• Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

Why are our PMs ‘Male, Pale and Stale’?

ByRebecca Johns

Mar 10, 2023
Image of the door at No.10 Downing Street

According to the children’s book Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls: 100 Tales of Extraordinary Women, ex-British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher is a figure of inspiration for girls today. She is described as a woman admired for her strength and determination. They concede she was a controversial figure, but only due to her decision to remove free milk from primary schools under the Milk Act of 1971.

For many, Thatcher’s controversial place in the collective memory of the UK relates to a lot more than her role as the ‘milk snatcher.’ Among many things, she will be remembered as the
‘Iron Lady’, who destroyed the manufacturing industry, brutally suppressed strikes, and reigned over three terms of ruthless unemployment. Yet for all this, she is frequently, and publicly, praised on account of being the first woman to serve as PM.

Indeed, it is a sizeable milestone. Unbelievably, out of the last 57 Prime Ministers to serve this country, only three have been women. Perhaps even more astonishingly, all three have been heads of the Conservative Party. The Tories are hardly a party that is synonymous with progression, their name literally reflects an ethos of conservation and tradition. Even Margaret Thatcher declared herself to be staunchly anti feminist. Yet, they have long been leaders in female political equality, responsible for passing female enfranchisement and allowing the first female MP.

For Labour supporters and feminists, two groups that often overlap, this is a difficult and somewhat embarrassing issue. For many, it is difficult to understand Labour’s lack of gender diversity regarding its leaders.

One possible explanation could be that as the underdog of the British political system, Labour has taken caution not to attempt any decisions that may displease their much-needed voters. For this reason, when trying to secure election victories, they choose to put forward male, pale, and stale candidates that have historically been popular at the ballot box.

Contrastingly, the monumentally successful Conservative Party have dared to elect outside the bounds of tradition given their sizeable majorities. Likewise, in times of instability, the party quickly returns to a male leader to ensure votes in the next election.
In this sense, the absence of female leadership is perhaps reflective of the sexism still present across society. This would explain the need of Thatcher and her succeeding female PMs to market themselves as no-nonsense and non-feminine figures. Depressingly, male leadership seems to remain more attractive to British voters.

That is to say, while we can celebrate the increase in female PMs and MPs, we should not be fooled into thinking that the Conservative Party are an advocate of gender equality. Feminism at its core means fairness for all, and under their leadership, working-class women, women of colour, and other minorities have struggled disproportionately.

Number 10 door – high res” by Downing Street is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.