Maria Miller after a cabinet meeting yesterday. She resigned from government this morning. Photo: Getty Images.
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What did Maria Miller actually do as minister for women?

Short answer: not a lot.

A national campaign against the negative portrayal of female bodies in the media. A cabinet minister speaking out against female genital mutilation. A community march celebrating local women, headed by their female MP. What do these three movements have in common? Maria Miller is responsible for none of them.

Much to the angst of late-rising journalists everywhere, Miller has finally waved her white flag and tendered her resignation from government . No longer will Miller, who has in recent days become an almost comedic villain, preside over the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 

This also, means, of course, that she will no longer be Minister for Women and Equalities. Women across the nation mourn.

 "Maria is in her job because she is doing a good job as culture secretary,” said David Cameron, when asked if the only reason Miller hadn’t been sacked was because of her anomalous status in the government as a state-educated woman.

However, while she was doing a “good job” as culture secretary, other women seemed to be doing Miller’s job as Minister for Women for her.

This government has a problem with women. The cabinet now has only three women as full members.  A similarly tiny proportion of its parliamentary candidates, fewer than three in ten, for next year is female, according to Labour party data. This compares poorly to Labour’s announcement that over half of its candidates for next year are women. Figures published at the end of last year by the Office of National Statistics found that the gender pay gap has increased to just under 16 per cent. This government has a problem with women.

In Miller’s somewhat unapologetic resignation letter, she expressed pride at “putting women front and centre of every aspect of DCMS’s work”. Yet, just under two-thirds of her board appointments in the department went to men. For someone who proclaimed in 2012 that “women are at the heart of economic growth”, there seems to be a certain disjuncture.

Many women and equalities activists expressed dismay when Maria Miller was announced as the new Minister for Women and Equalities in 2012, replacing the hardly-more-popular Theresa May. Miller, who voted in 2008 to reduce the abortion limit to 20 weeks, had hardly been a champion for women’s rights. Maybe, however, this was the moment for her to turn her game around. Maybe Miller just hadn’t previously been given the platform she needed, to promote the women’s issues that really meant the most to her, the issues of childcare and domestic abuse and sexual harassment that women up and down the country face on a daily basis.

Maybe, or maybe not.

Upon her appointment in 2012, the government launched a £2 million scheme to help fund the opening of new nurseries and childcare services. In 2014, Miller attended a Commission on the Status of Women in New York, hosting a roundtable discussion on the challenges facing women in the workplace. Even this, Gloria de Piero, the shadow minister for women and equalities, contends, was hardly enough: “the cost of childcare has risen by 30% since the election whilst support has been cut,” she says. The Government is “out of touch with the reality of women’s lives and struggles”.

The office of Minister for Women and Equalities has existed in some form for over a decade and a half, since Harriet Harman became the first Minister for Women in 1997. Why, then, is the role still so secondary and vague? The existing structure doesn’t help. There is no explicit department for the role and only a relatively limited budget of £47 million. The government’s website doesn’t even let you search within it. Heck, even click through from the link on Miller’s own government blog and you get the message: “This item has been archived.” Broken links online mirror those in life, perhaps. Furthermore, the position is always held in conjunction with another demanding role – Theresa May was Home Secretary at the same time. A role designed to tackle the sidelining of women is itself routinely sidelined.

Nonetheless, other female politicians have managed to overcome this obstacle and have spearheaded initiatives for women, without even having access to that £47 million. In fact, former office-holder Theresa May recently launched the ‘This is abuse campaign’, encouraging teenagers to recognise abuse and #callitout, and understand the meaning of consent. Lynne Featherstone and Jo Swinson (Miller’s deputy) lead the Campaign for Body Confidence, and Justine Greening has been a vocal campaigner against FGM and early forced marriages.

None of these women, however, are Nicky Morgan, who has been named as Miller’s replacement as Minister for Women. The equalities role has been absorbed into the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, now led by Sajid Javid. This is perhaps unsurprising, considering that Morgan voted against equal marriage (even Miller changed her mind on that one). Morgan has a similar track record to Miller on abortion, and a similar void of activity on any other women’s campaigns. If David Cameron really wanted to prove wrong his feminist naysayers, he could start by appointing some women who will fight for the 51 per cent.

At a time when a Conservative councillor can be found tweeting a picture of half-naked underwear models with the witty quip, "actual photo of the hustings?", in response to Labour’s all-female shortlists, women need to fight harder than ever to be heard and respected in politics. As our Minister for Women, Maria Miller should have been leading the condemnation of irresponsible parliamentarians. Instead, she became their poster girl.

 

Amy Hawkins is a freelance journalist based in Beijing. You can follow her on Twitter @DHawkins93.

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Theresa May’s stage-managed election campaign keeps the public at bay

Jeremy Corbyn’s approach may be chaotic, but at least it’s more authentic.

The worst part about running an election campaign for a politician? Having to meet the general public. Those ordinary folk can be a tricky lot, with their lack of regard for being on-message, and their pesky real-life concerns.

But it looks like Theresa May has decided to avoid this inconvenience altogether during this snap general election campaign, as it turns out her visit to Leeds last night was so stage-managed that she barely had to face the public.

Accusations have been whizzing around online that at a campaign event at the Shine building in Leeds, the Prime Minister spoke to a room full of guests invited by the party, rather than local people or people who work in the building’s office space.

The Telegraph’s Chris Hope tweeted a picture of the room in which May was addressing her audience yesterday evening a little before 7pm. He pointed out that, being in Leeds, she was in “Labour territory”:

But a few locals who spied this picture online claimed that the audience did not look like who you’d expect to see congregated at Shine – a grade II-listed Victorian school that has been renovated into a community project housing office space and meeting rooms.

“Ask why she didn’t meet any of the people at the business who work in that beautiful building. Everyone there was an invite-only Tory,” tweeted Rik Kendell, a Leeds-based developer and designer who says he works in the Shine building. “She didn’t arrive until we’d all left for the day. Everyone in the building past 6pm was invite-only . . . They seemed to seek out the most clinical corner for their PR photos. Such a beautiful building to work in.”

Other tweeters also found the snapshot jarring:

Shine’s founders have pointed out that they didn’t host or invite Theresa May – rather the party hired out the space for a private event: “All visitors pay for meeting space in Shine and we do not seek out, bid for, or otherwise host any political parties,” wrote managing director Dawn O'Keefe. The guestlist was not down to Shine, but to the Tory party.

The audience consisted of journalists and around 150 Tory activists, according to the Guardian. This was instead of employees from the 16 offices housed in the building. I have asked the Conservative Party for clarification of who was in the audience and whether it was invite-only and am awaiting its response.

Jeremy Corbyn accused May of “hiding from the public”, and local Labour MP Richard Burgon commented that, “like a medieval monarch, she simply briefly relocated her travelling court of admirers to town and then moved on without so much as a nod to the people she considers to be her lowly subjects”.

But it doesn’t look like the Tories’ painstaking stage-management is a fool-proof plan. Having uniform audiences of the party faithful on the campaign trail seems to be confusing the Prime Minister somewhat. During a visit to a (rather sparsely populated) factory in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, yesterday, she appeared to forget where exactly on the campaign trail she was:

The management of Corbyn’s campaign has also resulted in gaffes – but for opposite reasons. A slightly more chaotic approach has led to him facing the wrong way, with his back to the cameras.

Corbyn’s blunder is born out of his instinct to address the crowd rather than the cameras – May’s problem is the other way round. Both, however, seem far more comfortable talking to the party faithful, even if they are venturing out of safe seat territory.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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