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Cabinet Reshuffle Fails to Meet Expectations

18 Jul, 2014

This week's reshuffle has resulted in just two more women joining the coalition Cabinet. Nicky Morgan (Education) and Elizabeth Truss (Environment) join Theresa May (Home Secretary), Justine Greening (International Development) and Theresa Villiers (Northern Ireland) as full Cabinet members, bringing the total women around the table to five (22.7%).

A further ten ministers 'also attend Cabinet' - of these just three are women, with Esther McVey (Work & Pensions Minister) and Baroness Stowell (Leader of the House of Lords) joining Baroness Warsi (Foreign Office Minister). Baroness Stowell's post seems to have been downgraded from full Cabinet level in order to accomodate William Hague remaining at the table.

The Liberal Democrats still have no women Cabinet ministers.

Labour's Shadow Cabinet includes eleven women (40.7% of the 27 members). Three of the five people who 'also attend Shadow Cabinet meetings' are women.

Both the Government and the Opposition tend to conflate only the women who 'also attend' with the full members in order to make their percentages look better. Thus, the Conservatives claim that over 30% of the Cabinet is female, but in fact this figure can only be achieved by adding Warsi, McVey and Stowell to the full Cabinet members, and not the eight other (male) 'also attends'. If they are included the figure is only 24.2%. Similarly, Labour's percentage of women in Cabinet leaps to 51.8% if only the women who 'also attend' are included, if the two men are counted as well the figure comes down to 43.7%.

David Cameron pledged at the start of his premiership that by the end of it a third of his Cabinet would be women. On any working of the figures he has yet to meet that pledge. Ed Miliband has repeatedly said that any Cabinet he leads will be 50% female; if Labour win in 2015 he will be expected to implement that undertaking immediately.

Who sits in Cabinet matters because these are the most senior and powerful political posts in the country. The people who hold them are responsible for spending billions of pounds of public money, and for determining and leading on major policy issues. They may be a tiny political elite, but they have a direct influence on the daily lives of millions of people. Who they are, and how they exercise their power, should be a matter of active concern to everyone.

The current sleight of hand employed by all parties with the statistics is therefore both disingenuous and disappointing. If 'also attending' Cabinet were in reality the same thing as being a full member the rates of pay would reflect that, which, as the case of Baroness Stowell showed, they do not. It would also not have been necessary to keep William Hague at Cabinet level at all costs - he could have 'also attended' like the Chief Whip, the Paymaster General and the Leader of the House of Lords. Parties squabbling over who has most women in what roles is an unedifying sight to say the least and needs to stop, if only so that we can assess progress properly, give praise where it is due, and be realistic about what challenges still face us.


For details of women in national Cabinets in Europe and elsewhere see our most recent Factsheet.