This week saw the election of the controversial Tony Abbot as Australian Prime Minister. Abbott won 88 seats for the right-wing Liberal Nationalist Coalition, compared to 57 for Kevin Rudd’s Australian Labor Party (ALP).
Abbott’s attitudes to gender have brought widespread criticism, most famously from the ALP’s ex-Prime Minister Julie Gillard, who took issue with statements he had made about women. Abbott is on record as saying equal representation for women would be “folly”, arguing that men are better equipped to govern because of “aptitude” and “physiological” features. John McTernan, a former advisor to Gillard, described The Coalition as “actively trying to reduce the status of women”. Comments on the campaign trail – such as Abbott’s praise of a female candidate’s “sex appeal” – seem to confirm this.
Abbott holds reactionary views on many topics, from abortion – which he in the past described as a “convenient exit” for would-be mothers – to stem cell research and contraception. He questions the science behind climate change, and comes into office promising tax cuts and harsher treatment of asylum seekers.
Most agree that this was an election lost by the ALP rather than won by Abbott. Under Labor the economy grew and ordinary people became better off, but these things were obscured by division and internal spats. The party brought Rudd back as leader just three months ago, ousting Gillard and intensifying voter disillusionment.
Saturday’s election result symbolises the triumph in Australia of what McTernan calls a “cruder” way of doing things, characterised by misogyny and personal attacks. David Cameron has already hired Lynton Crosby – a devotee of bare-knuckle politics – in an attempt to bring this approach to the UK. It is vital that Labour avoids the mistakes the ALP have made. Only by staying unified will we ward off the aggressive and chauvinistic style of politics that both Crosby and Abbott represent.
Elsewhere this week Marin Alsop became the first woman in 118 years to conduct Last Night of the Proms. The American led the orchestra through a wonderful performance on Saturday, following a week of discussion about sexism in music – including suggestions from conductor Vasily Petrenko that orchestras “react better to having a man in front of them”.
To Alsop’s credit she has not shied away from the issue of gender. On Wednesday she told The Evening Standard she was “proud to be breaking this particular glass ceiling”, arguing that a conductor’s gender is no more important than what hand they write with.
When we discuss underrepresentation of women we automatically think of business or politics. But we must remember that it is a problem which also applies to our culture. Despite Alsop’s success, women made up only a fraction of the composers contributing to The Proms this year, and in 2009 the EU described women’s lack of access to the performing arts as a “persistent” problem.
Women in Music have been set up to rectify this under representation. On Thursday 12th September I am pleased to be associated with a performance of music composed by women which will take place in Westminster. I urge music-lovers male and female to come along. For event details please click here.