It’s a great shame that so many Liberal Democrats have reacted to the political downfall of Chris Huhne by bashing his successor. Ed Davey is an immensely capable minister and will do a wonderful job in his new position. Sadly, some have chosen this news to complain because a woman wasn’t promoted instead of a man. Gender balance is an issue that seems to divide opinion a great deal in the online world, for some reason, despite being hardly as controversial in the real world, where the principle is generally accepted that talent should be rewarded rather than the accident of birth.
Unfortunately, to some my gender disqualifies me from discussion of these issues because of my ‘privilege’. Those people will likely dismiss this article out of hand because to them only a female can understand why it is so vital that half of our political representatives are of the female gender.
Of course, not every woman sees the need for her gender to be given an unfair and discriminatory leg-up . ‘Gender balance’ is not necessary – I am no better represented by our local Labour MP because he is a man than if he were a woman. I do not subscribe to this patronising belief that women are some hitherto-unknown minority in desperate need of a leg-up, that women have ‘issues’ only capable of being dealt with by a woman, or that you should promote a woman to a position instead of a man so that some arbitrary target of 50/50 can be reached.
I’m also going to be extra-edgy and not include ridiculous caveats about being male and white and therefore of less pertinent opinion. I’m not going to try and disprove some meekly-assumed reader assumption that since I don’t want women promoted for their gender alone I must hate them, by saying that some of my best friends are women (although it’s tempting!) or follow our Prime Minister’s example in the leaders’ debates and tell you a story of how I met a woman (forty years old, in the navy for thirty years, etc.
See, it may be uncommon in an apparently liberal party, but I don’t believe that women are better than men or vice-versa, I look at people as individuals and judge them on ability. So if I compare Ed Davey and, say, Lynne Featherstone on the basis of suitability for a job, and choose Davey on this basis, he is, therefore, better than Featherstone – not because he is male, but because his experience and talent suits the position better than hers. Nick Clegg clearly agrees with me, as the position went to Davey. Those arguing that Featherstone should have got the job therefore seem to believe that Davey was only chosen as part of some vast, devious male conspiracy to keep women out of the top jobs of politics (despite the glass ceiling of female party leadership and female Prime Ministerhood having been smashed many years ago by a certain grocer’s daughter!).
Face facts – our party’s political troubles are not going to be magically solved by replacing our leadership with a cadre of working-class women headed by Jo Swinson. I say this in the quiet certainty they would perform exactly as well as our current leadership, no better, no worse. After all, when individuals are brought together to work as a team, the makeup of the team matters less than the personalities – if clashes happen, it will be because of said opposing personalities, not because of an extraneous factor like gender. I do not believe that people will work together any better or worse just because they are a mixture of genders, deliberately picked to fit into some politically-motivated notion of ‘balance’. Look first and foremost for their individual talents and for what they can offer to a team, not for balancing a quota or ticking boxes, and certainly not for choosing artificial ‘equality’ over the solid evidence of talent. That’s the kind of thinking that leads to putting Jacqui Smith in the Home Office, and that’s disastrous!
So, ultimately, the answer to the issue posed here is simply that Nick Clegg should stop talking about diversity and get on with getting the best people to do the jobs, regardless of gender or background. This doesn’t make me a hater of women or some defender of stereotyped southern privilege over northern austerity – quite the contrary, those who would see women promoted on the basis of their gender are the sexists, if they would but realise it. Women don’t need to be catapulted anywhere, they need to be treated the same as men would be; as individuals, given the same chances to shine and given the same rewards for their skills.
And yes, that title is ironic!
* Zadok Day is a Lib Dem activist based in Bury, and is co-Chair of Liberal Reform.