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South Derbyshire MP on women in politics

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: July 21, 2014

By Laura Hammond

  • BATTLE OF THE SEXES? . . . the House of Commons and, inset, South Derbyshire MP Heather Wheeler.

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IN a week where women in power have dominated the news agenda, the issue of gender equality has been a hot topic of discussion.

The General Synod of the Church of England agreed to allow female bishops earlier in the week, and then David Cameron announced an increase in the number of women serving in the cabinet, with one promoted to the coveted role of Education Secretary.

Though some have accused the Prime Minister of shaking up the cabinet simply to make it look more inclusive, others – including South Derbyshire's female MP – believe it sends a strong message that the Government is trying to be more representative of different parts of society.

Heather Wheeler, who has been working in politics since she was 16, told the Mail: "I hope it will make Parliament more accessible for people.

"It's almost as if it shouldn't come down to this, but we all need encouragement and this will show women that it is doable to get involved in politics.

"I think it helps when you have got the group photo with a mix of ages, genders and areas. It is more reflective of society as a whole."

Mrs Wheeler describes herself as 'a child of Thatcher' and said she had never faced any gender issues as a female MP.

But she agreed that more women ought to be encouraged into politics, and that it would present a more balanced Parliament if they were.

The flag of gender equality is being proudly flown in South Derbyshire, as the person vying to take over Mrs Wheeler's job is also a woman.

Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate Cheryl Pidgeon said she was keen to see more women in politics – and particularly in the top roles.

She said: "Women have had a tough time through all Governments and I think it's a huge shame. One of the reasons people are disengaged with politics is that they don't see enough people who understand their lifestyles and struggles.

"They are looking for people who they can trust and women have just as much of a role to play in that as men. I think it's a question of opportunity."

Derbyshire as a whole has strong female representation in Parliament, with Mid-Derbyhire's Pauline Latham, Jessica Lee in Erewash and Natascha Engel in the north of the county, as well as Mrs Wheeler in the south.

This week's reshuffle saw Michael Gove ousted as Education Secretary in favour of Nicky Morgan, and Liz Truss handed the environment portfolio.

Esther McVey was made minister without portfolio and a number of other female MPs were given middle-ranking roles.

The changes – 10 months before the General Election – have been described as 'too little, too late' by critics who believe Mr Cameron has carried out the reorganisation in response to criticism that his cabinet was too densely populated with white middle-aged, middle-class men.

But Mrs Wheeler disagreed.

"The important thing is that these women are doing the jobs they are doing because they are good at what they do.

"I'm confident that was the reason for them getting the jobs,"she said.

Cheryl Pidgeon was not so convinced. She told the Mail: "The people of South Derbyshire are extremely savvy,and they are not going to be fooled by a quick reshuffle 10 months before an election.

"They need to know these people can do the job, that they are capable of doing the job and that they support an ideology which encourages equality."

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