In 2009, David Cameron pledged that a third of his ministers would be women. But even today, after a reshuffle which has increased the number of women in government by three, still only one in five ministers are female. The government is making painfully slow progress towards equal representation, and time is running out for the PM to keep his pledge before the next general election.
Yesterday’s reshuffle saw five women enter the government, with three of them – Baroness Jolly, Amber Rudd and Claire Perry – going to the Whips’ office. Meanwhile, two women have left government: Chloe Smith resigned from the Cabinet Office and Baroness Hanham leaves the Department for Communities and Local Government.
While the net number of women in government has not changed drastically, some effort has been made to promote women within government – suggesting that the Prime Minister is paving the way for a future Cabinet with greater representation of women. This would be welcome, considering that the current top table has only four women out of 22 positions.
But the proof is in the pudding, and we will continue to keep up the pressure to ensure that all political parties recognise the importance of fair representation. Labour’s Shadow Cabinet reshuffle brought two new women on to their top table, giving them 44% female representation. But there are concerns that the team running Labour’s election campaign is entirely male, and that parliamentary candidates have been selected from all-male shortlists. Meanwhile there is a real worry that the Liberal Democrats could end up with almost no women at all in the Commons after 2015.
According to the Hansard Society, women’s participation in politics has deteriorated in the last few years. The number of women saying they are certain to vote has plummeted from 59% two years ago to 38% this year – well below the 44% figure for men. The situation is not good for either gender, but it is perilous for women.
There is a general and widespread disconnect between people and politicians: people are finding it increasingly difficult to relate to their elected representatives. Having so few women in government exacerbates this problem: when the government bears so little relation to the population at large, how are people supposed to relate?