In the early hours of Monday, it dawned on Jeremy Corbyn that no women in his team would be shadowing the four Great Offices of State. ‘We are taking a fair amount of shit out there about women,’ his advisor Simon Fletcher was heard saying. ‘We need to do a Mandelson. Let’s make Angela shadow first minister of state. Like Mandelson was. She can cover PMQs.’
Of course, if you’re reading this, and you’re a deep-set Corbynista, I doubt you believe a word of it: it’s the testimony of Darren McCaffrey, Sky reporter, spawn of the evil Murdoch empire.
Therein lies the central challenge of our polarised body politic. How can any of us attempt the open debate a healthy society requires, when we have ceased to speak the same language, let alone trust the same sources? In this maelstrom of bad faith, the left are understandably bemused when anyone even associated with the right raises concerns about the representation of women in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet.
In good faith, then, let’s talk about the Tories, too. In July of last year, after David Cameron had aggressively briefed that his reshuffle would focus on promoting women, Melissa Kite wrote in The Spectator:
‘maybe this is because he is the sort of old-fashioned Tory who deep down, in spite of the rhetoric about valuing women for their abilities, believes that a woman’s place is in the PR strategy.’
Cameron’s feminist fanfare was faux: he only appointed a few new women to cabinet ministries. But he played an old trick, appointing more women without ministerial infrastructure to ‘attending cabinet’ status, where they sat, literally, on the furthest ends of the table from the PM and were allowed to listen quietly to the boys.
A slew of women visited Downing Street just in time for the lunchtime live camera bulletins.