Last week, a bright Tory backbencher pointed out to ConservativeHome that seven of the 13 Commons Ministers who departed the Government in the reshuffle sat for constituencies “in the Midlands or North”.
His surface point was that if this a Vote Leave Government, intent on nurturing talent from outside the Tory heartlands, there is scant evidence of it yet.
One might quarrel with the figure: for example, Julian Smith, one of the sacked Ministers, sits for a relatively prosperous rural seat in Yorkshire – not very different its composition from other similar seats further south.
But the MP had a deeper point. Once you start playing identity politics with appointments, he said, anything goes: you can begin to claim all manner of injustices about which group or interests have been unfairly treated.
You will by now have guessed what he was getting at. Yes, he: the complainant, of course, was a man.
The J.Alfred Prufrock MPs of the Conservative backbenches are doing their sums. Immediately before the reshuffle, Downing Street briefed that it wants “half of the Government’s Under-Secretaries of State to be women”.
And that by the summer, “at least three in five Parliamentary PPS’s roles will be held by female MPs”. Each reserved place for a women Tory MP means one fewer for a male Tory MP.
Yesterday, this site wrote up new PPPS appointments from the new intake. All five are women. We wish them the best of luck.
Some of their male counterparts, especially from older intakes, are feeling less well-disposed. As far as we know, none have complained publicly.
Between themselves, it will all be a bit different.
You can be sure that in the tea room and in Commons bars, in Portcullis House and in the voting lobbies, distinctive interchanges are taking place of the kind that the two sexes reserve for each other.
There will be raised eyebrows, gritted teeth, suppressed shrugs, quiet words, hints dropped, feelers put out, sentences muttered out of the corners of mouths, and best male feet unstoicly put forward.
None of this will have any short-term effect on Boris Johnson’s Government, basking as it is in its thumping majority of 80.
Medium-term, things may be a bit different. The biggest backbench problem that the whips face is a perennial one: the anger and resentment of those who believe that their talents are being overlooked.
That, bluntly, they are sometimes wrong; or that not everyone’s gifts can be rewarded; or that there are limited outlets for almost limitless ambition is beside the point – here, and at all other times.
And to the range of complaints that MPs cite in this context we can now add another. In one sense, it is scarcely new. Recent Conservative leaders have tried, sometimes fitfully, to tackle Tory female under-representation.
But Johnson’s Government is going about it with the directness that characterises it elsewhere.
His opponents like to repeat that he has problems with women. To which we must now add new ones with members of the other half of the human race.