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Jenna Norman: 'It's clear women will be the losers if pale, male and stale Tories lead Brexit charge'


Leadership race: Boris Johnson has made derogatory comments about women in the past. Photo: PA

Leadership race: Boris Johnson has made derogatory comments about women in the past. Photo: PA


Leadership race: Boris Johnson has made derogatory comments about women in the past. Photo: PA

With days to go until Theresa May ends her disastrous leadership, all eyes are on her potential successor. What an embarrassment of riches there are to choose from. We are currently at 13 candidates, from old favourites like Michael Gove and Boris Johnson to new faces of cliff-diving Conservatism, Esther McVey and Dominic Raab.

Many of the candidates will place democracy front and centre of their campaigns, promising to fulfil the hollow promises made in 2016 as a matter of integrity and duty to the British people. Yet, whoever takes over from May will ultimately be decided by the Conservative membership who are 71pc male, 97pc white and 44pc aged over 65.

In fact, research from London's Queen Mary University in 2018 shows only 0.75pc of the Conservative party membership are young women: 5pc are aged 18-24 and only 15pc of those are young women. A bunch of male, pale and stale card- carrying Conservative voters will be the ones to decide the future of the country. What was that about democratic deficit?

The choice of Tory party leader will be unrepresentative and undemocratic. And yet this prime minister could be the one to lead the UK back into or out of Europe. They could also preside over a crucial process of healing the country but a glance to their history with tackling inequality doesn't bode well. Those posturing for leadership don't exactly have the strongest records on women's rights.

Let's take a closer look at some of the leading candidates.

First up, Boris Johnson. It's hardly a hot take to suggest his class clown act is a clever disguise for what is really a conniving and ruthless long game to secure the keys to Number 10, but has his time finally arrived? Let's hope not. Only last year Johnson was reported to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for describing women who wear the niqab as "letter boxes" and "bank robbers".

His past comments on women also include that women go to university because "they've got to find men to marry" and, a personal favourite, "voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts and increase your chances of owning a BMW".

I'd love to tell you things get better from here but, alas, Raab is infamous for his hostility to women's rights. He famously declared in a PoliticsHome article in 2011 that "feminists are now among the most obnoxious bigots". Then, in what is truly a show of own-goalsmanship, defended this claim live on 'The Andrew Marr Show' last week. Despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary - including the glacial pace of closing the pay gap and ending violence against women - Raab thinks it is in fact men who have got a "raw deal".

Raab's attitudes towards food bank users as those with a "cash-flow problem" and disabled children having "wish lists" have been widely publicised elsewhere, but it's worth noting a 2018 study found women make up 56pc of food bank users and 73pc of those receiving carer's allowance. Turns out elitism isn't gender neutral.

Then there's Michael Gove, the infamous education secretary who increased teachers' workloads and decreased salaries, while spending per pupil fell 8pc between 2010 and 2018. Almost three-quarters of UK school teachers are women, meaning it is women who have been predominantly hit.

Dare I even ask about Jeremy Hunt? Best not, to be honest. After all, this is the man who confirmed to 'The Times' in 2012 he was in favour of halving the abortion limit. "I voted to reduce the time down to 12 weeks. I still have that view," he said.

All major UK medical bodies passed no-confidence motions on the former health secretary - and no surprise. On his watch, waiting times for cancer care and A&E increased, thousands of nurses (89pc of whom are women) resigned due to poor working conditions and pay and the social care sector has been ravaged beyond compare. Approximately 1.2 million people aged 65 and over in England (one in eight) have unmet care needs, an increase of 48pc since 2010.

As foreign secretary, Hunt has described Saudi Arabia - a country where women must obtain permission from a male guardian to travel abroad or obtain a passport, and the death penalty still stands - as a "very important military ally". He also suggested Singapore, where there is no anti-discrimination legislation and which ranks 147 out of 159 in Oxfam's inequality index, as a model for post-Brexit Britain.

All in all, it's not looking good.

The UK is now in a position where a new prime minister, elected by old white men, will enter office only to carry on with whatever Brexit they care to pursue. With these ideologues lining up to follow May as PM, now is hardly the time to be complacent about the status of women. We've already seen just how easy it is for populist misogynist to gain national credence elsewhere in the world.

The Brexit the UK was promised in 2016 looks nothing like this Tory catastrophe. And if the EU election results show anything it's that the UK is collectively pro- Remain - and certainly there is no mandate for No Deal. A People's Vote is therefore now a democratic imperative. The UK cannot afford to leave it to the boys.

Jenna Norman is campaigns co-ordinator at Women for a People's Vote

Irish Independent