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Men hold the top 14 positions in Theresa May’s cabinet

Category: Gender policy 

Theresa May’s emergency cabinet reshuffle promoted more men called Jeremy than it did women in general, MP Nicky Morgan has pointed out, which means that after the prime minister, the top 14 places in the cabinet are now occupied by men. Morgan’s statement should have been stark, yet has been made so often and more amusingly (in 2014, Cameron had more dinners with people called David than he did women) that the only surprise is the curious dominance of the name Jeremy. Yet Morgan’s coda – how depressing is this, in the centenary year of the suffragette movement? – did hit home. Commemoration forces questions about the arc of history and whether it tends, after all, towards justice. If May has effectively replicated the unsisterly dynamic of Thatcher – who never knowingly promoted a woman to cabinet, other than the unelected Lady Janet Young, where a man was available – then what, frankly, was the point of Blair’s babes and Gordon Brown’s window dressing, of David Cameron’s desperate scrambling to look “modern”?

Why bother at all if May’s cabinet in 2018 can look indistinguishable from John Major’s, a ridiculous herd of suits broken up by two splashes of colour, Virginia Bottomley and Gillian Shephard, grinning like two polyester fig leaves. His original cabinet was entirely male, and nobody even noticed until they saw the photos. Will anything ever change, if the political culture at its highest echelons reverts so easily to its patriarchal norm?

I cannot say whether this observation is positive or negative, but It is salient to remember that the cabinet split has never been anything other than heavily male-dominated. Tony Blair is remembered for his “babes”, 96 of whom (there were a record-breaking 101 female Labour MPs in that first 1997 intake) he had posed with in a photo that, in retrospect, was a bit creepy, tinging the whole enterprise with a svengali/mastermind vibe inevitably amplifying his equality credentials, rather than, say, their achievements. The new prevalence of women in parliament – precisely double the number in the Commons only one election beforehand – was not reflected by his cabinet appointments, only four of whom – Harriet Harman, Clare Short, Margaret Beckett and Mo Mowlam – were female.

There was a plain perception that certain jobs were simply too serious for the ladies. Jacqui Smith didn’t become the first female home secretary until almost a decade later, in 2006. A year later, Brown seemed to be doing OK, with a grand total of eight, but two years later, Caroline Flint was making a case against him that really stuck: he ran a “two-tier government”, where the women were decorative and the men, he really listened to. Harman disputed that at the time, but she always was tremendously loyal.


Cameron’s second coalition cabinet – with more people called Theresa than … well, than were called Sajid – was nothing special, either (five women in the inner cabinet), and nor was his first (four). In short: May is, in her pitiful flatspin-scramble for ministers, unpicking such gender balance as there was; but it was never anything to write home about.


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