After shooting themselves in the foot by using a pink bus to attract women to the polling stations, perhaps rather like a plant hoping to use a colourful flower to attract recalcitrant bees, the Labour Party has now launched its pink manifesto “A Better Future for Women“. The colour doesn’t bother me in the least, although it does seem to be something of a rebuke to the various feminist organisations that complain vociferously about the injustice of marketing pink clothes for girls! What does concern me, though, is the patronising approach to women adopted in the document
The most overtly patronising part of the manifesto is Section 4 “Equality in Public Life”. Despite protestations to the contrary, women do have equal opportunity today. Young girls can, and do follow any career they choose, and for which they have the necessary qualifications and personal characteristics. All girls today know this: to assume otherwise is to question the intelligence of a whole generation of young women. They may still choose not to go into certain careers, but that is a different issue. I passed two teams of refuse collectors on the road today: out of a total of about ten workers, none was female.
In this respect, the concept of positive discrimination is outdated and inappropriate: it is unfair to the person discriminated against, and belittling to the person who benefits. This is especially true of all woman shortlists for parliamentary candidates. At best, these are demeaning for the poor women who need a hand up in order to compete with the men: at worst, they are atrociously anti-democratic and dictatorial. I suspect, but this is just a personal view with no supporting evidence, that there are far fewer women than men with a burning desire to become Members of Parliament. If this is indeed the case, why on Earth should it be written in stone that half of all MPs should be female? The same goes for the composition of the Cabinet. If there are fewer women than men in parliament, insisting on fifty percent in the Cabinet is, statistically, lowering the bar for ministers by saying that a ministerial position must be given to a (relatively) under qualified woman to the exclusion of a better qualified man. Of course women should be fairly represented in public office, but only if they are the best person for the job. The current political sound-bite for this is “getting the best value for money for the taxpayer”. True, sustainable equality is equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome. Only 150 out of 30,000 midwives are men, but I wouldn’t expect to be given the job just because I filled in the application form and have the necessary tools (a Swiss army knife and two pieces of string)! I imagine that the potential mothers, too, would prefer a properly qualified woman, even if the search for the Holy Grail of equality of numbers was not being served.