In 2009 David Cameron declared, ‘If elected, by the end of our first Parliament I want a third of all my ministers to be female’. He failed to meet this goal, and it continues to elude him at the start of his second term: women currently make up 25% of ministers, the same proportion as before the election.
Cameron has achieved his aim around the Cabinet table: exactly one third of all ministers permitted to attend cabinet are women. This falls to 20% at Minister of State level, the highest rank of junior minister. This is not necessarily a blockage in the pipeline carrying women up to cabinet: Amber Rudd has just been promoted to Secretary of State for DECC from her pre-election position as Parliamentary Under Secretary in the same department.
But without a big enough cohort of women lower down the ranks, this gender ‘balance’ will be hard to maintain, let alone surpass. As the chart above shows, the percentage of women among Conservative MPs has risen to 21% from 16% at the last election, although they are still far behind the Labour party. There is a bigger talent pool to fish from, then, but still far shallower than the one in three needed to fully meet Cameron’s aspiration.
Most of the MPs who attend Cabinet have been in the Commons for ten years or less. This is good news for the increasing diversity of the government. In 2012, Liz Carolan wrote on this blog that ‘we would have to wait for the reshuffle of September 2017’ to see any of the new talent from the 2010 intake (when the number of women Conservative MPs tripled) make their way to the Cabinet. But eight members of this cohort have already made it. Four of them are women: Nicky Morgan, Elizabeth Truss, Amber Rudd and Anna Soubry. Nicky Morgan, Liz Truss, Sajid Javid were already incumbent, having reached Cabinet just four years after entering Parliament.
Only Iain Duncan Smith, Patrick McLoughlin and John Whittingdale have sat in the Commons continuously since the last majority Conservative government. Michael Fallon and Patrick McLoughlin both began their parliamentary careers under Margaret Thatcher, but only McLoughlin has held the same seat for the last 30 years.
Only four MPs in the new government are from a BME background, according to survey data collected by the Representative Audit of Britain. Two of them – Sajid Javid and Priti Patel – will be attending Cabinet (Javid as a full member, as Secretary of state for BIS).
Again, the talent pipeline into a Conservative government is not well supplied. In 2010, the Conservatives fielded largest proportion of parliamentary candidates from a BME background of any major party (10%). But following this general election, only 5% of Conservative MPs fall into this category. This is lower than the Labour party, where the proportion is 10%, but higher than the other parties in the Commons, who have only one MP from a BME background between them.
5% of Conservative MPs is only just below the overall figure for the whole House of Commons (6%) but falls far short of the proportion of the population from a non-white background reported in the last census (13%). David Cameron wrote last year that ‘our Parliament is still nowhere near representative enough of the country we live in today’ in response to similar figures, but has not suggested that he has any particular statistical aspirations for the ethnic diversity of his government.
The oldest minister to sit around the cabinet table is 67-year old Baroness Anelay, who continues as a minister of state at FCO. Just behind her is Michael Fallon, Secretary of State at MoD, who turned 63 a week after the election. The youngest member is the new Minister for the Cabinet Office Matthew Hancock, who is 36. He was only four when his predecessor, Francis Maude, first entered the House of Commons in 1983.
25% women, 4% BME, with an average age of 50. ‘White, male and middle aged’ looks like a fair characterisation of this government, although improvements have been made since 2010. And with the pool of MPs from different groups still so small, we cannot not expect much change before the next election. However, David Cameron has proven willing to promote new MPs quickly. Subsequent reshuffles may yet pull the demographic profile of the government closer to the population.