I, Celticus

Friday, October 06, 2006

A Feminist Rant

An interesting juxtapostion between this article in The Guardian by Martin Kettle on Tuesday, The Amazing Gender Gap
http://www.guardian.co.uk/Columnists/Column/0,,1886199,00.html and coverage of the Conservative Party Conference.

In his article Kettle asks:

"Why, nearly a century after women got the vote and were able to stand for parliament, do so few women get to the very top? Is it prejudice and glass ceilings, as a survey on British business suggests today? Or is it that, in some significant way, most women politicians aren't as good as Thatcher? And if not, why not?

He goes on. " yet remarkably few of the several women who have risen to cabinet level in the post-Thatcher era could credibly be described as potential party leaders or prime ministers.
I'm not arguing that men are better at political leadership than women or that politics isn't also awash with men who are merely average. But what wouldn't Labour give for its own Ségolène Royal right now - and why hasn't it got one? And what wouldn't the Liberal Democrats give for another Shirley Williams?

Given that all the doors are open to them and that the system actively craves effective and charismatic women, the amazing thing about Mrs Pritchard is that she is a fiction, not a fact."

Good questions and there are a range of factors which may explain why but I think one of them is the current cult of media celebrity and the political wife. Take coverage of Samatha Cameron in Monday's Daily Mail. We were informed that her acidulous yellow coat had been purchased in Top Shop during her lunch hour and she doesn't bother with designer wear. Subtext, she's young, trendy and not a big freebie grabbing spendthrift a la Cherie. Further, this information was clearly made available with a purpose by Cameron's PR outfit. What is so distasteful about this is that it tries to replicate political rivalry in the form of trivial point scoring about women's lifestyles. Even the fact that they both have successful careers doesn't stop them somehow being demeaned as their skills in juggling their work/life balance are compared.

Then there was the kissing for the cameras after the speeches which now appears essential. Why? Given that we are now supposed to have more equality between men and women and we have openly gay MPs how has this anachronistic, heterosexual ritual suddenly sprung up?

Where does this fit in with Kettle's article? There may be more women in Parliament and in the Cabinet but to emerge as leader you also need the charisma and to become known and something of a "political celebrity" with the media. In today's environment, however, the feminine political celebrity is the male politician's wife. It not only raises questions for women but also for single men - gay or straight. A clinging, adoring wife is a political must have for those big political occasions. Thirty years ago you had Barbara Castle, a flamboyant political celebrity who was a serious politician but also very feminine and Edward Heath who was unmarried and you didn't hear a lot about Callaghan's or Wilson's wives (except that Mary W penned the odd bit of poetry). A look at the way the prospective leaders and their wives are now packaged for media consumption makes me wonder if we've gone backwards, not forwards.

One interesting foonote. Although Welsh politicians always point out that half of the 60 Assembly Members are women, almost half the cabinet and half the Labour group, all the names being mentioned for Rhodri's successor, as I mentioned in an earlier post, are men.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Blogging AMs

A new blogger has emerged from the benches of the National Assembly. Lib Dem, Peter Black and Labour's Leighton Andrews have pretty well established blogs and Leanne Wood (Plaid Cymru) also runs a blog. They have been joined by Glyn Davies of the Welsh Conservatives. Glyn's blog combines comment on policies, commentary on Plenary debates and good old tittle tattle about colleagues. It also contains some priceless descriptions of movers and shakers. Well worth a visit.

Glyn and Peter's blogs also provide a chink of light (insight would be putting it too strongly) on the arcane disputes between the Presiding Officer and the Deputy Presiding Officer and whether the latter has indeed resigned from the House Committee and whether the former, in discussing it publicly, is in breach of the code of standards. (Phew).... If you're interested, that is.
The Blair Blueprint

Still on theme of Cameron and Osbourne as the new Blair and Brown (see below). Cameron defnitely seems to be following the Blair blueprint for power - picking a fight with his own party, exuding youthful energy, children etc. However, this risks buying into belief - widely touted in the media and, incredibly by members of the Labour party last week- that it was Blair "wot won it" for Labour in 1997. Blair may have been a factor in some parts of country but a key element was the collapse of trust in the Conservatives as the party of economic management after Black Wednesday in 1992 and Labour coming to be trusted on the economy. A key architect of that trust was Brown. Is this why Blair, despite his well chronicled tensions with the Chancellor has never felt sufficiently secure to just sack him? The question for Cameron is whether Osbourne can provide the same service to the Conservatives.
George Osbourne - Missing in Action

When the Conservative leadership contest was warming up this time last year Cameron was constantly bracketed with his mate George Osbourne as the new Blair and Brown. Since winning the leadership, however, Cameron 's profile as leader has been burnished but Osbourne, despite being elevated to Shadow Chancellor has practically disappeared off the radar. Concerns about this may have prompted a hagiographic little programme on Radio 4 where posh chaps who were at school with George told us how clever he was and that he was just an oridinary bloke - like them. Hmmmm. To be fair to R4 a note of scepticism was injected by the Guardian's Michael White who suggested that Dave's poshness might not be a handicap but Dave'n'George together might present an image problem. It's clearly not perceived as problem by Dave himself as a report on the Lunchtime news on R4 today revealed that the overwhelming number of the Conservative frontbench was privately educated and that there were more from Eton alone than from comprehensives. William Hague (Comp.) was brought on to pooh, pooh the findings. It's a curious thing, however, that it's considered bad form in these meritocratic times to question the desirability or significance of such findings. But of course, the class war's over isn't it?

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Meanwhile in Wales....

Speculation has begun about a successor to Rhodri Morgan following an ITV Wales programme in August and an article by ITV political correspondent Lee Waters in Agenda magazine. Lee reckons that should the elections in May next year go badly the two contenders for the leadership will be Carwyn Jones and Andrew Davies. CJ is more popular with party members but AD is likely to get the backing of AMs and MPs. However, at the recent Institute of Welsh Politics Conference in the Wales Millennium Centre Lee said that he had heard that Merthyr AM, Huw Lewis, was preparing to stand and had a "shadow team" of AMs from North East and South East Wales in place. He didn't elaborate on who these might be.
A Scottish PM?

The curious thing about John Reid apparently stepping up to the plate to challenge Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership is that the contest could end up between two Scots MPs. There is nothing wrong with that - as long as this is the UK the PM shouldn't be the preserve of one of the constituent countries. However, Labour will have to address the "West Lothian" issues . They can't just ignore them - the Tories won't. Here is a comment I posted on the Guardian Comment is Free site in response to Ian McWhirter's article Race against the Scot.

I think this idea that a Scot (or a Welsh person) can never be Prime Minister needs to be nipped in the bud. Foreign policy, defence policy and immigration are all huge issues that remain reserved and as long as Welsh and Scots serve in the British forces there is no reason why the Prime Minister who decides to deploy them should not come from Wales or Scotland. That said, some of the concerns expressed here about the West Lothian Question do need addressing and there are legitimate concerns that Scots MPs have been appointed to English domestic ministries. By acting as though this is just not a problem and doing nothing to address the apparent anomalies, Labour now faces the possibility that a Conservative administration will do it for them - possibly on a less favourable basis.
What Brown needs to do is appoint a deputy who will take a lead on domestic policy in England. This would seem like a key abdication of power in a crucial sphere but it reflects the reality of our current asymmetrical devolution arrangements. He would still be able to oversee key drivers in social changes such as the economy and social security as well as foreign & defence policy and DFID. What he should not be doing is determining the shape of the education and health systems in England.What he could do, however, is take a strategic overview of systems across the 4 polities of the UK. A mechanism for this currently exists - the Joint Ministerial Council, but is rather sporadic. It could be given energy through PM's leadership and develop an element of intergovernmental dialogue which is a feature in many federal systems.
To sum up - PM, Foreign & Defence Secs, Chancellor, Constitutional Affairs, DWP, DFiD should be open to people from all parts of the UK (if NI MPs ever formed part of a Govt). Health, Education should be confined to English MPs. Home Office - English or Welsh. Some such as Transport, DCMS, DTI are more complicated as they combine reserved and devolved matters. However, surely some departmental and ministerial reinvention can bring about some clarity?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Welcome to I, Celticus

A blog about politics from a Welsh perspective. It will comment on Elections, Assembly Politics, Parliament, Europe, Local Government, devolution issues across the UK and the political reporting in the media.