More women in Cabinet
Progress in number of women on boards
£2 million fund to prevent homophobic bullying in schools
More to do
Women and BME representation on FTSE 100 boards
BME representation in Parliament and government
Answering Labour’s criticism of a “recovery for the few, not the many”
Operation “Trojan Horse” in Birmingham
Increased media profile on FGM and forced marriage
Married same-sex couples
The Coalition Government came to power with the prospect of a far more tolerant and inclusive approach than previous Conservative-led administrations.
In attitude, it has to a large degree delivered. But in policy outcomes, it presents a more complex picture.
The Coalition and particularly Lib Dems have worked hard to improve the position of women in the workplace, including through reforms to paternity and maternity leave policy. Likewise, the Davies recommendations have focused attention on the percentage of women on boards. At the latest measurement, women’s representation on boards was at 22.8%, an increase on 2011, but likely to fall short of Davies’ original target of 25% by 2015.
In the same vein, Employment Minister Jo Swinson announced additional support for women business owners, committing £150,000 to mentoring events. The Government has also been vocal on closing the gender pay gap, with a commitment of £2 million to help women out of low-paid, low-skilled work through additional training and mentoring. Finally, since Nicky Morgan became Education Secretary, the Your Life campaign has entered full swing – building on efforts to encourage girls into STEM subjects and careers.
Mrs Morgan has been a leading figure in the group of women who made it into David Cameron’s cabinet in July, if at times a controversial one. She notably voted against same-sex marriage in 2013, although she claims to have since changed her mind on the issue. Mrs Morgan also recently ordered that Britain’s faith schools actively teach pupils to respect lesbian, gay and transgender relationships, following snap Ofsted inspections which showed this was too often not the case.
However, gender is not the only measure of diversity to consider. To reflect the UK’s racial make-up, the Commons would need 117 black and minority ethnic MPs. Currently only 27 are non-white. Even Labour, the party which tends to focus attention more on race issues, is dominated by 93.8% white MPs – despite almost a fifth of their constituents belonging to BME groups.
The Lib Dems recently confronted a similar story in the UK’s boardrooms, with Vince Cable calling on businesses to plug the ‘diversity deficit’. He argued it was inexcusable not to have one in five FTSE 100 directors from non-white groups within five years. While conceding “race is an ambiguous concept”, he reminded businesses of the importance of targets in measuring progress.
The Tories too are struggling with numbers, especially following the departure of Baroness Warsi who was one of two BME front benchers, and who warned the party of this very issue upon her departure in August. With BME voters 33% more likely to vote Labour in 2015, the Tories have yet to convince in their efforts to woo non-traditional voters.
Baroness Warsi’s resignation left the faiths and communities brief in an uncertain place with Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles. In April Pickles described Britain as a Christian nation, telling “militant atheists” to “get over it”. When Cameron echoed Pickles’ claim, 50 leading scientists, writers and academics penned a shared letter to claim that calling Britain a Christian country sows seeds of dangerous division.
Finally, class remains an issue, no matter how uncomfortable politicians are discussing it. Labour’s former Shadow Attorney General Ms Thornberry fell foul of this in the Rochester & Strood by-election, where her crime was to be seen as condescending towards working class patriotism. Likewise, the Opposition have sought to paint the Tories as a party for the rich, arguing their recovery programme reflects this.
Ultimately, the nicer side of Conservatism which David Cameron has done his best to represent has undoubtedly had an effect. There is no going back on same-sex marriage, and the shrill tone of Tory rhetoric is much more confined to the backbenches than before. But Mr Cameron’s record is complex. Disabled people and poorer women may feel the years of austerity have affected them disproportionately. And the backlash against gay marriage does seem to have contributed to some Tory defections to UKIP, a party whose popularity is contributing to a mood which is less tolerant of difference. Finding a positive response to this mood will be a challenge for 2015 and beyond.