We will know very soon which of the tipped list of Esther McVey, Liz Truss, Anna Soubry, Nicky Morgan, Priti Patel – and so on – are promoted to the Cabinet or to attend it or to senior Ministerial office. But that David Cameron will present his changes as a “shuffle for women” is beyond doubt. He is moving to deliver on his aspiration of having a third of women ministers, and to correct what Downing Street sees as a major vulnerability.
One conclusion is certain. Even if Number 10 gains a battlefield win over Labour tomorrow, he won’t win the war then – not least because he is presented with a new challenge each time he meets an old one.
The campaign for more women in senior Tory positions is part of a push for the transformation of the Commons from “a gentleman’s club” – itself part of a wider change from a chamber of citizen legislators to one of professional politicians. See today’s call by the All-Parliamentary Group for Women to subject Parliament’s art to a gender audit.
Cameron may thus find that the more he does, the more he is called on to do. Number 10 is now reported to be toying with the atom bomb option of all women shortlists. Is there confusion in Downing Street, given previous denials, or is the leadership backtracking? (Or were the denials chaff in the first place?) Certainly, it seems to have taken the all-male South Suffolk final badly.
There’s no shortage of talented women for promotion. Here are some of the non-Ministerial names again: Therese Coffey, Margot James, Tracey Crouch, Harriet Baldwin, Penny Mordaunt and our other Monday columnist with Patel, Charlotte Leslie.
There is a bigger danger. The average Conservative backbencher is a man. His chances of promotion are being thwarted, twice. First, by the Liberal Democrats taking some 15 Commons Ministerial places. And second, by the Prime Minister’s women pledge. Let’s hear it for the men who should be have ministerial office but who these factors have helped to keep out to date – for example: Steve Barclay, Kwasi Kwarteng, Dominic Raab, Nadhim Zahawi, George Freeman, Richard Fuller, Ben Gummer, Damian Hinds. Cameron must beware the revenge of Prufrock.