Johnson represents ‘boys’ club’ approach to Commons, says Rudd

PM’s style means prospects for women are diminishing, according to former cabinet colleague

Boris Johnson is emblematic of a “boys’ club” approach to the House of Commons which makes it harder for women to win promotion, his former cabinet colleague Amber Rudd has said as part of a project in which former ministers reflected on their time in power.

Rudd, who was home secretary under Theresa May, and then quit as work and pensions secretary when Johnson was prime minister, said he was part of an “establishment group” whose style meant the political prospects for women were actually diminishing.

“There is a kind of boys’ club-type behaviour in parliament because it is still more like a public school or a university club than anywhere else you’ll ever go,” Rudd told the Institute for Government (IFG).

“I fear that it’s going backwards a bit at the moment because unless you have the leadership really making an effort to ensure that women are promoted as equals, all the time – not just because, ‘oh, let’s promote the women, we forgot about the women’ – it’s going to be a problem,” she said.

“I see that in Boris Johnson, I’m afraid. Even though I don’t dislike him at all. He’s come from that establishment group. And also, he has that sort of language, which he’s – quite rightly – nervous of using in front of women.”

Rudd said she had left Johnson’s cabinet amid a purge of Tory MPs over Brexit because of the way he treated people.

“It was Boris Johnson’s style of government, really,” she said. “It was the way he treated other people and his determination to deliver Brexit, whatever the cost in terms of the economy and, I thought, the consequences to people’s lives.”

Another former minister, Andrea Leadsom, said that when she was the Commons leader, her relations with John Bercow, the then Speaker, were so bad that eventually they could not have their scheduled weekly meetings alone.

“It reached a point where I had to take someone with me, because of the level of vitriol in those meetings,” Leadsom said. “And he, likewise, said he needed to have someone there, because apparently I was extraordinarily difficult.”

The two clashed repeatedly over how the Commons should operate amid a chaotic period when May was trying to get a Brexit deal through parliament. At one point Bercow was accused of calling Leadsom a “stupid woman” in parliament, which he denied.

In another interview, Jeremy Wright, the former attorney general, who was a cabinet minister under both May and David Cameron, said the latter “let his irritation show more often and more visibly than Theresa ever did”.

He also expressed regret at not having pushed back more against newspaper headlines condemning judges over their handling of high-profile Brexit cases.

At its peak, a Daily Mail headline from November 2016 called three high court judges, who ruled that parliamentary consent was needed for the government to trigger the Brexit process, “Enemies of the People”.

Wright told the IFG: “Where I think we were going wrong … was to allow the sort of abuse to play out in the newspapers, of those who were doing their job as judges and as lawyers.”


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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