Ed Balls: lack of female MPC members shows Tory 'women problem'

Labour follows up attack on all-male frontbench at PMQs with criticism of absence of women on Bank of England body

Labour has highlighted what it describes as the Conservatives' "women problem" by asking the chancellor, George Osborne, to explain why he has left the Bank of England's monetary policy committee (MPC) populated entirely by men throughout his chancellorship.

Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, said the absence of women on the key economic policymaking body outside government was astonishing.

Osborne has appointed four new committee members since he became chancellor – all of them men.

Balls said that if he had behaved as the chancellor had, both his wife, Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, and Harriet Harman, the Labour deputy leader, "would hit the roof, and quite rightly too".

He promised that if he became chancellor he would act to address the issue when vacancies developed.

Labour scored a visual and political hit on Wednesday when Ed Miliband pointed to the all-male Conservative frontbench at prime minister's questions, an attack that stung David Cameron into promising to do more to promote women in the Conservative party.

The nine-strong MPC has had no female members since Kate Barker, a Labour appointment, left in May 2010.

There has never been a female governor of the Bank and there has not been a female deputy governor since Rachel Lomax left in June 2008 as the financial crisis was brewing.

Speaking to the Guardian, Balls said: "I think this government's problem with women runs deep.

"You can't say that the fact that there are no women round the table doesn't have an impact on the decisions that are made.

"This is a government that is increasingly out of touch with the reality of women's lives and the cost-of-living crisis they are facing and that's a message we're increasingly getting on the doorstep.

"Look at one of the key economic decision-making bodies in our country. The monetary policy committee makes decisions that affect millions of women and men across our country. But there have been no women members of the monetary policy committee since June 2010, just a few weeks after this government came to office.

"That's an astonishing state of affairs. I know the new governor, Mark Carney, is worried about this too, but the membership of this committee isn't in his gift. The chancellor is solely responsible for appointments to the MPC."

He said the imbalance was simply not good enough. "The idea that there aren't lots of very talented women who could serve on the MPC is just ridiculous. If Labour wins the election, I'm determined that we put this right," he said.

Between September 1997 and 31 May 2010 there was always at least one woman on the MPC. Osborne has appointed four men: Martin Weale, Ben Broadbent, Ian McCafferty and Jon Cunliffe.

Four women have served on the MPC: DeAnne Julius, Barker, Marian Bell and Lomax.

Carney has already recruited Charlotte Hogg as the first chief operating officer in the Bank's history – making her the most influential woman on Threadneedle Street.

Balls was reluctant to pick out individual female economists to fill any vacancy on the basis that he did not want to pre-empt any discussions.

Economists who have been mentioned as eminently qualified to sit on the MPC include Sheila Dow, a University of Stirling professor and a former Bank of England economist; Janet Henry, HSBC's chief European economist; Melanie Baker, Morgan Stanley's chief UK economist; Bridget Rosewell, the former chief economist of the Greater London Authority; and Lucrezia Reichlin, a professor at the London Business School.

Balls pointed out there were no female members of the banking reform committee, the infrastructure subcommittee or the public expenditure committee, while the economic affairs committee has 17 men and just one woman, Maria Miller.


Patrick Wintour

The GuardianTramp

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