UK & World News

  • 15 July 2014, 18:57

Female Line-Up An Attempt To Win Votes

If there was going to be a Cabinet cull it was always likely to focus on middle-aged or older white men.

After all it is they who have dominated David Cameron's top table.

Of the 22 full members of Cabinet until Monday, only three were female and none mothers.

So the first half of today's narrative - centring on those who have lost their jobs - was always set in stone.

In reality, the second part of the story - those who have benefitted- is a mixed one. Philip Hammond and Michael Fallon are - yes, you've guessed it - white men.

But it is clear that women have been big winners too.

Mr Cameron has increased the number of full members of Cabinet who are female from three to five, bringing in Nicky Morgan and Elizabeth Truss. With Baroness Stowell of Beestonand Esther McVey also attending Cabinet, it doubles the number of women at the table from four to eight.

So why has the Prime Minister embarked on this hefty change?

Lord Ashcroft, the Tory peer who carries out extensive polling across the country, crudely says it is about "optics" rather than "ability". In truth, the women who have moved up the ranks are perfectly competent.

But it is true that this Cabinet reshuffle is less about Downing Street and more about Conservative Campaign Headquarters. It is less about policy-making and more about campaigning.

After all, this is the fourth year of a five-year Parliament - the focus in departments is now on implementation.

Instead, the Prime Minister is thinking about next May.

As one Tory source tells me "this is a war-time Cabinet" ready for a General Election. The key characteristic among its members is that they are "disciplined campaigners".

That, the source tells me, is the main reason Ken Clarke is out. His "freelancing" in radio interviews about his views on Europe that weren't always helpful to the Prime Minister was starting to grate. As the big vote approaches they can't be tolerated, according to the strategists at the top of the party.

Lord Ashcroft is right that "optics" matter. These figures will be the ones we see on our television screens time and again between now and the election. They have to be persuasive, and offer appeal, particularly for female voters among whom Labour are solidly ahead.

Lord Ashcroft is half right. The Prime Minister has brought able women to the top of Government at least in part because of the perception it creates among voters.

It is about optics more than policy.

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