You might currently be experiencing an odd sense of deja vu. That’s because I wrote a post with a very similar title to this – Nicky Morgan: the Minister for Women who doesn’t believe in equality for all women – just about three months ago.
Back then, David Cameron had been forced into a mini-reshuffle of his cabinet by the resignation of Maria Miller because of …er, what was it now? being insufficiently apologetic in a public apology, was that it? Miller’s resignation had created a bit of a headache for the prime minister, not so much in the awarding of her main Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport portfolio (that was handed readily enough to Sajid Javid) as in the handling of her secondary role as Minister for Women and Equalities.
The problem Cameron faced was that the Women and Equalities portfolio had to be given to someone of cabinet level, because any suggestion he was downgrading the importance of the role would have been politically toxic. The Minister for Women had – for pretty obvious reasons – to be a woman, and the Minister for Equalities had – for very similar reasons – to be someone who was in favour of equality. (In practical terms ‘in favour of equality’ meant someone who was in favour of LGBT equality, since the legislation for equal marriage in England and Wales had been the only major equalities Bill put through the current UK parliament.) So, to recap, Mr Cameron was looking for a woman who was in, or could be promoted to, the cabinet and had voted for marriage equality.
This proved to be an insoluble conundrum for a prime minister who headed a parliamentary party that was 84% male, and in which only about two out of every five MPs had voted for marriage equality, so he took the decision to split the portfolio. The incoming Culture Secretary – who had voted in favour of equal marriage, but was a man – was made Minister for Equalities, while Nicky Morgan – who was a woman, but had voted against equality – was made Minister for Women, and granted permission to attend cabinet in that capacity.
All in all this was a pretty unsatisfactory fudge. It blurred the government’s approach to equality (who should lesbians subjected to misogyny and homophobia turn to for help – the Minister for Women, or the Minister for Equalities?), and it meant that the official government champion of female equality didn’t support equality for all women. But it was this unsatisfactory fudge that persisted from early April until mid July.