Maria Miller is Conservative MP for Basingstoke, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and also Minister for Women and Equalities. Follow Maria on Twitter.
In this piece, Maria continues ConservativeHome's series on Women.
I became a Conservative when Margaret Thatcher became leader of our party. She demonstrated, for me, how out of step the grey, old politics of the 1970’s were from the aspirations of people in Britain.
I am a working mother of three and when it comes to understanding women and working for women, the Conservatives have a proud history. It is the Conservative Party that can take the credit for extending suffrage in 1918 to women and in 1928 for equalizing the voting age. It was a Conservative Government that allowed women to first sit in the Lords in 1958 and it was when the Conservative party was in Government, in 1979, that we had the first female British Prime Minister. Last year, under this Government, we ensured that gender will no longer be a barrier to the throne – the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s firstborn will inherit the crown, regardless of sex.
Time and time again it has been the Conservative Party that has stood up for women.
This is a history and a political legacy that we should view with pride. It is one I sometimes think we are not confident enough about expressing. Yet, of course, we should not rely on our historical achievements to demonstrate our credentials as the party for women in the 21st century. We are working to address the barriers faced by girls and women and continuing to design policies that strengthen women in the workplace and place a high value on family life.
Frequently in debate, the case for ‘women’ is argued as though they have discrete and niche concerns – as though women are not primarily focused on the same things as their male counterparts, such as the economy, health and education. Utter nonsense. This myth, perpetuated for years under the Labour government, unnecessarily and condescendingly politicises the concerns of women, implicitly suggesting that they are outside of the mainstream.
I believe this approach is entirely wrong. The things that matter to women do not matter because they are of particular interest to females but rather because they are of interest to the public as a whole. They just want to know that the government is doing the job it was elected to do. They want to know that they will not be leaving unmanageable debts or excessive burdens for their children and that they live in a country that values aspiration; that rewards success, ambition and those that work hard.
That is where our focus has been: on helping the economy recover and ensuring that women are a fundamental part of the growth agenda, as they rightly should be. As such we have cut tax for over 23 million working people, lifting 2m out of income tax altogether – the majority of whom are women. For those with children we have extended help with childcare for those that work less than 16 hours a week; we have increased child tax credits for low to middle income families; and we have reformed both flexible working and the system of parental leave.
Not all women choose to either get married or have children, of course, so our focus must not solely lie there. The gender pay gap is falling and more and more women are achieving seats in the boardroom and it’s not through quotas forced on us by Europe but because businesses are learning that a diverse boardroom brings balance and effectiveness.
The Conservative Party has understood for many years that, just as with business, politics is stronger when inspiring women are involved. In conversations both within and outside of parliament you hear questions and discussions around the number of women in the Cabinet.
Occasionally I am asked why the government is not committed to promoting women and this question always astounds me as nothing could be further from the truth. A huge number of women were promoted from the 2010 intake and they have the earned their positions because they have gained the experience to do a good job. You could take the Labour approach it’s true and simply promote women to posts as an act of ‘window dressing’ but that would undermine what we believe in as Conservatives. It has been a slow process but we’ve come a long way from where we began and we are making huge strides in the number of women in politics. Before the 2010 General Election there were 18 Conservative female MPs – now there are 49 and I am confident that this trend will continue.
This is the fifth part of ConHome's week-long series on connecting with women. Charlotte Vere kicked the series off on Monday, Liz Truss wrote about childcare, Ruth Lea examined the importance of economic policy and Paul Goodman celebrated the number of women rising through Tory ranks.