THERE’S a fair chance I’ll get my head chewed off by feminist ultras for sounding sexist and patronising, but say it I will, because it’s a fact: in a week of bad tidings the last seven days have been great news for the girls.
First, the Church of England General Synod voted in favour of ordaining female bishops and one candidate is said to be awaiting receipt of her mitre and crozier before the year’s out.
Quite why this was the stuff of headlines was beyond me.
Women won the right to be welcomed into the Anglican priesthood yonks ago and I’ve always believed they’d had a pretty strong discrimination case to take before an employment tribunal for not being allowed to realise their full potential much beyond being parsons.
This ‘glass ceiling’ was especially ludicrous and contradictory, since a female – The Queen, no less! – is the titular head of the whole shebang.
Canon Law, though, governing the clergy has been an omnishambles of an ass for centuries. Nonethelesss, it was instructive that Justin Welby, the oil industry exec-turned-Archbishop of Canterbury, emphasised the church’s volte face was based on religious principles, not a rush of 21st Century liberalism to the collective brain.
However, before a Geraldine Grainger can swap her Vicar of Dibley’s black cassock for a bishop’s purple and ask, ‘Does my bum look big in this?’, a tad more tinkering with the rules has to happen.
This involves designing special opt-outs for hardline evangelicals – especially from the African communion – and traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, who won’t accept the authority of a woman on theological grounds, in an attempt to keep them within the Cof E’s shrinking fold.
The second and more momentous win-of-the-week for women came with Squire Cameron’s Cabinet reshuffle – well, at least the Tory element of the Coalition – with what’s been described as a ‘cull of middle-aged, middle-class males’.
The Prime Minister has long been at the butt-end of criticism for denying women seats at the grand table of power, which – apart from three females – has tended to be warmed by the backsides of fatcat Old Etonians or chums from his Bullingdon Club days at Oxford.
Now comes the figurative ‘charge of the skirts’, as 10 women enter the higher echelons of Britain’s corridors of power and a succession of big, male beasts are defanged or forcibly demobbed.
Not since Harold MacMillan’s ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in 1962, when seven ministers got the chop, has a British Cabinet undergone such drastic surgery.
At face value, William Hague’s decision to quit as Foreign Secretary and stand down as an MP at the next election, seemed extraordinary. On reflection, however, it makes perfect sense, since he’s one of few politicos whose CV includes proper jobs – from working in the family brewery as a 15-year-old drayman to high-flying management consultant.
With his experience, contacts and intellect, Hague’s bound to attract directorships by the bucket-load and, having once failed as Tory leader, he’s hardly likely to get another shot at the top.
As his dad, Neil, 86, noted undiplomatically, though with typical, Yorkshire bluntness, ‘William plans to enjoy himself, do some writing, go to places and make a lot more money, because he loses money working with all those goons.’
Meanwhile, Michael Gove doesn’t know if his move from Education Minister to Chief Whip signals a downward spiral – ‘Demotion, emotion, promotion, locomotion, I don’t know how you would describe it,’ he says, uncharacteristically mystified – but it smacks of damage-limitation, after a succession of Gove-driven reforms have left teachers seething.
Veteran Ken Clarke’s departure from office was the least surprising, since the 74-year-old was first appointed a minister in 1972 and has spent two decades in top jobs, including Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer.
However, British politics surely hasn’t heard the last for the man famed for his brown, suede shoes. He’ll undoubtedly be offered a lordship, whereby he’ll be unshackled from the chains of office to harangue his party’s lurch further towards Euroscepticism.
Because, despite Cameron’s pre-election stunt being a naked appeal to female voters by promoting a posse of women, the lion’s share of the new Cabinet is dominated by the anti-Brussels brigade, none more so than new Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond.
Nevertheless and regardless of this Machiavellian sleight of hand designed to placate the Tory Right, the arrival of the likes of Nicky Morgan (Education), Liz Truss (Environment) and ex-TV presenter, Esther McVey (Employment) is the real attention-grabber.
Hence, after Blair’s Babes, we have – in tabloid parlance – Dave’s Dolls, as inadvertently underscored by BBC Political Editor, Nick Robinson, in a mis-Tweet announcing Morgan as ‘the new Education Sexretary’.
So does this presage things to come?
Undoubtedly and, at the risk of being accused of indulging in reverse misogyny, it’s no bad thing – perhaps even a wakey-wakey call for those of the male persuasion not to presume we rule by divine right.
Because the unassailable truth is girls now outperform boys at school on almost every count, from nursery to uni.
The gap in reading abilities between the sexes widens from seven percentage points at seven years old, to 14% by GCSE time; more girls are applying for university places than boys; and women in their twenties now earn more per hour than men.
Germany’s Angela Merkel is the unchallenged mistress of Euroland – by the way, Mutti, congrats on your boys winning the World Cup – and the EU has more female leaders than ever (i.e. Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia).
Furthermore, in less than two years, the US could very well have it’s first female president in Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Finally, speaking as the father of a daughter, who’s intelligent, resourceful and balances a high-pressure career while being a wife and mum to two rumbustious boys, I have only great admiration and pride in all she’s achieved through hard work, true grit and sheer talent.
Lauren was in the vanguard of the breakthrough generation of ambitious, young women and all the indications are the next will strive to stride even further.
So is this ‘the end of men?’ as one newspaper editorial asked last week.
Dunno. I’ll have to ask my wife.