Artillery Row

Amber Alert

A pandemic is no excuse to forget the Science of Equality

Something very worrying is happening. I switch on the television news these days and at least one out of Boris Johnson, Sir Patrick Vallance, Professor Chris Whitty or Rishi Sunak is invariably staring down the lens at me talking about the ongoing epic battle against death and destruction.

I shudder and am left with an abiding thought: they are all men.

Why are they all men? Why have “the women” been packed away? Why do the Chief Scientific Adviser and the Chief Medical Officer both have to be male? Shouldn’t there be a rule whereby if one post is held by a man the other must be held by a woman?

Given that Prof Whitty vacated the former post to occupy the latter one then shouldn’t a woman have been appointed to the science head honcho position? Any woman. Nicola from Accounts would clearly have been better than Sir Patrick, despite his armfuls of qualifications and mountainous levels of experience. From a gender equality point of view, I mean.

And until Sunak popped up to talk about the financial side of things, it had been entirely white men preaching to us. And although Sunak is from an ethnic minority, he cannot represent female ethnic minority citizens, can he? So what about them?

No, of course I don’t think these things. But apparently Amber Rudd does. That’s Amber Rudd as in former Conservative Home Secretary: one of the most senior figures in British politics until she fell out of the House of Commons before Christmas in a not-entirely-planned manner.

This morning she put out the following tweet:

I must confess that I had indeed noticed that the senior official voices deployed during the coronavirus crisis have all been male. These days most of us are extremely sensitive to such things. Indeed, anyone organising a panel event at a party conference or similar gathering has a standard mental checklist to run through: “Former minister, check. Gobby pundit who lacks detailed knowledge but can talk a good game, check. Gender balance… oh my gosh it’s all male, can anyone find me a token woman pronto?”

Well, bravo Boris Johnson for setting aside such public relations niceties on an issue where “best person for the job” really should be the only consideration. There are a handful of key Government message-carriers during this crisis. Namely the four chaps I’ve mentioned above plus Health Secretary Matthew Hancock. Five people and they just happen all to be blokes.

No wider inferences or meanings should be drawn. There are legions of bright women making their way through Tory parliamentary and governmental ranks and Labour actually has more female MPs than male ones. Prof Whitty succeeded a woman, Sally Davies, as CMO.

So while the more level-headed among us may indeed have noticed the absence of women at the podiums during these grisly briefings, we have then gone on to give thanks that the experts we do have seem very knowledgeable, the supporting ministers competent and the Prime Minister a smart chairman capable of grasping the fundamentals and keeping up public morale.

One struggles to understand why someone as obviously bright as Ms Rudd, even given her own inspiring struggle following those difficult early years of deprivation at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, is so fixated on gender politics as to feel the need to make such a dig at such a time?

Let’s just all pull together and get the job done, shall we Amber? Then, once the body count has been kept to a minimum, by all means get back to the really important stuff like identity politics and quota-checking.

And finally, let me assure you that fifty per cent of this piece was written by my feminine side.

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