Philip May always seemed a nice enough, affable kind of chap when his wife Theresa was prime minister. No doubt as a feminist I should have objected to his revelation that he did “the boy jobs” in the house, like taking out the bin.
But quite honestly, while I fight for a woman’s right to run the country, I find myself a bit ambivalent about fighting for the right to wrestle half-torn rubbish bags, leaking coffee grinds, out of the kitchen bin. Hypocrite? Aren’t we all. But it’s not so much “boy jobs” as “jobs for the boys” that I object to.
Boris Johnson’s latest honours list is interesting, not because of the merit – or lack of it – of the recipients, but because of the nakedness of its cronyism. There’s not even any pretence anymore.
To my brother, Jo… thank you for leaving parliament before our “unresolvable tension” as you put it at the time, caused me too much trouble. To my friend, Evgeny Lebedev, thank you for… for being a billionaire. And of course to Philip, for emasculating yourself by letting your wife temporarily be the boss. Let us replenish your depleted testosterone levels with a big fat gong.
What did Norma Major ever get? Apart from an Edwina Curry autobiography. Or Sarah Brown? Or Samantha Cameron? Or Cherie Blair? Or any of the many women who have painted on a Polyfilla grin for the years of their husbands’ tenure as prime minister, steadfastly looking supportive while the world assessed them on the basis of their shapely – or otherwise – pins. Certainly not a place in the Lords.
Yet, while only two women have ever been British prime minister, both their husbands got honours. Denis Thatcher got the only baronetcy since 1964 – and no one has received one since. What for? Services to gin production?
Johnson’s latest batch of 36 recipients contains only one third women (no mention of his politician sister, Rachel), which is not far off their membership of the whole House of Lords. Whichever way you look at it, the upper chamber is an anachronistic way to run a democracy, but it is now more shamelessly an upper-crust boys’ club than ever before.
Corruption is usually concealed behind a thin veil of discretion. With the prime minister, not even appearances matter anymore – let alone substance. He simply doesn’t care that he is seen as a nepotist with only the sketchiest understanding of the actualite.
There were, according to Benjamin Disraeli, three types of untruths. There were lies. There were damned lies. And then there were statistics.
Last month, Johnson was reprimanded by the UK Statistics watchdog for using figures on child poverty “selectively, inaccurately, and misleadingly” in Commons exchanges with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.
This week, news broke of a £3 million contract being awarded to a Tory-linked PR company without a tender. It is really not so much what this says about Boris Johnson that is important. It is what it says about the rest of us that is truly depressing.
Do we, as a nation, really not care whether our politicians are truthful and accountable? Even before Johnson was elected, it was apparent that he was not averse to telling a porky or two. Nor was he loathe to use his power and connections (shall we mention Jennifer Arcuri here?). As for doing his homework, it was perfectly clear he was never going to be overburdened by red boxes and that an embarrassing, stuttering, ramble through whatever thought passed through his head as the camera light went on would suffice for a policy statement. He was elected anyway.
The nation knew what he was. Why didn’t it matter? Because we have stopped caring about ethics. We want charisma, and a mop-head hairdo, combined with a roguish twinkle, is mistaken for “personality” (pals need personality, politicians need principles).
When do we put our collective foot down over lies, naked nepotism, and male cliques in unelected chambers having a disproportionate say in running society? When do we recognise that the juicy red apple of our democracy is rotten at the core?
Theresa did the work, but Philip got the gong for putting out the bins. How surprising is that? Not very.
But example matters. Children absorb the values of the world around them. A decade ago, the granddaughter of Madeline Albright, America’s first female secretary of state, who served in Bill Clinton’s government, remarked to her mother: “Only girls are secretary of state.”
She knew, of course, about her famous grandmother, but it was also what she had observed during her brief time on the planet: Condoleezza Rice followed by Hillary Clinton. There it is – the importance of experiential learning.
Children see the way the world is, assume it was ever thus, and expect it to remain that way.
That’s why we need to change the status quo. No doubt Albright’s granddaughter has discovered her mistake by now. Women were only newly “allowed” in that post. Things were not as they seemed.
High-status jobs for the girls? Now that really would be a turn-up for the books.