The domination of this week’s Conservative conference by the so-called Three Brexiteers – Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox – tells us as much about the problems with our political commentary as it does about the issues in the Tory party.
For there has never been just three Brexiteers. When Johnson, Davis and Fox were first dubbed as such they were not the only leading lights of the Leave campaign around the cabinet table.
Last summer they were joined in Theresa May’s team by equally rabid Eurosceptics Andrea Leadsom and Priti Patel.
But there’s something about Leadsom and Patel that led journalists and commentators to exclude them from the gang.
What could be the discriminating factor that led the white men of the parliamentary press corps to band the white men of Brexit together and exclude the women?
It wasn’t to do with their role in the Leave campaign. Leadsom was deployed alongside Boris Johnson in the big Brexit debate while Davis was still wandering the political wilderness ahead of the referendum, and Liam Fox was still routinely referred to as a “disgraced former minister”.
It couldn’t have been seniority in the party. For Leadsom saw off Johnson, Fox and Michael Gove (who only rejoined the cabinet more recently making him the D’Artagnan of the analogy) in last summer’s leadership contest.
It’s also not to do with how serious their roles in cabinet are.
Fox doesn’t really have a job until we’re out the EU, while Leadsom as Leader of the House has a huge role in piloting Brexit legislation through parliament here and now. Patel’s busy taking money away from international aid projects because the Daily Mail tells her to.
Could it be that the men had been ordered to share grace-and-favour ministerial mansion Chevening? I confess I’ve never read Alexander Dumas’s story of swashbuckling swordsmen – I’m considerably better versed in muskehounds than musketeers courtesy of seminal series Dogtanian – but I don’t think sharing a country funhouse was the most obvious thing that the fencing fraternity had in common.
When I shared on social media my frustration at the Three Brexiteers meme, one titan of the lobby (male, white, middle aged) saw fit to mansplain that it was because of “this book called The Three Musketeers”. He must have a spectacular view down the wrong end of that telescope.
The politicians were not picked to fit the title, the book was chosen to fit the narrative (and exclude the women). There are books with more than three characters. Five Children and (Brex)It immediately sprung to mind, for example.
And strangely the male-dominated lobby chose a story about three swordsmen as if to confirm that politics, and Brexit in particular, is little more than a willy waving contest. (Witness the monthly cock fight between Davis and Michel Barnier.)
Of course there are women in the Westminster press pack, yet the grown-up papers on Sunday carried only male bylines on their front pages. Which is why The Sunday Times ran a splash centred on the fact Theresa May cried and smudged her make-up – this flags up that she’s feminine or as the Sunday Times headline had it “broken”. (This attitude starts early on. If you don’t believe me then, er, read my book about it.)
And that explains why the Three Brexiteers meme matters.
If the media is dominated by a single sort of person, the evidence shows they marginalise and exclude others – consciously or otherwise.
If women are routinely barred from the political narrative simply for not being the same as the vast majority of those reporting on them then alternative faces will go unseen and other voices will go unheard.
Instead of all for one and one for all, it’s one sort of person in politics and the media and that fails us all.