WOMEN TO GO IN POSSIBLE CABINET RESHUFFLE

Labour Party, Women's Rights

While I would not normally comment on speculation in the “Sun” newspaper

I feel it’s necessary today as the report may have some bearing on the European elections.

According to Political Editor George Pascoe-Watson both Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears are in line to be demoted from the Cabinet after the June 4 poll, my election in other words. Gordon Brown is, according to the “Sun”, going to drop these two women to improve his general election chances.

Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears

Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears

The Prime Minister’s choice of ministerial colleagues is obviously a matter for him. What I am concerned about is the treatment both Jacqui and Hazel have received leading up to Gordon Brown’s potential reshuffle – a reshuffle which will take place after what, as the “Sun” puts it, will be Labour’s ‘drubbing in the polls’. Thank you George. I really appreciate being told I’m facing melt down.

Both Jacqui and Hazel have, I believe, been hounded far more than any man in their position would have been. Jacqui has been made a scapegoat for the vagaries of the present system of MPs’ expenses, allowing commentators to then attack her performance as Home Secretary. Hazel, on the other hand, has faced a continual barrage of low level sniping.

Neither woman has deserved this treatment. They have both performed as well as most of their Cabinet colleagues. I suspect Jacqui Smith was singled out for particular scrutiny regarding her allowances and private life in a way most other members of the Cabinet were not. When an individual is targeted, things often come out. I defy anyone in politics to be so pure that they automatically survive the driven snow test.

The reason Jacqui has been picked out and Hazel ridiculed? They are both women. I remember when I worked for “Gingerbread”, the lone parent charity in the early 1990s, two high profile women suffered the same treatment. Barbara Mills, the then Director of Public Prosecutions, and the former Chief Executive of the Child Support Agency, Ros Hepplewhite, were pursued at every possible opportunity. Eventually they both left their posts.

Dame Barbara Mills

Dame Barbara Mills

I would have hoped that 15 years on things may have changed. Sadly not. Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears are the unfortunate successors of Barbara and Ros.