Why David Cameron really is worse than Voldemort

We've seen a lot of so-called progress in the last few years - but when you really look at the facts where women are concerned, it looks like we may be going backwards.

It’s a strange beast, progress. Like sitting on a train in a tunnel, unsure whether you’re moving or not, it can be hard to get one’s bearings. Sometimes, you might even be going backwards and not realise it.

The quest for women’s rights is a bit like sitting on that train, and quite frankly, it’s not so much of a suped up supervoyager (when nature calls, these high-tech, high-speed Virgin trains now genuinely have toilet robots which tell you ‘hilarious’ jokes about what you can and can’t flush), than it is like something from Arriva Trains Wales. It’s filthy, it crawls along at a snail’s pace, and it only ever takes you as far as fucking Crewe.

We’ll stop with the engine analogies lest someone mistake us for enthusiasts, but there is a point there. The assumption that we’re always moving forwards, slowly throwing off shackle after shackle of patriarchal norm, isn’t actually the case. We’re not saying that things are so bleak that we’re all at risk of becoming 1950s housewives, poised to re-don our pinnies, set our hair, and get cracking on the pavlova - not quite. To our grandmothers, progress looks like the Great British Bake Off (men! In jumpers! Making giant pouffy meringues! And loving it), but if things could, you know, jog on a bit, then that would be ace.

Thing that happened: An Indian American Woman won Miss America

But that’s progress, right? Well, ish. Say what you want about Miss America (OK, we will: it’s an outdated, steaming shit of an event which has women flouncing up and down in bikinis like tap-dancing barnyard animals and pretending that they’ve ‘always had a passion for world peace’), but this is a triumph for diversity, and the fact that an Indian medical student won the crown represents the melting pot that is the United States of America. Hey, maybe it even shows the American Dream in action. Right?

Well. As the comedian George Carlin quoth, it’s called the American dream because you have to be asleep to believe it. And there seem to be a hell of a lot of sleepy racists out there. Some feminists were this week confused as to what they should be more angry about: the fact that Miss America exists in the first place, or the deluge of racist abuse that aspiring doctor Nina Davuluri received on winning (clue: both are rubbish). Questions as to whether Davuluri was ‘American enough’ to be Miss America of course completely ignored the fact that everyone in that mass of a country was an immigrant once, bar of course Native Americans (FYI, the first Native American winner was in 1926. They didn’t even let black women compete until 1970.)

Thing that happened: Playboy published a party guide that was all about consent

But that’s progress, right? It would have been incredible had it been real, but it was the work of a group of anti-rape culture college hackers (the same guys were responsible for tricking everyone into believing that Victoria’s Secret had brought out a line of anti-rape ‘panties’ in 2012). Labelled the ‘Playboy 2013 Top Ten Party Commandments’, the document poses as a student’s guide to good sex which, ‘Playboy’ says, involves ‘asking first’. Hugh Hefner even declared himself a feminist in a mock question-and-answer session.

Unfortunately, Playboy still exists, and it’s busy concentrating on things other than sexual consent. Things like announcing that Kate Moss is to model nude for its cover to celebrating its fortieth birthday, hosting parties for disappointing Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman (we thought better of you, we really did), and invading Gymboxes around the country with its ‘Playboy Bunny Bootcamp’ and new form of BMI (‘Bunny Measurement Index’ – vom). Apparently, the Playboy brand is still set to be a part of our consciousness for a very, very long time. What the hell, 2013?

Thing that happened: France has moved to ban child beauty pageants

But that’s progress, right? As probably the best response ever to a row with Vogue magazine which saw the fashion rag dress up a bunch of ten year olds in tight clothes and heavy make-up, the French Parliament voted ‘non’ to creepily dressing kids up like their own Barbie dolls. The bill protects the under-16s from not only appearing in the pages of Vogue with peacock feather eyelashes, but also from being marketed child-size products from the sexy adult world, such as padded bras and high heeled shoes.

Unfortunately, as you can probably deduce from the whole Miss America charade, beauty pageants for ‘adults’ (let’s face it, teenagers) still abound everywhere. And anyone who’s sat down to a relaxing session of ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ knows that the government in the US and UK haven’t been quite as enlightened as France.

Thing that happened: Theresa May was appointed to David Cameron’s cabinet as Home Secretary, one of only four women to hold one of the Great Offices of State. The cabinet boasts three other formidable females, and has benefited in the last few years from the voices of enthusiastic female MPs such as Louise Mensch.

But that’s progress, right? As an organisation that has never been particularly friendly to women yet brought us the first female Prime Minister, feminism’s relationship with the Tory party has always been ambivalent. And while enough Conservative supporters have brought up the four women in the cabinet with us as proof that the historically misogynistic state of Tory Towers is ‘improving’, it’s, well, four women. Four women who aren’t exactly flying the flag for women’s rights. As @Sophia_Phan pointed out on Twitter recently, even Voldemort had more women in his cabinet. We’re not outright saying that therefore David Cameron should get a tattoo saying ‘Worse than Voldemort’ across his neck, but in the event that he did come to this fully autonomous position, we’d be fully supportive.

On the bright side, Mumsnet’s survey into the political affiliations of women shows us deserting the Tories in our droves. Most of us would rather vote Labour, whose shadow cabinet is a lot more female-friendly (and has therefore been given the affectionate term ‘Millie’s Fillies’ by the Daily Mail.) Cameron take note: we can and will vote with our feet.

Voldemort's cabinet. Female friendly? Image: Getty

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter are co-founders and editors of online magazine, The Vagenda.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win in Stoke-on-Trent?

Labour are the favourites, but they could fall victim to a shock in the Midlands constituency.  

The resignation of Tristram Hunt as MP for Stoke-on-Central has triggered a by-election in the safe Labour seat of Stoke on Trent Central. That had Westminster speculating about the possibility of a victory for Ukip, which only intensified once Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, was installed as the candidate.

If Nuttall’s message that the Labour Party has lost touch with its small-town and post-industrial heartlands is going to pay dividends at the ballot box, there can hardly be a better set of circumstances than this: the sitting MP has quit to take up a well-paid job in London, and although  the overwhelming majority of Labour MPs voted to block Brexit, the well-advertised divisions in that party over the vote should help Ukip.

But Labour started with a solid lead – it is always more useful to talk about percentages, not raw vote totals – of 16 points in 2015, with the two parties of the right effectively tied in second and third place. Just 33 votes separated Ukip in second from the third-placed Conservatives.

There was a possible – but narrow – path to victory for Ukip that involved swallowing up the Conservative vote, while Labour shed votes in three directions: to the Liberal Democrats, to Ukip, and to abstention.

But as I wrote at the start of the contest, Ukip were, in my view, overwritten in their chances of winning the seat. We talk a lot about Labour’s problem appealing to “aspirational” voters in Westminster, but less covered, and equally important, is Ukip’s aspiration problem.

For some people, a vote for Ukip is effectively a declaration that you live in a dump. You can have an interesting debate about whether it was particularly sympathetic of Ken Clarke to brand that party’s voters as “elderly male people who have had disappointing lives”, but that view is not just confined to pro-European Conservatives. A great number of people, in Stoke and elsewhere, who are sympathetic to Ukip’s positions on immigration, international development and the European Union also think that voting Ukip is for losers.

That always made making inroads into the Conservative vote harder than it looks. At the risk of looking very, very foolish in six days time, I found it difficult to imagine why Tory voters in Hanley would take the risk of voting Ukip. As I wrote when Nuttall announced his candidacy, the Conservatives were, in my view, a bigger threat to Labour than Ukip.

Under Theresa May, almost every move the party has made has been designed around making inroads into the Ukip vote and that part of the Labour vote that is sympathetic to Ukip. If the polls are to be believed, she’s succeeding nationally, though even on current polling, the Conservatives wouldn’t have enough to take Stoke on Trent Central.

Now Theresa May has made a visit to the constituency. Well, seeing as the government has a comfortable majority in the House of Commons, it’s not as if the Prime Minister needs to find time to visit the seat, particularly when there is another, easier battle down the road in the shape of the West Midlands mayoral election.

But one thing is certain: the Conservatives wouldn’t be sending May down if they thought that they were going to do worse than they did in 2015.

Parties can be wrong of course. The Conservatives knew that they had found a vulnerable spot in the last election as far as a Labour deal with the SNP was concerned. They thought that vulnerable spot was worth 15 to 20 seats. They gained 27 from the Liberal Democrats and a further eight from Labour.  Labour knew they would underperform public expectations and thought they’d end up with around 260 to 280 seats. They ended up with 232.

Nevertheless, Theresa May wouldn’t be coming down to Stoke if CCHQ thought that four days later, her party was going to finish fourth. And if the Conservatives don’t collapse, anyone betting on Ukip is liable to lose their shirt. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.