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27 April 2011

“Calm down, dear!”

What Cameron’s gibe tells us about the Tories’ “blind spot” on women.

By Sophie Elmhirst

Winnergate (the near-universal media term for David Cameron’s “Calm down, dear!” to Angela Eagle during PMQs) is unfortunately not a lone incidence of patronising sexism on the part of the Prime Minister.

When I interviewed her recently, Yvette Cooper remembered the Prime Minister’s pointed taunts about her decision not to stand for the Labour leadership – he assumed her husband, Ed Balls, had prevented her from doing so.

According to Cooper, it points to a “blind spot” the government has on things to do with women. Cameron’s gibe comes shortly after David Willetts’s comment on social mobility:

The feminist revolution in its first-round effects was probably the key factor. Feminism trumped egalitarianism. It is not that I am against feminism, it’s just that is probably the single biggest factor.

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Cooper found the comment “astonishing” and went on to describe the problem as twofold:

There’s the traditional Tory paternalistic view – that women should be at home looking after the children . . . combined with the traditional liberal view that the state should withdraw from relating to the family . . . it’s a toxic combination.

Home Secretary Theresa May seems to have had a limited impact on issues of equality, particularly on how spending cuts are going to affect women. “We know she wrote to George Osborne,” said Cooper, “saying that they needed to look at the impact on women and equality.” But it seems her concerns were not taken seriously, and were ultimately ignored (analysis carried out by the House of Commons Library showed that of the £8bn net revenue to be raised by financial year 2014-2015, nearly £6bn will come from women).

As Cooper says, “There is a serious concern about the clock being turned back in terms of opportunities for women. I had more opportunities than my mother and grandmother. I always thought my daughters would have more opportunities than me. For the first time, I’m starting to question if that’s still true.”