Now she's announced her cabinet, it's time to admit that having Theresa May as prime minister is good for feminism

We know things are going badly in the political system when the Tories have a better record on leadership equality than Labour. Whether or not you agree with their values, we should be celebrating May's premiership, and the improved gender balance of her cabinet

Anna Rhodes
Friday 15 July 2016 14:46 BST
Theresa May has cut several prominent figures from the front bench
Theresa May has cut several prominent figures from the front bench (Getty)

Since Theresa May’s ascension to Downing Street, it has become particularly trendy to say that there’s nothing feminist about having a woman like her as prime minister. The majority of the criticism has boiled down to: “Yes, she’s a woman, but she’s not the right kind of woman – and that means this isn’t a triumph for feminism.”

Conservative policy has not traditionally been geared towards helping women, with women disproportionately feeling the brunt of austerity cuts, and so on and so forth. But let’s consider the state of the Conservative Party at the moment.

The Conservatives have now totted up two female prime ministers, and May’s main cabinet is made up of 36 per cent women, equal highest with Tony Blair (albeit still an appallingly low figure considering we constitute half of the population). Additionally, 70 per cent of her cabinet were state educated. The women in question – Amber Rudd, Priti Patel, Liz Truss, Karen Bradley, Andrea Leadsom, Natalie Evans and Justine Greening (our new LGBT Women and Equalities minister, a particularly good choice) – are in more senior roles than have ever been dished out women in government. And let's not forget that the leader of the Scottish Conservative Party, Ruth Davidson, is a woman too.

This is the definition of progress. The reign of the privately educated male toff seems to be over for now, or at the very least its deconstruction is in full swing – so why aren’t we able to celebrate?

Yes, many may disagree with a lot of the Conservatives’ views, but one cannot deny that they are accelerating women into power, and they’re doing a much better job of it than Labour – which is a huge problem for feminism on the left. After all, it’s all very well going on about how Labour is the true party of feminism, but that starts to wear a little thin when you look at its appalling record of zero female leaders.

Personally, I see May’s appointment as prime minister and her cabinet choices both as positive moves, and hope that these women treat the women in this country with compassion and feminist ideals. For the first time, we have a gay woman as Minister for Equalities – this fills me with optimism that things can only improve.

We should be thrilled that we are about to enter an age where the UK has a female prime minister, Scotland and Ireland both have a female First Minister, the US could potentially have a female president, and Germany has a female chancellor. This sort of alliance would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. We should be jumping about with joy.

While all this is happening in the supposedly “nasty party”, Labour’s female MPs are reporting rape and death threats at disappointingly high rates. The left is descending into civil war, and female MPs seem to be first in the firing line. When women on the right are respected and elevated more than on the left, it undermines pretty much every left-wing socialist argument for voting Labour that you can think of.

As Labour implodes, the Tories are taking over the centre ground and picking up on everything that the left is forgetting about during their crisis. May mentioned women’s rights, white working class boys and mental health in her speech; she mirrored core Labour sentiments and repeated a lot of what Ed Miliband tried to centre on without success.

It is now time to cast petty grievances aside and appreciate the positive effects a female prime minister, accompanied by a cabinet with a much improved gender ratio, can have. It would be churlish to insist that we can’t feel a modicum of happiness because May just isn’t the right kind of woman. At a time of extreme disunity, a little bit of unity in the feminist movement wouldn’t go amiss: yes, there’s a lot left to be improved, but the Tories have done something Labour has failed to do so far, visibility at the top does matter, and the UK truly is a little bit more feminist for having a woman leader at its helm.

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