Every so often, a Coalition Minister departs from the script in a way that reveals the reality behind the spin. Thus with David Willetts, the Minister for Higher Education, known to Tories as “Two Brains”.
Nottingham Students against Fees and Cuts takes up the story:
A group of approximately 40 students from local universities and colleges confronted Universities Minister David Willetts MP outside the annual Lord Dearing conference on “The Globalization of Higher Education” held at Nottingham University. After trying to present the minister with a set of proposals from students about alternatives to the cuts that had been drawn on a banner, a number of the group engaged him in argument about the cuts to Higher Education and the fees being raised in universities across the country.
When confronted by female students with the charge that the cuts will hit Women the hardest, Willetts tried to argue the cuts were “progressive”. He claimed that women were less likely to have to pay back student loans, because they would be less likely to earn over the £21,000 threshold for repayment, heard to acknowledge that; “a lot of women will never earn enough to pay back their loans”. The students then politely suggested that the minister acquire a dictionary to familiarize himself with the term “progressive”. Willetts beat a retreat from the debate, at which point students took to shouting chants about ConDem policy and chased his car until it was out of view.
Let’s just review that comment. The new fees are progressive because many women will not earn enough – £21,000 against a national average wage of over £25,000 – to start repaying them. Has Willetts managed to get either of his brains around just how insulting to claim that a policy is progressive because it reflects the continuing gender bias in the workplace, and the prevalence of low pay in society generally? Is he really saying that it’s just fine that women graduates can expect to earn considerably less than the average wage?
Of course, there’s ample evidence that the coalition is comfortable with discrimination against women. Take, for example, the Fawcett Society’s attempt to get a judicial review of the last year’s Budget announcement on the grounds that no impact assessment was preferred – although the action did not succeed the Government was forced to admit that it had failed to assess the impact of cuts whose burden falls disproportionately on women.
Government in Britain remains a boys’ club. The Con Dem government’s ideology is indistinguishable from that of a banking and financial sector that is notoriously a boys’ club, and is reported on by a tabloid media that is infamously a boys’ club. Most of them were even educated in boys’ clubs. The presence of a few highly-placed women does nothing to change where power and wealth really lie.
My own view is that to create a decent society the boys’ club must be broken open, and that the values of the boys’ club are a root cause of Britain’s crisis of democratic legitimacy. This disgraceful comment from a man who is allegedly a leading Conservative intellectual demonstrates the depths of ignorance and stupidity that need to be overcome.