Boris Johnson has missed an opportunity to fix his women problem

The case for mothballing the inquiry into Mark Field's conduct is open and shut. But it comes with a price tag. 

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Boris Johnson has brought the investigation into Mark Field’s conduct to a halt. Field had been suspended as a minister by Theresa May after footage emerged of him grabbing an environmental protestor by the throat and forcibly escorting her from the room, and his conduct referred to a civil service enquiry.

The case for mothballing the enquiry is open and shut: May’s inquiry into his conduct was to determine whether or not Field should remain as a minister or not. The Johnson administration’s support for a no deal Brexit means that there is no place for Field – who was the first Conservative MP to call for revocation to prevent a no deal – in the government anyway. The inquiry into his fitness to continue on as a minister therefore became a dead letter.

But the political problem for Johnson is that the Conservative party in general, and his leadership in particular, already has a significant woman problem. Across every demographic, young or old, black or white, Remain or Leave, graduate or non-graduate, Johnson polls worse among women than men. In the parts of the country he is popular with, he does less well with women. In the parts of the country he does badly with, he does appallingly with women.

It’s an opportunity missed on Johnson’s behalf, and a measure of the potential risk that Louise Haigh has already issued a statement describing the row as a test of Johnson’s credibility on the issue. Labour’s shadow policing minister is quietly one of the most effective frontbenchers at finding areas of government vulnerability and targeting them, whether it be on rising crime or straying outside her brief.

The Conservatives’ woman problem didn’t start with Johnson but he may yet regret missing an opportunity to do something to start repairing it today.

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.