Jane Merrick: Mine's a pint of Everything in Proportion

Labour MPs' beer ban may have backfired

Share
Related Topics

Last Thursday, I drank the last few drops of the House of Commons' last keg of Top Totty. Yes, I was literally scraping the barrel – but I am happy to report it was full-bodied, with citrus notes, and an after-taste of controversy.

This was technically a contraband half pint, as minutes earlier the Parliamentary authorities had ordered the Strangers' Bar staff to stop selling the ale, seizing the pump plate with its offending picture of a bikini-clad, bunny-eared blonde. The picture, which a female member of the family brewery, Slater's, insisted was "just a bit of cheeky fun", is in the retro style of many images used by microbreweries to sell their beer. But it was the response to the sale of Top Totty in the Commons that seemed just as retro: Kate Green, Labour's Equalities spokesperson, used Parliamentary time to demand it be removed from sale because it demeaned women.

While I accept that some women are demeaned by Top Totty, and have a right to feel so, hasn't the debate moved on? Isn't the blonde on the beer tap now such a rare sight (it was, as a guest beer, only sold in the Commons for a week), and so patently ridiculous, that it should be beyond outrage to assertive, worldly wise women MPs? It depends who you ask.

The response appeared divided along party lines: almost all the female MPs who protested were Labour, and almost all the women who defended the name and branding were Tories. This is a recurring theme: for many Labour women, themselves elected because of all-women shortlists, it is quotas that are the answer to equality. Women, it seems to them, are an oppressed minority, rather than what we are, which is more than half the population. If you start from a position of oppression, then isn't the equality argument already lost before it starts?

Yes, there are those on the right who also favour quotas – including David Cameron (described by Louise Mensch, the Tory woman with probably the highest profile, as more of a feminist than Margaret Thatcher) – who still wants a third of his ministers to be female. But many Tory women believe quotas to be patronising and tokenistic, because rather than be promoted by merit, you need a helping hand. This demeans your position, they argue, because you've been given the equivalent of a golfing handicap to get there.

So it is that right-wing women, from the new Conservative Women's Forum to the Women On think tank, are, instead, coming up with radical ideas to help women progress.

Women On's co-founder, Charlotte Vere, argues that the Top Totty row shows how some female MPs have become too "self-centred" – it is the working women beyond Westminster, particularly those in the squeezed middle, who should be the focus of politicians. Similarly, Tory MP Liz Truss, a dead cert to be in the Cabinet by the end of this Parliament, is working on a set of ideas to encourage more women to return to work after having children, including reforming regulation of childminders. There is a deficit of talent and skills in the workforce because so many working women – from low to high earners – are staying at home or working part-time because full-time childcare is less affordable. Perhaps Labour women are constrained by being in opposition, but I cannot find an equivalent force of ideas in that party.

I am not saying that, by opposing Top Totty beer, Kate Green wouldn't, naturally, also be supportive of better childcare provision for working women. To be fair to Ms Green, she has campaigned in Parliament against child poverty, and has helped the formation of a women's forum in her own constituency.

But, unfortunately, she is now best known as the MP who banned a beer from a small bar in Westminster. Paradoxically, it is Conservative women who appear to be the radicals.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNP, CCNA, Linux, OSPF,...

Commercial Property Solicitor - Bristol

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: A VERY HIGH QUALITY FIRM A high qual...

DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, Linux, Shell, Bash)

£50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: DevOps Engineer (Systems Administration, L...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The power of anonymity lies in the freedom it grants

Boyd Tonkin
Rebel fighters walk in front of damaged buildings in Karam al-Jabal neighbourhood of Aleppo on August 26, 2014.  

The Isis threat must be confronted with clarity and determination

Ed Miliband
Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone