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Suella Braverman lived down to everything that was expected of her

The recently sacked British home secretary was the latest in a long line of mediocre-to-really-terrible women to rise high in the Tory Party

Observing the grim parade of female Tory politicians, one is reminded of the truism that we will only have equality when there are as many mediocre women in power as there are mediocre men. There aren’t nearly as many of those women yet but it’s hard to keep averting one’s eyes.

Suella Braverman became the latest exhibit when she was fired from the British home secretary’s job on Monday, leaving Westminster’s four great offices of state without a woman.

Braverman, still only 43, persistently lived down to her billing as a bright aggressive populist, with zero team spirit and the temperament of a toddler. Given the deliberate malevolence of her rhetoric, it’s little consolation that she was appointed by a man who knew precisely what he was getting but who employed her anyway to appease the party’s culture warriors and secure the top job.

Still, even the really mediocre women have to work a lot harder to get noticed and reach positions of power in the first place. The question is how the Tory party ended up with such a dense concentration of the really terrible ones.


A quick recap. Braverman’s predecessor in the home office was Priti Patel, ardent Leaver, death penalty enthusiast and bully, convinced to resign from high office by two different prime ministers and remembered fondly round here for suggesting that Ireland could be starved into Brexit submission. There is Liz Truss, shortest serving prime minister in British history, Thatcher impersonator, driver of a calamitous, tax-cutting mini-budget that almost collapsed the economy. There is Nadine Dorries, former culture secretary, overheated Johnson fan, who complained that Theresa May’s Brexit deal would leave the UK without MEPs (think about it), and whose just-published non-fiction book about Johnson’s downfall is, according to the London Times’s critic, “the single weirdest book I have ever read”.

There is Karen Bradley, the former Northern Ireland secretary who confessed she knew absolutely nothing about Northern Ireland and “didn’t understand things like when elections are fought, for example, in Northern Ireland – people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa…”. And there (still) is Andrea Jenkyns, a former education minister whose role modelling included a public, emphatic middle finger to a crowd at Downing St and Monday’s comically error-strewn “enough is enough” letter of no confidence in Rishi Sunak.

That’s not a comprehensive list of course, but it’s fairly representative.

How to explain it? It’s what happens when a government sets its testosterone and stupidity levels to max and anyone who wants to survive and prosper must ape the very worst of men.

Chilling insights into that culture have been emerging from the UK Covid inquiry where “everything was contaminated by ego”, according to a top female civil servant. She and others had begged for more women’s voices in the room to help save lives, and violent, foul-mouthed and misogynistic language by senior aides about them – think Dominic Cummings’s reference to “dodging stilettos from that c**t” – was left unchallenged by Boris Johnson.

Shortly before the 2019 UK election when Johnson fired 21 Tory MPs – by definition the most rational members – for rebelling against a no-deal Brexit, the slew of MPs announcing their intention to step down included half a dozen moderate young Tory women. While the men were mainly retiring, these women were resigning at the prime of their careers. They included people such as Nicky Morgan, Heidi Allen, Justine Greening and others who had served in ministerial roles and who the party could ill-afford to lose if only for any residual perception of sanity. They talked about the rising scourge of death and rape threats and the impact on their families, threats certainly amplified by the language and rhetoric around Brexit.

In Jennifer Bray’s report last January about the shocking threats to Irish women politicians, one told Bray that no woman in her right mind should go into politics.

The Tory party has done us a favour by demonstrating where this leads. Good women and men will be driven out of public life and others dissuaded from entering in the first place. Worst of all, it leaves the field to populists driven by a base lust for power and little else.

We see what befalls brave public figures. If any single politician can be held up as a profile in courage, it’s surely the deep-dyed US republican Liz Cheney, whose unflinching efforts to expose Donald Trump as an unprecedented threat to American democracy put her life and friendships at risk and has cost her a political career.

On the other hand there is the example of UK Labour, riven by internecine warfare in the past but currently enjoying a 20-point lead over the Conservatives and, for all the wailing about boring Keir Starmer, the women around him such as Rachel Reeves, Angela Raynor and Yvette Cooper suggest that the culture within the party is relatively sane and sound.

In the end, this week may be about something more important than the predicted demise of Braverman and the sensational resurrection of David Cameron. It may signal the return of decent, intelligent Tory women and the beginning of a reset for British politics.