We recently learnt that Philippa Stroud, who lost out to Lib Dem Paul Burstow in Sutton & Cheam, has a deceptive amount of influence upon Tory policy. As head of the Centre for Social Justice, she has had a major role in formulating almost 70 of the Conservative Party’s policies. Stroud has openly admitted to her Christian faith having a big day-to-day impact on her life and decision-making. She happens to be a member of the New Frontiers Church, where her husband is one of the main leaders. One of the church’s 17 values is as follows:
“A church where Biblical family life is highly valued, where husband and wife embrace male servant leadership and joyful female submission, where godly parenting is taught and practised and where the special value of singleness and its unique opportunities are affirmed”.
Stroud’s own expostulations on the subject of female leadership seem to indicate that she would not necessarily take her husband’s word as law if he wanted to influence her policy decisions. In an article entitled “Do We Still Need An International Women’s Day?”, she lauds the achievements of female leaders and female workers alike.
So which stance are we to believe? An enthusiastic affiliation with a doctrine of female submission or an endorsement of gender equality in the public sphere?
The apparent contradiction in the gender politics of Philippa Stroud is a familiar story within the Tory party at large. At the risk of repeating something we all already know, the stuff that the Cons say and the way that they vote doesn’t add up.
The Cons’ 2007 equality campaign under Theresa May, ‘Fair Play on Women’s Pay’, actively advocated ‘fighting against pay discrimination’.
On 25th February 2010, 22 out of 25 Tory MEPs vote against a resolution calling for the EU to become a party to the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. The other three didn’t vote.
The Conservative Party’s policy on ‘Women and Equality’, as stated on their website, includes ‘stronger legislation to prevent employers discriminating and better careers guidance for young women’, and a ‘new strategy to tackle violence against women including…new rape crisis centres’.
Boris Johnson claimed in his election manifesto that he would fund three new rape crisis centres in London. In April 2009 he announced that funding for the centres would not be found in his budget. Johnson instead paid his ‘transition team’ of PR spinners and consultants, who facilitated his acquisition of the London mayoralty, over £500,000, subsequently cutting his rape crisis budget by over half a million pounds.
Tory policy on women and equality evokes work flexibility with regard to parenting, positing a ‘new system of flexible parental leave, so parents can decide how to divide maternity leave between them and are able to make use of it simultaneously’. Gender-neutral terms that appear to steer party policy away from its traditionalist associations.
David Willetts, the Tory Shadow Minister for Universities and Skills, has nonetheless explicitly blamed feminism for widening the class gap, based on the apparent fact that female graduates persist in mating with male graduates. This assertion can be found in his recent book ‘The Pinch’, published in February of this year.
In that same month, seven measures on a report on equality for women in the EU saw most Tory MEPs voting against or abstaining. These measures included giving better protection to women on maternity leave, backing access to contraception and abortion, and making men more aware of their responsibilities re: sexual/reproductive health.
The exposure of such Tory voting trends in Brussels was down to documentation by the Liberal Democrats, who are currently deciding whether to accept the coalition deal offered by the Conservatives. Clegg’s self-set deadline for making a decision is apparently tonight. Can we trust the Lib Dems to actively moderate Tory excesses on cuts, as Deborah Orr suggested today? It is worth remembering that job cuts have an automatic gender bias in a system where 65 per cent of public sector employees are women. The Fawcett Society has praised the Lib Dems for their policy on the pay gap and their alleviation of income tax for everyone earning below 10K. Clegg is nevertheless dedicated to ‘savage cuts’ (his own words) and wants to scrap the Child Trust Fund system. We mustn’t forget, too, that in 2004 a group of prominent Liberal Democrats, including Clegg, published ‘The Orange Book’, calling for the private innovation of public services, in true Washington Consensus style. The book was basically bait for Tory voters.
The point is, however much faith you have in Lib Dem ‘progressiveness’, feminists have to start organising now. The Tories don’t vote for us in Europe, they are committed to the privatisation of public services, and some of their most influential members are funded by institutions that forbid the leadership or autonomy of women. The Lib Dems are also committed to economic liberalism; public spending cuts are always inherently gendered.
Whether it is on the streets, from our desks, in the media, or plastered on the nation’s billboards, we are going to have to be vocal. Democracy doesn’t end when you draw a cross next to a white man’s name; as feminists we know how effective grassroots activism can be for executing change. You probably can’t win wars with stickers alone, but if we continue to refuse the insidious sexism of the Cons by consistent and vocal pressure, we have a better chance of protecting the rights we have won.
Also, we could just print millions of stickers.