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Mathew Strowbridge

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David Cameron: Sexist or Simply Sticking to Those That he Can Rely on?

Posted: 05/11/2012 13:05

Cameron

Dame Helen Ghosh's recent revelations, printed in the London Evening Standard, that David Cameron surrounds himself 'with a male-dominated network of friends... that was difficult for women politicians to penetrate' should come as no surprise to anyone who has picked up a newspaper over the past two years.

A brief review throws up a series of incidents. Not least the PM's apparent sexism exhibited in his hastening of a female MP to 'calm down, dear', or his apparent indication that making tea is the duty of a woman. Even his choice to almost completely terminate the roll of female ministers after his first comprehensive cabinet reshuffle strikes of a man who is hardly matripotestal.

In the wake of these supposed blunders the most recent revelations about the inner-workings of Number 10 provide us with a mere trifling of information that we did not already know about self-styled 'Call Me' Dave. Even before Dame Ghosh claimed, on Monday night, to have been misquoted by the Standard the story did little more than add yet another lump of coal to a fire that has continued to fester for the majority of Cameron's premiership. Word on the street is the Prime Minister's a bigot and, regardless of whether these assumptions are true, such a public perception should at least cause the leader of the country to consider his demeanor.

Or maybe not.

Whilst the issue of female muscle (or the lack of it) in Whitehall is the key theme of Ghosh's argument, her attacks on the Prime Minister focus less on any supposed misogyny than on the workings of his inner-circle, that comprises, as the Standard highlights, 'a network of friends - the friends he made at school, friends he made at university'. Ghosh is quoted as suggesting that this "kind of clique network was reinforced in Cameron's case by the people who worked for him in opposition, the people who supported him in his leadership bid." As a man who attended an all-boys public school, then an Oxbridge College where three in five students are male, it is unsurprising the PM's wider-circle is less than bursting with women.

Is there actually anything wrong with such a fraternity? Whilst it would be wonderful for government to operate upon a solely egalitarian basis, in reality the nature of the system demands a condensed group of individuals who can delegate political strategy across Westminster.

This is not to suggest that we are experiencing a return to the sofa-style government favoured by Tony Blair. But it seems clear that, by surrounding himself with his closest chums, Cameron is able to avoid resorting to the kind of isolationist tactics that saw Gordon Brown labelled a 'control freak'.

Whilst Cameron can be criticised for running a company of likeminded pals, that he manages to do so has allowed him to become the most laid back Prime Minister in recent history. It may also be one thing that allows him to maintain control over his government's direction for the remainder of this parliament.

With the effects of most of the coalition's cuts still to be felt across the country, Cameron will benefit from the support a gang of close acquaintances, such as those that Dame Ghosh alludes to. When Thatcher's government fell it was less a result of any shift in public opinion than a repercussion of her divided cabinet, pulled sharply in two at the hands of Michael Heseltine. In comparison, in the face of a government full of those that he could no longer rely upon, Macmillan's decisive clearing out of ministers during 1962's Night of the Long Knives led to him reaffirming his position as PM - and it is likely that he would have won the subsequent general election, had it not been for the Vassall and Profumo Affairs.

Rather than proving a persisting headache, the PM's ability to maintain a macho and insular team of advisers may say more about how he regards the importance of a steady inner circle than he does those who are knocking on the cabinet office door. Over the next two years Cameron's band of brothers could prove to be the one thing he can faithfully rely upon. He may be prolonging his reputation as an elitist and a sexist but, for want of keeping hold of those he trusts, this will likely be a sacrifice that Cameron is willing to make. At least until the run in for a next election. Women-only shortlists, anyone?

 
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