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Media frenzy over woman MP masks real issues facing British women


Denise Turner
WVoN co-editor 

Last week, a British Treasury Minister, Chloe Smith, appeared on current affairs programme Newsnight.

Interviewed by BBC journalist Jeremy Paxman (renowed for his combative style) about the British government’s proposed three pence rise in petrol duty, Smith seemed unprepared and demonstrated a shocking ignorance of government policy.

In true understated style, the Daily Mail called for her resignation, while other commentators took the approach of “poor Chloe” or were generally more sympathetic.

But as with the lack of Tory support for the party’s co-chair, Lady Warsi, the most scathing criticism came from Smith’s so-called colleagues:

  • One compared Smith to a tiny mouse (was Paxman therefore the cat?)
  • Another, after Smith later appeared on Channel 4 News said: “that whoever put her in front of a TV camera again should be taken out and shot.”
  • A third accused Smith’s boss, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne of cowardice, by letting her be interviewed while he attended a ‘dinner party.’

At 30, Smith is one of the youngest ever MPs and an obvious target for the kind of sexist rubbish commonly levelled at women in the public sphere.

And no doubt her support for gay marriage and atheism won’t have earned her many friends in the old school Tory club either.

So should feminists defend Smith? Definitely not. For me, the debacle has only served to mask the far more important political issues facing women in Britain today.

Firstly, in his race to get more women into ministerial posts, prime minister David Cameron seems to have barely considered whether the women are actually qualified for the job.

Instead he seems to prefer a ‘box-ticking’ exercise along the lines of “she’s a woman, she’ll do”.

True, conservative women MPs have raised the important issues of  female genital mutilation, the depiction of topless women in the national press and birth control, but their elitism blinds them to the most important issues facing the majority of their countrywomen.

So rather than donning a tee-shirt saying ‘this is what a feminist looks like’, as Home Secretary Teresa May did last year, they might do better to turn their attention to the impact on women of rising unemployment, social immobility and the most expensive childcare in Europe.

If they could convince Cameron to address these issues, Britain might just be able to drag itself out of its present economic quagmire AND provide Cameron with a much better qualified pool from which to select future women MPs.

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