurd of Westwell, became charities minister. He covered the same portfolio in opposition.

Andrew Robathan, a former army officer, was appointed to the Ministry of Defence, alongside the Aldershot MP Gerald Howarth.

The party's former Europe spokesman, Mark Francois, whose hopes of becoming Europe Minister were dashed, was made a government whip.

Maria Miller, who was shadow minister for the family, was appointed a junior minister in the Department for Work and Pensions. She will work alongside the former banker Lord Freud, the businessman who advised Mr Cameron in welfare reform.

However, a series of prominent Tory frontbenchers appeared last night to have fallen victim to the squeeze on ministerial posts because of the space being found for Liberal Democrats.

They included Adam Afriyie, the MP for Windsor, who had been the shadow science minister, and Greg Hands, the MP for Chelsea and Fulham, a former shadow Treasury minister.

Nor did there appear to be any space for Tobias Ellwood, who had been the shadow culture minister, or Eleanor Laing, a former shadow justice minister.

The former shadow Cabinet ministers, David Davis and Bernard Jenkin, also looked set to be disappointed.

*The creation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition was given a warm welcome yesterday in a survey of voters.

The ComRes poll for the BBC's Daily Politics found 44 per cent believed it was good for Britain, against 21 per cent who took the opposite view. Twenty-eight per cent said they thought it would make no difference.

Sixty per cent said they expected the new government to be effective in reducing Britain's budget deficit.

Equality priorities

Liberal Democrats

*Tackle gender, sexuality, age, race, religion or disability discrimination

*Require name-blind job applications to reduce sex and race discrimination

*Introduce fair-pay audits for firms with more than 100 workers

*Public companies to declare remunerations of £200,000 a year or more

*Extend the right to request flexible working to all employees

*Seek to extend period of shared parental leave to up to 18 months

*Require better recording of hate crimes against disabled, homosexual and transgender people

*Confront homophobic bullying


*Extend right to request flexible working to all parents of children under 18 and all public-sector workers

*Allow both parents to take parental leave at the same time

*Require the longlist for directorship appointments to include a 50 per cent tally of female candidates

*Compulsory pay audit for employers losing gender pay discrimination employment tribunal cases

*Recognise civil partnerships in tax system; consider civil partnerships to be called and classified as marriage

*Historic convictions for consensual gay sex with somebody 16 or over should be "spent"

*Tackle homophobic bullying