Don’t be fooled by Boris Johnson’s latest reshuffle
Prime Minister Boris Johnson's latest cabinet reshuffle is being lauded by right-wing politicians and pundits as a positive step for the representation of women in ministerial positions. However, we should not be fooled by this tokenistic façade.
Despite what his defenders try to have us believe, the recent appointments have much more to do with Johnson shifting the blame for the many political failures of his tenure as prime minister, and consolidating his own power more broadly, than they do about fulfilling a commitment to women's equality. In reality, the significant promotions of Liz Truss to Foreign Secretary and Nadine Dorries to Culture Secretary – positions that were previously occupied by men – is either going to be more of the same, or a further shift to the right.
Unfortunately, their political histories so far point more towards the latter than the former.
Dorries, for example, is known for her string of offensive comments and controversies, after having had her whip removed for taking part in the reality-TV show I'm a Celebrity Get me Out of Here.
"In reality, the significant promotions of Liz Truss to Foreign Secretary and Nadine Dorries to Culture Secretary – positions that were previously occupied by men – is either going to be more of the same, or a further shift to the right"
Her list of reactionary statements include her tweeting that, "[l]eft wing snowflakes are killing comedy, tearing down historic statues, removing books from universities, dumbing down panto, removing Christ from Christmas and suppressing free speech."
Aside from the fact that it is the unrelenting years of Tory cuts from the arts, the privatisation and commodification of culture through their policies, and the divestment from education that has left us with empty bookshelves and creative institutions which are barely able to run, let alone be more accessible, such comments only reinforce how suited she is to join Johnson’s cabinet.
Boris too, after all, loves to blame others for the government's failures and detrimental policies. At times even those within his own political party have served as collateral. Dominic Raab is said to have taken the hit for the UK's highly criticised exit from Afghanistan, and similarly, Gavin Williamson lost his position as education secretary over the exams fiasco.
In appointing the likes of Nadine Dorries, the PM was also able to deal a blow to the BBC, which she has been a known critic of in the past, having stated that the institution was a supporter of "strident, very left-wing, often hypocritical and frequently patronising views that turn people away." One does wonder why, if this is the case, the Tory Party continues to recruit top BBC officials as advisers.
If there remains any doubt over why Dorries's promotion is not a step forward for gender equality specifically, her views on Muslim women and their choice of dress demonstrates this perfectly. Dorries made the headlines when she described the burqa as "a medieval dress code", for which there should be "a complete outright ban". Following the publication of Johnson's article in which he referred to Muslim women who wear the burqa as "bank robbers" and "letterboxes", she publicly criticised him for not going "further" by calling on the garment to be forbidden altogether. She even insinuated that the religious cloth is used to cover signs of domestic abuse, telling Sky News that it "was designed to cover up women’s beauty and their bruises."
The new culture minister did not stop there, she continued to really stress the gendered, racist stereotypes associated with Muslim women, adding that "many of these women are not allowed to choose. As I have said, they are not even allowed to choose who they marry […] Many of them aren’t even allowed to keep their genitals."
For Dorries, defending a woman's right to choose means transferring control over what Muslim women wear from the imagined grips of Muslim men – that she can only think of as violent, repressive misogynists – to that of an imaginary, liberatory state.
It does not get much better with the foreign secretary, especially following the recent scandal in her role as international trade secretary. Leaked emails regarding a post-Brexit trade agreement with Australia led by Liz Truss, showed that important climate pledges were abandoned to get the deal "over the line". Seemingly in a desperate attempt to present herself as delivering a "win" for Brexit Britain, the "Paris Agreement temperature goals" were dropped by Truss.
This is concerning for a number of reasons. Firstly, Australia is the second-largest exporter of coal globally and boasts a high carbon footprint; therefore the country should be required to make drastic commitments to address the "code red" warning regarding climate change made by the UN. This is all the more urgent because the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has been resistant to taking the action required to address the climate crisis and his nation’s role as one of the globe’s biggest emitters of CO2.
Secondly, these revelations surfaced in the lead up to COP26, the UN climate conference, which will be hosted by the UK government in Glasgow this November. This not only highlights the hypocrisy of Johnson's team, but it has also weakened any trust that people may have had in the government proposing solutions to the climate catastrophe, let alone actually fulfilling them.
"Every political decision he takes is one that further entrenches his power at the detriment of the vast majority of the country's population"
Greenpeace UK director, John Sauven, stated that "[s]igning an Australian trade deal with action on climate temperature commitments secretly removed is the polar opposite of everything Boris Johnson publicly pledged and rips the heart out of what the agreement stands for."
Truss, on the other hand, denied these reports, batting them away as "fake news" and was able to present herself as a successful trade secretary. For her actions, she has been rewarded through the new appointment.
Johnson's reshuffle will not bring more equality in British society or the state. Instead, it will lead to more racism, more lies, and more commitments to profit over people and the planet. Every political decision he takes is one that further entrenches his power at the detriment of the vast majority of the country's population. It is our collective task to hold him to account for his actions, especially when he supposedly takes them in the name of those he claims to serve.
Malia Bouattia is an activist, a former president of the National Union of Students, and co-founder of the Students not Suspects/Educators not Informants Network.
Follow her on Twitter: @MaliaBouattia
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Opinions expressed here are the author's own, and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.