Get back in the kitchen, lady, Wayne needs your job

David Willetts MP blames feminism for male, working-class unemployment.

April Fool! The universities minister, David Willetts, is such a joker. Do you remember when he said that universities charging £9,000 would be the exception? Ha, ha, ha! Great line! The cabinet's minister for hilarity is at it again today. Do you know who he blames for working-class men failing to get on in life? Women. Ba-dum tish. Good one, Dave!

Except Willetts is not joking. In a briefing to journalists on the government's social mobility strategy, the minister argued that feminism is the "single biggest factor" behind the struggles of working-class men. The liberation of women in the 20th century increased competition for jobs and places at universities, as women who would once have stayed at home went into the workplace. Those who were pushed out by these uppity females were working-class men.

He is half right, I suppose. Britain's manufacturing sector was, after all, largely destroyed by a woman. Industrial jobs that provided careers for millions of ambitious, working-class men were wiped out under the Thatcher government. If only Maggie had known her place, we wouldn't be in the current mess, eh, David?

Willetts contends that feminism is to blame for the plight of jobless, working-class men. "Feminism trumped egalitarianism," complains the Conservative MP.

This is hogwash. Feminism did not trump egalitarianism, feminism is egalitarianism. Thanks to feminism, women now have access to most of the same opportunities as men. Feminism did not come at the price of a more egalitarian society, it helped create one. Thanks to feminism, women now compete with men on an (almost) level playing field.

Yes, women entering the workplace did increase pressure for jobs. But the problem is not women working, the problem is too few jobs. Willetts does not see it that way, however. His implication is clear: Get back in the kitchen, lady, Wayne needs your job.

By blaming feminism, Willetts is tapping in to the increasingly common phenomenon of the unjustifiably aggrieved, white, heterosexual male. Whether it is white, heterosexual, Oxbridge-educated MPs complaining that men get a "raw deal" today, or the absurd "Men's Rights" movement on the otherwise liberal social news website Reddit, the idea that men are somehow persecuted is gaining traction.

This explains why there are four women and only 19 men in the present cabinet. It also explains why the pay gap between men and women is 10.2 per cent. Or why women have been the main victims of the recession.

Poor men. We have it so tough.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.