Why the all male Sports Personality of the Year shortlist is a good thing

In-built sexist thinking -- or not-thinking -- needs to be highlighted whenever it happens.

It's just possible, you know, that the announcement of an all male shortlist for the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year is an entirely good thing.

Before the hate mail starts, I should add that ever since I heard this news, I've been spitting feathers about it. It's a clearly ridiculous state of affairs -- you could easily put together a list of 10 British women who could make up the list all on their own. In fact, somebody already has.

But on reflection there is a silver lining. Because it exposes the institutionalised sexism of the whole process.

It's not just that it seems, as Clare Balding tweeted yesterday, that every single person asked to nominate people for the shortlist was male.

It's the fact that in a conference room in the bowels of the BBC, a group of executives decided that they should invite the editors of Nuts and Zoo magazines to weigh in with their opinions.

Just picture the misguided thought process by which this decision was arrived at. Lads mags are read by men. Being men, they must like sport. Therefore we shall ask the editors of those august journals to contribute their thoughts. Conversely, the readers of Cosmo and Marie Claire are women -- their heads are full of shopping and knitting, so we shan't trouble them on sporting matters.


This in-built sexist thinking -- or rather, not-thinking -- needs to be highlighted whenever it happens. Helen Lewis-Hasteley picked up Michael White on it the other day in the Guardian (!!!) when he referred to #womanontheleft in the Leveson inquiry as a "woman lawyer". No she isn't. She's a lawyer. Just like all the male ones.

And presumably this bias has been in the nominations system ever since the BBC started asking "experts" to throw in their opinions. It's just that the odd inclusion of the Queen's granddaughter on the list has rather masked it. Not any more.

I'd like to bet that the BBC will make sure that next year there's a wide range of women consulted on the SPOTY shortlist, with equal representation for male and female contributors.

And if it wasn't for this year's debacle, that would never happen.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.