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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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke (all of which he denies), but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reported in the Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.