Not so positive discrimination: Some Equalities ministers are more equal than others

Individual women in power do not become champions of all women by default, a truth ably demonstrated by David Cameron's new Cabinet appointees


From all the fuss, you'd think something significant had happened. On Tuesday, David Cameron appointed three female MPs to Cabinet-attending positions. (For those keeping score, that makes five women in the Cabinet and 17 men.) On Wednesday, the Daily Mail heralded these promotions in its own inimitable way: a double-page photo-spread assessing the physical appearance of "thigh-flashing Esther" McVey, "Eighties air hostess" Liz Truss and their colleagues. It seemed everyone was outraged, except, surprisingly, McVey herself, who cheerfully told Sky News she thought the Mail's piece might "start a whole generation of new young girls talking about what jobs [they] can do".

On Thursday, the Labour MP Helen Goodman took a different tack: "#Mail's page on Tory women was fair," she tweeted. "All are puppets who'll change nothing and their appearance really is most interesting thing about them." Goodman later apologised for the tweet, although it seems obvious it was not intended as a criticism of women in politics – she is one, so that would be weird. Rather, it was a criticism of Tory attitudes to women in politics – and since she's a Labour politician, what's weird about that?

The usual grumble regarding efforts to promote women is that it results in meritless promotions. This argument conveniently ignores the many meritless male MPs who owe their seats to a society-wide, centuries-old discrimination in their favour. Well if not that, what else could explain the disproportionate 503 men to 147 women. It certainly wasn't their dress sense, was it?

Actually this row isn't really about positive discrimination at all. You can recognise the necessity of getting more women into power, and still not feel it necessary to celebrate every female appointment as a victory. Individual women in power do not become champions of all women by default, a truth ably demonstrated by Cameron's new appointees. It's not so much that Nicky Morgan, the new Education minister, voted for restricted abortion access in 2011, or that both Morgan and McVey voted against equal marriage in 2013. It's that none of the promoted MPs have much of a record of speaking up on equality at all. If they had, would they have risen so speedily to the top ranks of their party? It should tell us something about the Government's priorities that Morgan will be the third Tory MP in a row to juggle the Minister for Women and Equalities role with another, higher profile position.

Perhaps it would be sisterly to celebrate the career achievements of any women in politics. Whatever she stands for at least she is in some snail-like progression towards the Government's pathetic target of having one-third of ministers be female. Unfortunately, if the 35 years since Britain elected its first and so far only female prime minister have taught us anything, it's not to be appeased so easily. The promotion of a women means very little unless the interests of women are also promoted.

Work is its own reward

This week marked the 63rd year since the first publication of every thoughtful teen's favourite book, Catcher in the Rye. Not a particularly significant number, perhaps, but if the rumours are true, it will be the last such anniversary before J D Salinger's body of work increases in size considerably. According to a biography published in 2013, when the author died four years ago, he left instructions for the staggered release of five unpublished titles between 2015 and 2020.

Maybe this will happen, maybe it won't, and maybe it would be a shame if it did. Certainly Salinger seemed to believe for most of his life that work is better when it escapes all public recognition. We know this not only because of his famously reclusive habits, but because the idea is often found in his books.

According to the Eastern mystic philosophies espoused in his novella Zooey, among others, work done for no audience (or the audience only of Seymour Glass's hypothetical "Fat Lady") is more sacred than work tarnished by the world's praise. Readers love him for this consoling philosophy, but it seems Salinger rather wrote himself into a corner. The books he didn't publish are now much more meaningful than the ones he did.

The milk of human piousness

Soya milk messes with your fertility, rice milk may contain arsenic and anyone with a lactose intolerance or a care for the future of humanity surely knows that cow's milk is the juice of death. Now, thanks to a much-discussed article in the US news magazine Mother Jones, even almond milk has been declared an environmentally ruinous rip-off. Is there any point at all in trying to eat right?

As in the story of the princess and the soya bean, healthy eaters are people with such delicate regard for their own physical equilibrium, the slightest impurity keeps them up at night – and then they proffer this sensitivity as proof of their moral superiority.

It's time to wake up and smell the Fairtrade coffee. As each new food fad is exposed as a scam, only the common sense approach to healthy eating remains: everything in moderation, especially rice milk.

Back to the drawing board

I'm not surprised by Edward Snowden's claims that NSA workers regularly find and perv over "sexually compromising" pictures which are "completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense". I am surprised that people are still taking nudie phone pics of themselves and their partners. Wasn't the miserable invention of "revenge porn" (intimate material shared online by an ex-partner) discouragement enough? Call me a luddite, but if a simple pencil sketch was sexy enough for Jack and Rose in Titanic, it's sexy enough for the rest of us. Time to bring back the lost art of life drawing.

Landen on their feet

Inspirational memes aren't usually my bag, but I'll make an exception for the Roma of Landen in Belgium. At 9am on Wednesday morning, the local mayor tried to force the community to leave a plot of land by blasting Dire Straits' "Sultans of Swing" at top volume. The Roma responded with an impromptu disco, which lasted until 12pm when the music was eventually switched off. So this weekend, don't dance like nobody's watching; dance like the Mayor of Landen just tried to evict you and you're having too much fun to notice.

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