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By Jonathan Isaby

Remember how David Cameron said in March 2008 that he wanted a third of his ministers to be women?

It caused a backlash from meritocrats everywhere – including most female Tories I know, who find such quotas patronising.

Then in April 2009 Mr Cameron repeated the promise:

"If elected, by the end of our first Parliament I want a third of all my ministers to be female," is what he was quoted as saying in the Daily Mail.

I don't recall having heard Mr Cameron repeat the ludicrous pledge since then – and once it turned out that he would be leading a Coalition government I assumed it had been ditched, not least because the Lib Dems have proportionately even fewer female MPs than the Conservatives (7/50 as opposed to 49/257) and the Coalition has meant having to sacrifice certain commitments etc etc.

But it would seem not.

Theresa May Despatch Box 2011 Answering questions in the Commons yesterday in her role as Minister for Women and Equalities, Theresa May was yesterday challenged by Labour MP Chi Onwurah with Andrew Neil's observation from his BBC  documentary, Posh and Posher, that there are more male Cabinet members from one Oxford college than there are women of any background in the Cabinet.

Mrs May replied:

"I simply point out that she should look at the balance in the previous Cabinet under the Labour Government. The Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that he has a commitment to ensure that a third of ministerial places are taken up by women by the end of the Parliament."

So what are the numbers?

I calculate that there are 119 Ministers and whips across both the the Commons and the Lords.

  • 100 are male – 80 Conservative and 20 Lib Dem – which accounts for 84% of the Government.
  • 19 are female – 17 Conservative and 2 Lib Dem – accounting for 16% of the Government.

There are proportionately many more women in government in the appointed House.

Of the 24 peers who are ministers, 8 are women (all Conservative) and 16 are men (12 Conservative and 4 Liberal Democrats).

The figures in the Commons are 84 men (68 Conservative and 16 Lib Dem) and 11 women (9 Conservative and 2 Lib Dem).

So across both Houses, if David Cameron is to hit his quota, he would need to have a total of 40 female  ministers out of 119 – that's 21 more than are in place today.

Make no mistake, there are a number of very talented potential female ministers, not least among the 2010 intake of MPs, and it possible that the target number could be reached on merit alone.

But I remain of the view that committing yourself to a box-ticking exercise when appointing ministers is not the right way to go about forming a government. Furthermore, it has the potential not only to make female ministers feel patronised, but also to breed resentment among male colleagues who have not been promoted.

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