Women don't deserve to be on top

When 101 female MPs were elected two years ago, we thought history was made and politics would chang

On that euphoric morning we thought we'd got there. Women had breached the final bastion of male power. In the face of our gorgon stare, politics itself had capitulated. That was 2 May 1997. Through the seventies, eighties and nineties we had put on hard hats and pushed and pushed, out of housewifery and into the professions - medicine and law were the first to go - to become engineers and architects, to run businesses and quangos, to be top bitch in museums and opera houses; we were in the City - trusting women with money had been a real problem for the men - and now finally this: we had got to the heart of the evil empire, politics itself. One hundred and one female Members of Parliament. We were to transform not just the House of Commons but the nation itself. The world.

Those of us who thought women had special virtues men had not - such as common sense, tenderness and an instinct for negotiation - saw a new dawn of reason and justice throughout the land: there would be no more locking of male antlers, pointless confrontation, sleaze, backbiting, boring the public by blaming the previous administration. (Men have a great capacity for blaming others: women tend to go too far the other way.) And what happened? What did you do? You did what women always do: you fell in love. En masse, you fell in love with Tony Blair. From the very first morning, you were collectively known as Blair's Babes, and rightly so. You don't resist or deny the title: it makes you feel cosy and safe and female; you belong. I'm not carping or complaining, only noticing. I wouldn't be any different.

Feminists (and more than four-fifths of the new women MPs described themselves as such, but these days it's a difficult thing to deny) always were their own worst enemy. In the early days of the movement, it was just the same. Activists kept falling for men and losing their judgement. Aware of it, they tried to cure themselves by turning into political lesbians but they could never hold out for long. It was back in the end to the male bed, the male hothouse.

So what's changed? Now it's yes Tony, no Tony, smile at me, Tony. How wise and wonderful and powerful you are, Tony - and Alastair Campbell's pretty good- looking, too. Blair's Babes, on message, day and night, in the hope of a kind word or a fleeting glance and a spot of promotion. At least, that's how it's coming over. Open your pretty mouths and a sound-bite learnt by heart flows out.

Look, I'm not saying the men have done any better - when Margaret Thatcher was in power, gender got her male cohorts in the same way - but that's not my point here. I'm talking to those MPs with bosoms and bums who are ruled by oestrogen and the cycles of the moon, not men with hairy chins and legs and testosterone surging in their veins. Let them look after themselves.

When you think about it, the women who make the worst photographs make the best politicians: they're the ones we know and trust, who carry the people with them. Mo Mowlam, Clare Short - though since she found her son and consented to a make-over and turned pretty she's been somewhat sidelined - and Ann Widdecombe. Yes, I know she's officially a Tory, but out here in the real world we do have a problem telling both parties apart.

The few wilder sequinned sexy sisters on board do pretty well. Diane Abbott's terrific. But the moment you others get nicely coiffed and smartly skirted, you turn into bleating hypocritical sheep, spouting a party line you don't necessarily believe. You're worth more than that. Tear your hair and rend your clothes, if that's what it takes.

Hypocritical? Yes, I do say that. You and your war on drugs: there's a Canadian woman in Eastleigh women's prison doing 11 years for importing marijuana, and what's that I smell in the Stranger's Bar? I think drugs are loathsome, personally, but the answer is not to take them. Then legislate. "Morality is not about words, it's about setting examples." (Tony hasn't said that yet, but it's the kind of thing he says.)

We had such high hopes. Back in May 1997, the electorate's complaint about the Conservative Party was that it talked to us as if we were children, told us what was good for us, interfered with our freedoms, classified and categorised us, assumed we all wanted to live in the same way, dared to castigate single mothers, encouraged us to abort our children in order to save the state money, while burning it up in fireworks and planning impossible and grandiose millennium projects.

So sisters, what have you changed? What's different? True, there aren't so many fireworks. But as for keeping out of our private lives, this month the new state has put out a booklet encouraging fathers to be fathers, sponsored by Bounty and Sony, which claims that children filmed by Sony Digital camcorders as they emerge from the womb tend to be brighter and sharper than those who are not.

There are 101 of you. Since you've been in the House, the place itself has been increasingly marginalised. Is this because of you or in spite of you? I hope to God it is the latter, and not some male conspiracy, or because, as some would have it, that when professions become feminised they lose status and credibility.

"We are only fulfilling our manifesto, on the basis of which we came to power," is everyone's parrot cry, male or female, as directives pour out from the top, bypassing parliament. Oh yes? New Labour came to power because old Labour voters believed it wouldn't keep its promises. My mother, now in her nineties, lifelong socialist, daughter of a founding member of the Fabian Society, sister-in-law to a one-time Labour foreign secretary, Michael Stewart, said to me before the election: "Tony Blair is saying what he must to get votes, to get the Conservatives out. When he gets into power, he'll show his true colours." It was a very popular delusion.

Did we ask for curfews on our children, or for two hours' homework for them every day, or an exam culture that makes them anxious? Do we want welfare-to-work schemes that oblige women to hand over their children into "childcare" - to another woman, in other words, who may be "trained" but may be neither pleasant or moral? Do we want our children taught about sex by people whose sexual attitudes may be very different from our own? Have the 101 of you looked these matters in the face? Perhaps you have, but prudence about your own prospects of promotion stops you saying what you really think. What else can you do? You who wanted to save the world have seen politics turned into a "career path". There are to be no fine speeches or passionate declarations, no stirring of the masses. Back to your constituency, woman, to act as another layer of social worker, while we men get on with running the country.

Have you noticed the shrouded Islamic women in our streets who walk two steps behind their menfolk? What about their rights? You can't say anything: you will have the finger of racism pointed at you. But that's why we elected you. To do something difficult and right: not clean up a few massage parlours, catch out good old Joe Ashton, fiddle around with benefits and claim it as a great victory.

Have you looked around at the tired faces of the workers in the bus queues? Seen the depression of the Underground, as we go about our daily, insecure lives? Looked at the children now begging in London streets without a parent in sight, let alone a social worker to care? It is Dickensian.

Did you discourage the leader you love from dropping bombs on hospitals in Belgrade and creating 100,000 more refugees on the Serbian border? No. You let your hearts overwhelm your reason: you followed Tony Blair in what we always believed to be a male trait. Following top dog, in this case Bill Clinton, defending the new state religion of multiculturalism, which we now impose on others at the point of a gun.

You, the noble 101, with a few brave exceptions, turned white-feathery at the first drop of a cluster-bomb: you were the equivalent of those women at the beginning of the first world war who handed out white feathers for cowardice to any young men who happened not to be in uniform. Go it, Tony, you called, you who were once CND, firmly there behind the cultural-imperialist, militaristic cause, bringing the foreigners to order. Do it! Drop 'em! I'd thought all that was the past, and women turned self-righteous only because they were kept out of public life, out of power. I was wrong. The men may not be fit for the top jobs; now I'm not even sure about the women.

But courage, sisters, courage! You'll get your act together yet. You have to. Just think of Barbara Castle; don't dream of Tony Blair.

The writer's "Godless in Eden" is published by HarperCollins, £16.99