Prime Minister David Cameron’s three-day-old administration was criticized by activists, the press and even his new coalition partners Friday for picking an almost entirely white, male and upper-class Cabinet despite pledging that his Conservative party would no longer be an old boys club.
Cameron and his deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg of the Liberal Democrats, both grew up in wealthy families and attended elite schools. The 23-member Cabinet they selected after forging a coalition government this week includes Britain’s first female Muslim to sit at Cabinet, but only three other women. Only two run government departments, the mark of influence and power.
Twenty-two Cabinet members are white, and at least 16 went to top universities Oxford or Cambridge.
The participation of the left-leaning Lib Dems also raised expectations of more diversity, now dashed.
“Cabinet jobs for well-heeled school chums,” the Daily Mirror tabloid scoffed. “A huge step backward,” wrote gender rights activists in a letter to The Times. “Awash with buddies, backslapping and in-jokes,” said a columnist for The Guardian newspaper.
Radio shows were inundated by complaints about the lack of women and minorities in the upper echelons of power.
“When you look at the negotiating teams, they were male and pale,” Liberal Democrat lawmaker Lynne Featherstone told the BBC, referring to senior leaders from both parties who cobbled together the power-sharing deal. “We must do better.”
“The numbers (of women in government) have certainly gone down, and so has the significance of the posts they hold,” said Margaret Beckett, who served as foreign secretary under Blair. “(Cameron’s) rhetoric has been that we need to bring more women into the administration, but his decisions have not matched that.”
Sayeeda Warsi, the first Muslim woman to sit at Cabinet, has not been given a defined policy area.
Theresa May, the most senior female figure in the Conservative Party and the new Home Secretary, will also serve as minister for equalities.
Her appointment was questioned by some gay rights activists. Although praised as a Conservative modernizer, May voted against equalizing the age of sexual consent for gays and heterosexuals in 1998, and in 2002 she voted against letting gay couples adopt children. May did, however, vote in favor of civil partnerships.
Analysts say Cameron’s efforts to increase diversity in the party’s upper ranks by recruiting women candidates–mockingly dubbed “Cameron’s cuties” by the press–didn’t work because the new recruits don’t yet have enough experience.