The term political talent has just undergone an overnight redefinition. Its synonyms – flair, aptitude, facility, gift, ability, expertise, capacity, power, faculty – no longer apply. Not if you are a male MP anyway.
Yesterday morning we woke up to a rebirth of Dave the Moderniser and a political world defined by who you are, not by what gifts you have. If you are female, youngish and already a Tory MP, then hey presto you are talented – or part of a formerly hidden pool of talent. Hidden quite where in that most public of palaces, Westminster, I am not sure.
Of course its ‘discovery’ and promotion of this fabulous new source shrinks the genuine political talent pool even further.
The rot set in with the rise and rise of the political professionals – Cameron’s cadre of party apparatchiks with no experience except as Central Office researchers or ‘spads’, as special advisers to senior ministers are known in the trade. Fast tracked (another term for positive discrimination) onto the candidates’ list and into safe seats they pushed aside men (and indeed women) with real life experience – in business, finance, farming, teaching and the forces.
Now the last surviving such MPs (primarily middle aged and male) are coming under attack again, as once more they are disbarred from Cabinet in favour of a new female force who, despite their elevation, have yet to prove themselves politically or administratively.
But Philip Hammond, the new Foreign Secretary (its okay for him), tells us that we have no need to worry. In his first interview from on high he told us, reassuringly, that (as far as women are concerned) that this is just ‘work in progress’:
“You have” he said, “to grow talent in Parliament from the bottom up. We’ve got lots of extremely talented women in the Conservative party, many of them now in ministerial roles (who?– T May? The former Minister Maria Miller?). You can’t just promote people immediately to the Cabinet (Why not? if they are so talented you would be mad not to), but that will come in time by natural progression as people gain experience (Will it? Why is this so necessary for women and not for men – except for the fact perhaps they are not up to the job?) and I think you are seeing a change to the composition of the top levels of the Conservative party, but it is a work in progress.”
Well that at least is for sure.
Can he be fessing up to the widely held myth about female talent? That the government has to go to these lengths to accommodate their, urr, absence of talent and inexperience?
Here’s a suggestion then – why not plan some ‘inset’ training days for them just like teachers? The civil service could take a day off, like the schoolchildren – or maybe volunteer to run the creche.
It may be all very big society (sorry Cabinet) as John Prescott remarked, but who are the guinea pigs in Dave’s political laboratory for testing out gender theories? Us. Thanks a lot.
Apart from which any Cabinet new girl with an iota of self respect must find this all pretty patronising.
As for the ousted middle-aged male MPs who’ve been passed over time and again – on account of their being male rather than of their absence of of talent – they must be hopping mad, if they dare voice their fury.
Why? Because its too easy to forget the many so called ‘pale and stale’ male MPs deserving of promotion on their merit. To take just three:
First on my list would be the ever denigrated and demonised but quite brilliant and highly experienced John Redwood (63), a Chancellor of the Exchequer we never had but needed. A man who understood the banking crisis, who is in command of all matters economic and financial, who has the ability to deal with the public sector deficit, to cut taxes, reduce our national debt and deliver growth to boot. Not one of today’s over-promoted females comes near him in experience, ability or brain-power.
My second pick would be the cerebral, compassionate and highly able Jesse Norman (54). A director at Barclays before leaving to research and teach at University College London, he’s run an educational charity in Eastern Europe during and after the Communist period, a senior fellow at the think-tank Policy Exchange, author of Compassionate Conservatism and an acclaimed biography of Edmund Burke (the apostle of Liberty and the champion of Authority and as such the ‘father’ of conservatism). Going to Eton no doubt excludes him.
Finally Rory Stewart (44), another academic, author, diplomat, foreign policy/Middle East expert who was a senior coalition official in a province of occupied Iraq in 2003–04. He has engaged in cultural development work in Afghanistan as the Founder and Executive Chairman of the Turquoise Mountain Foundation, a British charity.
Such is the traction of the charge that Cameron has a poor record in retaining and promoting female talent that he cannot draw on this genuine pool of talent in the party.
Yet how many of the female MPs brought in to bolster Cameron against such charges have or ever will half the talent of the aforesaid middle-aged male MPs? I really don’t think presenting daytime TV counts. I should know, I have produced it.
Of course it’s the British people and his own party who are the real losers from his futile and destructive gender politics.