Gender imbalance is still a disgrace

Ronnie Campbell MP'Picture by Jane Coltman
Ronnie Campbell MP'Picture by Jane Coltman

Given the International Women’s Day celebrations, I have a shocking confession to make; I did not much like Margaret Thatcher, our first female prime minister.

But that was because of her right-wing, monetarist, greed-is-good policies, which shut down traditional industries to reward fat cats and yuppies, not because she was a woman.

I do not much like Theresa May, but again that is because of her policies, which have condemned a generation to public service cuts while making a pig’s ear of Brexit, which the majority of my Blyth Valley constituents voted for, not because she is a woman.

My background as a miner means some may regard me as a sexist. Women did not work at the coalface, but above ground they were there, the backbone of pit communities.

The wives, mothers, sisters and daughters kept communities together and held the purse strings. That was especially true during the great pit strike of the mid-1980s and its grim aftermath of silent collieries and mass unemployment.

The imbalance of women in proper control, apart from the Queen and prime minister, remains a stain on our parliamentary democracy.

Things have got better. There are now 209 women MPs – at 32 per cent, this is an all-time high. The proportion of women MPs grew slowly until the 1997 election, when 120 women were elected, making up just 18 per cent. Before then, women had never made up more than ten per cent of all MPs.

Four women are cabinet ministers. The highest proportion of women in the cabinet was just over a third between May 2006 and May 2007, during the last Labour government – maybe my party will eventually get around to choosing a woman Leader.

However, the main imbalance remains over pay. A TUC survey found that working women effectively work for free for the first two months of the year before their annual wages reach that of a male colleague. That is the biggest disgrace of all.