Amber Rudd On Why Conservatives Can Be Feminists And Whether Cameron's Anti-Women

'I Was A Feminist Before I Was A Tory'

Twenty six years ago, Amber Rudd was handed a bag of porn videos by her boss.

"When I joined JP Morgan, after my training course I went up to the trading floor - we were the first generation of university women to go onto the trading floor.

"I remember the head trader came up to me at the end of the day and he said 'This is your training for tonight, Amber’, and he gave me a bag of porn," she tells The Huffington Post UK.

"It was a long time ago and I sort of laughed it off. Now you'd retire, or of course you'd sue. "

It’s just over a quarter of a century later and the Conservative MP is sitting in the lobby of Portcullis House in the House of Commons, explaining why she’s a feminist - and how she got into politics.

It’s a similar story to other rising stars of the recent Tory intake; a CV spanning a successful career in finance, recruitment and journalism, a place on the Conservative A-list of candidates after a failed bid in 2005, then winning a seat back from Labour in 2010 (in Rudd's case it was the Hastings and Rye constituency from Labour's Michael Foster).

It’s what happened next that marks Rudd out. As well as becoming Chancellor George Osborne’s parliamentary aide, a post seen as a prelude to becoming a minister, she’s also begun a cross-party inquiry into unplanned pregnancies (which is set to report soon), and is treasurer for the all party parliamentary group on FGM.

She even took on Harriet Harman, a politician she begrudgingly admits to admiring "for speaking up for women's rights" despite believing her politics are "absolutely wrong", in a Guardian article where she proudly proclaimed Conservatives could be feminists too.

Rudd is, as she puts it, "one of the champions for the government", so often accused of alienating female voters, "on behalf of women."

For her George Osborne and David Cameron, are "naturally thoughtful about women. The idea that they are anti-women.. absolutely not," she says.

So what's the issue here? For her, some bits of it are "definitely" spin. "I think there's a lot of politics in the debate about women. You have to have people who get up and say 'we're doing this for women, we're doing that for women.'"

But what about the recent furore over the so-called ‘mummy tax’, and research from the Resolution Foundation showing that the Autumn Statement will hit single mothers? "I think that you can come back to the Autumn Statement in that the most important thing for women is the same things that are important to men; to get the deficit right, to get mortgages low, to get schools better," she insists.

"I spoke at a Demos conference recently about this and one of the things I said that I can make a list of the good things we've done for women, and Yvette Cooper can make a list of the bad things and we can go back-and-forth, back-and-forth. She knows I've got a point, I know she's got a point. But what actually divides us is how we think we can help women."

Rudd says some of the accusations that the government is anti-women are political

Rudd is one of the Conservative women lobbying the government from the inside to improve policies. And there's a new concession on the horizon. "I think we've confirmed with Iain Duncan Smith that when women are in vulnerable situations for domestic violence their element of housing can be paid direct to their refuge rather than as a whole universal credit package," she says.

But if the government is so pro-women why do people like Rudd have to campaign for them to be considered in legislation, instead of ironing out the kinks? "Life is never like that, in my view. If you have one power group in charge, they're never going to consider other groups within society, in my view.

"The last government made a lot of progress towards equality. They didn't do it because they had an all male group. We know who the women were under the last government who spoke up for women's rights."

What about women in the Cabinet? Should there be more? "Absolutely."

Rudd’s passionate about her beliefs, even withstanding 15 minutes of booing at a recent UK Feminista rally of parliament to get her point across.

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"From the moment I got up to the moment I sat down I was booed. They had a view before they arrived. It was women who had decided that the government was, as I said, against women. I took Yvette [Cooper] on, I was cackled, I was shouted at and called a liar. It was quite an aggressive 10, 15 minutes but I got through it, I think that there was nobody in that hall you'd probably describe as a friend to the Conservative party but I hope I got some respect for trying to make the case," she says.

So why is Conservative feminism seen as controversial? "I am not clear why the right has been so vilified [for calling themselves feminists] but I think maybe, part of it, is that role models on the right have not got up and said 'I'm a feminist. And this why I stand for women.'

"Obviously Margaret Thatcher famously didn't do that... Maybe there haven't been enough right wing role models and advocates. If you think about feminist heroes they tend to be on the left."

Does she accept that the concept might be difficult to reconcile when members of the government, such as health secretary Jeremy Hunt, call for a reduction in the abortion time limits? "Yes. I do. It's not helpful because that concerns people in their view that maybe 'Conservatives don't get.'"

For her, it’s simple. Before she was a Conservative, and before she was a politician (an experience she describes as a "treat"), there was something else. "I was a feminist before I was a Tory. That won't please members of my party, but it's absolutely true."


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