If you think the Tories have found their feminism mojo, think again!

The rise of high-profile, right-wing women in politics and positions of power isn’t translating into substantive representation of women’s concerns. Quite the opposite in fact.

Right-Wing Watch

The government has announced a ‘childcare revolution’, introducing 30 hours of free childcare for children from the age of nine months. The Chancellor says it is the ‘biggest transformation in childcare in my lifetime,’ because preventing parents from working is ‘damaging to our economy and unfair on women.’

There is plenty to criticise about the government’s cornerstone policy of this week’s Budget, including the fact childcare providers could end up footing much of the ’30 free hours’ bill. Also, research by the Resolution Foundation shows the measures, which won’t come fully into effect until September 2025, will overwhelmingly benefit the better off. 47 percent of the beneficiaries are in the richest 40 percent of households, while 28 percent are in the bottom 40 percent.

Despite the flaws, the policy broadly looks like a positive step towards women’s rights. Even women’s groups have hailed the move.

Joeli Breaeley, CEO and founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, said: “Just three years ago, we would talk to ministers about childcare and they would look at us like we were speaking Klingon. It was of no interest to those in power. To go from there to childcare being the main event in the Spring budget shows the power of collective action and we are elated to hear that the childcare sector will now receive a significant investment.”

‘Shooting Labour’s electoral fox’

On the other hand, there is certainly an element of ‘shooting Labour’s electoral fox’ in Hunt’s calculation. Offering more childcare provision has been a long-touted policy of Labour, and one they wanted to make a big dividing line going into the next election. Research by the Fawcett Society shows 75 percent of women in marginal constituencies say that affordable childcare is important to them when deciding which party to vote for, and the majority of men do too (63 percent). 

The Tories’ snatching of such an ‘election winning’ policy could therefore prove damaging for Labour. But then the ‘magpie’ Tories have a long history of stealing Labour policies and rebranding them as their own. In this sense, Wednesday’s cornerstone childcare announcement came as little surprise.

Nonetheless, the policy provides interesting insight into the changing face of feminism and women’s rights within the Conservative realm.

Traditionally, the liberal socialist agenda associated with feminism has been at odds with the right-wing political mindset. As we know, the right tends to advocate less social care provision from the state. This in turn has a knock-on effect for women and their needs.

Tory austerity has disproportionately affected women, especially women on lower incomes and with disabilities. Women are among the lowest paid workers. They work in part-time jobs more than men do. They are paid less than men. As the Fawcett Society describes, when it comes to cuts in public spending, women are affected by a ‘triple whammy.’ That is, women use more public services and are the majority of welfare benefit recipients; women make up the majority of the public-sector labour force and are therefore more greatly impacted by real terms pay cuts; and women are more likely to have to make up for lost services by increasing the amount of unpaid care work they perform in looking after elderly, disabled or young family members.

Research carried out by the House of Common library in 2017 revealed that women were paying a ‘disproportionate’ price for balancing the government’s books. The analysis was based on tax and benefit changes since 2010, with the losses apportioned to whichever individual within a household receives the payments. It estimated that the cuts would have cost women a total of £79bn since 2010, against £13bn for men. It showed that by 2020, men would have borne just 14 percent of the total burden of welfare cuts, compared with 86 percent for women.

Record number of female MPs

Tory austerity aside, what we saw in the Spring Budget, was that childcare has become a cross-party issue. Is this because there are now more women in ministerial positions? As of February 2023, there were 225 women in the House of Commons, the highest ever. Having more women in parliament seems to be important for parties on the left and right.

Though securing women’s rights is not necessarily the result of the presence of more women in parliament. The rise of high-profile, right-wing women in politics isn’t translating into substantive representation of women’s concerns. Quite the opposite in fact. Recent events have shown that individual women getting into positions of power is not the solution to securing women’s rights. Take Cressida Dick, the first female commissioner of the Met Police. Dick, who resigned as commissioner in February 2022, refused to acknowledge the systemic racism and misogyny within the force she led.

The same can be said about Priti Patel and Suella Braverman. Both home secretaries have been responsible and supported policies that are racist, and which disproportionately adversely affect women.  

As well as her chilling position on immigration, Suella Braverman is slow to act or outright indifferent to the issues facing women. As Attorney General, Braverman famously hit out at diversity training, saying she had scrapped equality training in her own department. We glimpsed a similar position in Priti Patel as Home Secretary. Not only did Patel lay the ‘foundations’ in toughening the immigration system – something Braverman thanked her for when taking over as Home Secretary – but she was also famously pathetic in responding to the problems in the Met Police which included a poor record on addressing domestic abuse and rape. Following the dramatic resignation of Cressida Dick, Patel was criticised on being ‘silent’ on policing for a year while failing to implement reforms or defend the model of policing by consent. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said Patel must shoulder some blame for the public’s plunging trust in the police.

Women like Braverman, Patel and Kemi Badenoch, all hailed as ‘darlings of the Tory right, are opportunists. Their loyalties lie, not with women and other oppressed groups, but to the ruling class to which they firmly belong. Of course, Liz Truss ultimately seized the ‘darling of the right’ title. With her trumpeting of value of free markets, backing of low taxation and repeated rallying against the ‘nanny state’ interfering with in the lives of ordinary people, Truss won over the Tory right, was named the third female prime minister in British history, and proof that women had a place in contemporary politics. Though after losing £300 billion from the UK economy in one month, Truss was, of course, quickly and unceremoniously kicked out of office, Britain’s third female PM having spectacularly failed.

But did Truss also put back the cause of women in politics?

When discussing feminism within a Conservative realm, it’s important to note that feminism itself comes in more than one form. Radical feminists tend to see women as being positioned as subservient by deep seated structural features – the patriarchy of capitalism if you like. It follows that serious long-term change for women can only be achieved by deep seated structural changes – vesting ownership and control of major commercial undertakings more firmly in the community, for example.

Liberal feminists on the other hand, tend to see patriarchy as the outcome of attitudes and ideas and it follows that if you shift attitudes through equal opportunities legislation, education, etc., you can see progress on women’s rights and, over time, achieve a degree of change.

On the whole, Conservatives tend to be less interested in these kinds of issues. They fundamentally believe in the individual and it follows that people should be able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps without state intervention.

However, more liberal ‘one nation’ Tories do acknowledge that society has some responsibility generally to address the disadvantages of women, albeit it is preferable if it is done by charities and communities rather than the state.

People like Caroline Nokes for example, have spoken up about the abuse of women. Theresa May spoke this week about her fears of modern slavery, which impacts on women more than men. 

‘She might be a woman, but she isn’t a sister’

As ever, Margaret Thatcher is interesting in this discussion. Britain’s first female prime minister did say that she found it difficult to be chosen as a constituency candidate because of assumptions that women should not be MPs. She also experienced what she called ‘wandering hands.’ On the other hand, Thatcher never appointed a woman to her cabinet and was hostile to feminism, actively distancing herself from women’s issues and causes.

In the words of the late feminist and writer Jill Tweedie, ‘she might be a woman, but she isn’t a sister.’

Unlike Thatcher, Theresa May is a self-identified feminist woman, albeit a right-wing one. As historian Julie Gottlieb of Sheffield University and author of an essay collection entitled ‘Rethinking Right-Wing Women,’ said of May: “I think her self-identification as a feminist is genuine, I don’t think she’s an opportunist in this regard. The point is that we’re surprised by it, and it’s because the only precedent we have is Thatcher, who counterintuitively went against a feminist legacy. May is what we should expect, rather than the other way around!”

But famous women on the right go back long before Thatcher. Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst joined the Conservative Party, after fighting to win women’s partial suffrage in 1918. Other suffragettes moved even further to the right and joined the British fascist movement in the 1930s.

In 2018, Labour MP Harriet Harman said that you can’t be a feminist and a Conservative, “because it’s all about equality and fairness.” But just a couple of weeks later, Harman had changed her mind, hailing a new wave of Tory feminists, including former minister for women and equalities Justine Greening.

Today, there’s a new wave of right-wing Tory women, but they don’t seem too focused on advancing women’s equality. Like Truss, Suella Braverman has supported the austerity agenda that did significant damage to women’s access to equality. The Home Secretary has also consistently voted against abortion rights, including introducing a legislative change that bought change to abortion rights to Northern Ireland.

Similarly Kemi Badenoch, who has been minister for women and equalities since 2022, voted against the bill that stops anti-abortion protestors from coming within a 150-metre buffer zone around abortion clinics.

But back to this week’s ‘childcare reforming’ Budget. While the policy has been broadly welcomed as a step in the right direction for women’s rights, the Tories’ motives are questionable. Jeremy Hunt knew that support for childcare would play well with the electorate and now he can say they have done something about it. But the economic argument was more important – getting women back into the workplace to try to address the labour shortage now that immigrants are no longer available.

Gary Gibbon on Channel 4 News was interesting this week, making the point that childcare has now become part of the welfare state right across Europe in a way unimagined in 1945. Then of course, women often stayed at home to look after their children but the twin effects of the erosion of wages and the growth of consumer capitalism means households need two incomes.

Whether Hunt’s plans deliver is doubtful. Nurseries are shutting because they don’t have staff and tend to offer poor wages so there might not be the places for children to go to. Some women look to build careers and they know that part-time work which childcare payments tend to support, doesn’t help in that respect.

Finally, Hunt’s budget ignores the elephant in the room – poor public sector wages given that the public sector employs large numbers of women.

The only way real change will happen is through collective action, and when the women – and men – in power are driven by a genuine desire to support women and other oppressed groups. 

Something that looks dolefully unlikely with our current government.

Right-Wing Media Watch – The most hysterical things the Tory press have said about Gary Lineker

‘Lineker-bashing is fun, but the Lefty issue at BBC is MUCH more insidious,’ wrote Paul Baldwin, head of content at the Express. According to the author, presenters and celebs are falling over themselves to ‘virtue signal with woke credentials and their ‘solidarity’ with the slightly entitled crisp salesman.’ But the author’s beef runs deeper than Lineker and his fellow football commentators. His real gripe is the ‘institutionalised’ BBC, where a leftist stance, apparently, seeps into vast swathes of its daily news coverage.

When reading this, you would think that the author had been living on a different planet for the last week or so. The reason why the Lineker saga has created such a colossal media storm is that in penalising the MOTD presenter for his supposed ‘left-wing’ views, while letting other prominent figures spouting ‘right-wing’ opinions off the hook, the story exposes the corporation’s right-wing political bias, and how it bows to the pressures of right-wing organisations.

But then, as Guardian columnist Zoe Williams writes, the Lineker row isn’t about impartiality, it’s the latest attempt to discredit leftish decency. What’s really infuriating for the Tory press, besides Gary Lineker effectively winning 3 – 0 in retuning to MOTD, making no apology and tweeting about small boats (again), is that someone famous and well-liked is daring to stand up to their narrative in such a public and impactful way. Usually their intimidation works, but, in this case, the exact opposite has happened.

Unavoidably, articles like Baldwin’s have been flooding the pages of right-wing press in the wake of the Lineker/BBC controversy. 

‘Barely a week passes without Gary Lineker taking to his sanctimony-soaked Twitter account to pour scorn on government policy… so should he face a red card for his latest transgression?’ pontificated Henry Deedes in the Daily Mail.

‘Sanctimony-soaked Twitter account?’ Where were such cries when Jeremy Clarkson spewed out racist hatred about wanting to see Meghan Merkle paraded naked down the street as people threw excrement at her? Talk about the outrageous ‘one rule for us’ double standards of the so-called free speech champions?

One of my favourite sentences in this piece is that ‘turmeric-latte-sipping metropolitan types’ – yes, we’ve been upgraded from mere latte-sippers to turmeric-latte-sippers – swoon at Lineker’s every ‘halo-enhancing pronouncement.’ Of course we are going to swoon or at least enjoy someone daring to stand up to a ‘morally repugnant’ immigration policy that even the home secretary herself has said might not be legal. What did Deedes expect?

Dan Wootton’s response in the Mail is also worthy of a mention, for all the wrong reasons of course.

“By capitulating to Gary Lineker and a left-wing cabal of multi-millionaire celebrity virtue signallers, toothless boss Tim Davie has just signed the BBC’s death warrant. It’s time to defund this biased joke,” was Wootton’s headline

I won’t bore you with too much detail, but using every cliché in the book, Wootton, unsuccessfully, attempts to argue that it’s lefties who call the shots at the BBC. In fact, in blathering on about ‘hard left open borders,’ the article, having been written by an immigrant himself – Wootton was born in New Zealand – stinks of unintelligible irony. 

Unsurprisingly, Wootton fails to elaborate on Tim Davie’s connections to the Tory Party, including being deputy chairman of the Hammersmith and Fulham Conservative party in the 1990s, and having stood unsuccessfully as a councillor in 1993 and 1994, AND remaining good friends with the Tory peer Stephen Greenhalgh, who was until last year a minister in Johnson’s government. Phew, no wonder Wootton didn’t dwell on that lot!

But then before we get too infuriated by this kind of commentary, we have to remember who’s holding the pen.

Labour MP Chris Bryant summed up Dan Wootton in 2020 after the right-wing journalist and broadcaster attacked lockdown restrictions and claimed ‘science has forever used herd immunity’ to deal with viruses,’ – a ‘complete and utter nutcase.’ And dangerous. And, not very bright. 

Woke-bashing of the week – Right blames woke for banks becoming broke

Silicon Valley Bank has collapsed and what is to blame? Diversity and wokeness of course!

Yep, the catch-all scapegoat of using ‘woke’ in anything related to diversity and inclusion, is being tossed around by conservatives, both sides of the Atlantic, as the cause of the second largest bank collapse in the US history.

Leading the charge was House Oversight Committee chairman James Comer, who took to Fox News (no surprise there then), to describe the Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) as “one of the most woke banks.” Why? Because of its investment in ‘ESG-policy’ and ‘DEI’ – ESG standing for environmental, social and governance, and DEI meaning diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Using the same right-wing platform was Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, who said that “everybody is focused on diversity and all of the woke issues and not concentrating on the one thing they should, which is shareholder returns.”

Barking the same baseless message was Donald Trump Jr (no surprises there either). “SVB is what happens when you push a leftist/woke ideology and have that take precedent over common sense business practices.” This is the same person who, earlier this year, blamed a ‘woke bank’ after one of his business accounts was accidentally closed down. Trump Jr’s business partner Taylor Budowich shared a similar message in response to PNC Bank’s accidental closure of the account. “Woke corporations are using their terms and conditions like a guillotine over the head of every conservative entrepreneur,” he told Fox News.

Meanwhile, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right Georgia Congresswoman, who went viral for comparing Covid 19 to farts, claimed that the “fools running the bank were woke and almost became broke.”

The SVB’s UK branch has not been without the same wrath from the right. Several months prior to the collapse, Jay Ersapah, financial risk management for the UK branch, introduced several initiates aimed at promoting inclusion in the workplace. The initiatives ranged from content promoting mental health awareness to Pride campaigns. A number of right-wing commentators claimed that Ersapah was “too distracted” by the policies to detect any problems. Mismanagement and decline were blamed on ‘diversity hires’ and ‘going woke.’

Writing for the Daily Mail, Andy Puzder, a US businessman, and, wait for it, a visiting fellow at the right-wing think-tank the Heritage Foundation, claims ‘woke-obsessed bankers and the president’s mad spending juggernaut fuelled this banking tsunami.’

Fortunately, more ‘normal’ news outlets – i.e not Fox News and the Daily Mail – have reported on the real reasons for the collapse of the SVB, which until last week was worth over $200bn and was the 16th largest bank in the world.

Writing for the Independent, US reporter Alex Woodward explained how Trump-era cuts to regulations which were implemented during the financial crash of 2008, led to the bank’s ‘untenable’ concentration on tech startups and venture capital firms. As a consequence, the Silicon Valley Bank careered into the reality of rising interest rates and panic. The bank invested heavily in long-dated US government bonds, and when interest rates rise, bond prices fall. SVB’s bond portfolio therefore started to lose significant value. As SVB didn’t have sufficient cash on hand, it began selling some of its bonds at steep losses, spooking investors and customers, as the Guardian reports.

Not that the right-wingers would have us believe such logic. For them, wokeism and diversity are the curse of everything, including banks. This is not the first-time financial institutions have fallen victim to the insane claims of the woke bashers. Last July, the Daily Mail insisted that Halifax had seen a ‘mass exodus’ of customers after it, apparently, told those who disagreed with its ‘latest woke policy’ to go elsewhere. The woke policy the Mail was referring to, was employees at the bank having the choice of adding pronouns to their name badges.

So, creating safer spaces for employees by encouraging people to refer to them in the way that feels most accurate to them, is a legitimate reason to close a bank account.

Honestly, I give up!

Gabrielle Pickard-Whitehead is author of Right-Wing Watch

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