With a week to go until Theresa May formally ends her disastrous premiership, all eyes are on her potential successor. And what an embarrassment of riches there are to choose from. By my count, we’re currently at twelve candidates: from the old favourites like Michael Gove and Boris Johnson to the new faces of cliff-diving Conservatism, Esther McVey and Dominic Raab.
Many of the candidates will place democracy front and centre of their campaigns, promising to fulfil the hollow promises made in 2016 as a matter of integrity and duty to the “British people”. And yet, whoever takes over from May will ultimately be decided by the Conservative membership who are 71 per cent male, 97 per cent white and 44 per cent aged over 65.
In fact, research from Queen Mary University in 2018 shows that just 0.75 per cent of the Conservative party membership are young women: 5 per cent of members are aged 18-24 and just 15 per cent of them are young women. A bunch of male, pale and stale card-carrying Conservative voters will be the ones to decide the future of this country. What was that about democratic deficit?
The choice of Tory party leader will be unrepresentative and undemocratic. And yet this prime minister could be the one to lead us back into or out of Europe. They could also preside over a crucial process of healing the country but a glance to their history with tackling inequality doesn’t bode well. Those posturing for leadership don’t exactly have the strongest records on women’s rights. Let’s take a closer look at some of the leading candidates.
First up, Boris Johnson. It’s hardly a hot take to suggest that Boris’s class clown act is a clever guise for what is really a conniving and ruthless long game to secure the keys to Number 10 but has his time finally arrived? Let’s hope not. Just last year Johnson was reported to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for describing women who wear the Niqab as “letter boxes” and “bank robbers”.
His past comments on women also include: women go to university because: “they’ve got to find men to marry” and a personal favourite“voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW”.
I’d love to tell you things get better from here but alas, Raab is infamous for his hostility to women’s rights. He famously declared in a PoliticsHome article in 2011 that “feminists are now amongst the most obnoxious bigots”. Then, in what is truly a show of own-goalsmanship, defended this claim live on The Andrew Marr Show this week. Despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary – including the glacial pace of closing the pay gap and ending violence against women – Raab thinks it is in fact men who have got a “raw deal”.
Raab’s attitudes towards food bank users as those with a “cash flow problem” and disabled children having “wish lists” have been widely publicised elsewhere, but it’s worth noting that a 2018 study found that women make up 56 per cent of food bank users and 73 per cent of those receiving carers allowance. Turns out elitism isn’t gender neutral.
Then there’s Michael Gove, the infamous Education Secretary who increased teachers’ workloads and decreased their salaries, while spending per pupil fell 8 per cent between 2010 and 2018. Almost three quarters of school teachers are women meaning that it is women who have been predominantly hit by these cuts.
Dare I even ask about Jeremy Hunt? Best not to be honest. After all this is the man who confirmed to The Times in 2012 that he was in favour of halving the abortion limit. “I voted to reduce the time down to 12 weeks. I still have that view,” he said.
Sticking with health, all major medical bodies passed no confidence motions on our former Health Secretary - and no surprise. On his watch, waiting times for cancer care and A&E increased, thousands of nurses (89 per cent of whom are women) resigned due to poor working conditions and pay, and the social care sector has been ravaged beyond compare. Approximately 1.2 million people aged 65 and over in England (1 in 8) have unmet care needs, an increase of 48 per cent since 2010.
As Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has described Saudi Arabia – a country where women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel abroad or obtain a passport and the death penalty still stands – as a “very important military ally”. He also suggested Singapore, a country where there is no anti-discrimination legislation and which ranks 147 out of 159 in Oxfam’s Inequality index, as a model for post-Brexit Britain.
All in all it’s not looking good. We are now in a position where a new prime minister, elected by old white men, will enter office only to carry on with whatever Brexit they care to pursue regardless. With these ideologues lining up to follow May as PM now is hardly the time to be complacent about the status of women. We’ve already seen just how easy it is for populist misogynist to gain national credence elsewhere in the world.
The Brexit we were promised in 2016 looks nothing like this Tory catastrophe. And if the EU election results show us anything it's that the UK is collectively pro-Remain — and certainly that there is no mandate for No Deal. A People’s Vote is therefore now a democratic imperative. We cannot afford to leave it to the boys.
Jenna Norman is a campaigns co-ordinator at Women for a People's Vote
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