Monday, 8 June 2009

What should we make of Caroline Flint's resignation?

This piece was written by my wife, Anna.

On Friday, as Gordon Brown was responding to the poor local elections results and putting together a new cabinet, Caroline Flint - Minister for Europe - reversed her decision to remain loyal to the Prime Minister and announced her resignation.

In a week of resignations, this was not partiualrly remarkable. After Hazel Blears' blatantly obvious attempt to destablisise the Labour Party before a major election and alienate potential voters (well done Ms Blears, the BNP thank you sincerely) this one was relatively insignficant. After all, Caroline was not one of the more prominent members of the government.

What is interesting is the reasons she gave for resigning: Ms Flint accused the PM of using her (and other women in the cabinet) as "little more than female window dressing". This was remarkable - especially as only the evening before she had praised Mr Brown and declared her loyalty. My first reaction (which may be the correct one) is that this self-serving woman hoped that in return for her loyalty she would receive a promotion which was not forthcoming. Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

But whatever the truth, a quick glance at the "Labour Home" blog reveals some deep-rooted anti-feminine attitudes which still prevail within the Labour Party. One blogger declared: "I thought it was a complete joke that Flint said Gordon Brown treated her as ‘window dressing’- she is the one wearing short tight skirts with a split right up the back to her ***** and wiggling about in high heels.” Ms Flint's decision to appear in a photoshoot for the Observer newspaper appeared to have undermined her claims among these Labour supporters, who appear to believe that in agreeing to the photoshoot, showing a lot of leg and looking glamourously beautiful she had undermined her personal and political credibility. No-one doing this could possibly be considered a serious politician!

I'm not too sure I would have done this myself, even if I was as photogenic as the former Europe Minister. If only because it isn't too difficult for the press to use such pictures to make judgements or to embarrass. But I am not sure that simply because Ms Flint chose to display her attractiveness and femininity to Observer readers that she can not be seriously considered. Number 10 was not too pleased with Ms Flint's self-display - perhaps because of the potential for her to come across as cheap, or someone desperately courting publicity. I suppose there is also the risk of appearing more obsessed with style than substance.

But all the same, I wouldn't be so dismissive of any professional person, be they Caroline Flint or Rebecca Adlington, for posing for newspapers. When athletes do it, it enhances their standing - when politicians do, they are derided. This is perhaps because of the misogynistic assertion that politics and women/sex do not sit easily together. It is plainly nonsense to be so dismissive of someone's capabilities on such a superficial basis.

Women who aren't particularly attractive also suffer. Just ask Patricia Hewitt.

Whether there is any truth to Ms Flint's claims that she was treated like "window dressing" is questionable, although Mr Brown's male-dominated cabinet suggests there may be some substance to it. However, what is certain is that, in political circles, femininity still doesn't fit.

I wouldn't judge Caroline Flint for being unashamed of her personal attractiveness. What I would be critical of her for is the ease with which she turned from loyal Brown supporter to would-be assassin in the space of a few hours. We need more women in parliament, but women of principle and integrity. If anything has compromised Caroline Flint's political credibility it isn't a few photos for a Sunday newspaper.

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