Boris Johnson just blundered his way through a series of questions about the lack of female representation in parliament during the pandemic.
Last week, Labour MP Rosie Duffield challenged Boris Johnson on silencing women during the pandemic. She pointed out that Priti Patel has been the only woman in cabinet who has led the Downing Street press conferences, and called for a “change of tone and more female voices” at the top of government. Agreeing it was an “extremely important” point, Johnson said he had already taken “dramatic action” by appointing Dido Harding and Kate Bingham in vital roles.
At Johnson’s liaison committee hearing, which took place yesterday (Wednesday 27 May), Conservative MP Caroline Nokes pushed the PM more on the issue of women in parliament. Nokes, who is the Women and Equalities Committee chair, made a series of points and asked a number of important questions that Johnson clearly struggled to answer.
Nokes asked whose advice Johnson had taken on reopening schools at the same time as the retail sector, where she said the majority employees were female, and how the move might impact the availability of childcare.
“I think your question, Caroline, is directed at whether or not we’ve got sufficiently female representation at the top of government helping us to inform these decisions and I really think we have,” he replied. “The head of policy at Number 10 is Munira Mirza, the election manifesto on which we both fought successfully was written by two women and the most important appointments we’ve made just in the last couple of weeks… have also been women.”
When Sir Bernard Jenkin interjected to ask the PM “how much difference do you think having women in the room actually changes the nature of those decisions?” the PM admitted it made a “huge difference”. He then suggested the call for more female voices in the room is “sexist”, adding: “I acknowledge that may sound like a vaguely sexist thing to say, but it’s very important.”
Nokes then asked: “You made the distinction between there being ‘a lot’ of women and ‘enough’ women – how many is enough?”
Johnson laughed: “Oh boy, that’s a question on which I’m not competent to pronounce.”
Agreeing it wasn’t a laughing matter, he continued: “All I say, Caroline, is that it’s incredibly important to us as Conservatives […] 50% would be great – we have large numbers of female MPs of great talents, including yourself, in the House of Commons now, far more.
“Never forget, it’s only the Conservative Party that’s produced two female prime ministers.”
Following the hearing, Nokes apologised to anyone who had a problem with the barrage of questions. “My job as the chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee is to scrutinise the government and hold it to account - sorry if my questions to the PM (all within my brief) were seen by some as too tough,” she wrote.
People on Twitter, including Caitlin Moran, were quick to support Nokes and her questions.
Still buzzing from how brilliant @carolinenokes’ questions to Boris were,” wrote Moran. “She looked like an actual reasoning focused adult human being engaged in politics. I keep forgetting they exist.”
Labour MP Stella Creasy added: “I don’t think there are enough meryl streep memes for what @carolinenokes just did to highlight the absence of any thinking about women and the economy by the prime minister…”
And Labour MP Dawn Butler said: “@carolinenokes questioning in regards to women’s representation was really good. It’s important to have diversity of thought making decisions. It is a worry that this is our Prime Minister who is supposed to be in charge, didn’t sound like he really knew what day it was.
The support shows that her questions were nothing to apologise for. In fact, we need to keep asking them.