Philip Hammond took us all by surprise yesterday announcing he will bring forward the review on the inclusion of women soldiers in infantry front line positions to report before next Mays General Election. This will complete the equality of access to all of our armed forces by men and women. Inevitably there are other questions to be asked, but for those who see this as a bulkhead in the field of equalities, Philip Hammond has made an important statement. However Richard Drax, the MP for Dorset South was interviewed for Radio 4 and made us appreciate how detached most of us are from the realities of modern warfare. The BBC kept repeating his soundbite about young men bayoneting young men amongst the rocks on the Falkland Islands. In his view this meant that women are unsuited to the task. I guess the prospect of young women bayoneting young women had not been considered by Mr Drax or Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax as his full name is according too Wikipedia.
It is always encouraging to hear about Politicians removing barriers to equal access, and if there are women wanting to carry 120 pound back packs only to draw bayonets and end the lives of other young people, then despite the misgivings I have about anyone being required to do this, lets remove the obstacles currently in the way. However this will only affect a few young women in reality, not withstanding the cultural impact on the Army itself. I was recently at Sandhurst as I blogged here and the small number of young women in amongst the very large group of prospective young officers on their acclimatisation course stood out for all to see. Anything that brings a better gender balance into that testosterone dominated environment is probably to be welcomed. However equality of opportunity in the Military is only a small part of a much bigger issue. Soldiers are paid by their rank, not by their gender. Sadly the pay for other men and women in this country does not reflect such a straightforward distinction. We continue to have a very unequal record on the issue of paying men and women for similar roles in society as a whole.
As I wrote last year, our British MEPs did not all vote for “Equal pay for male and female workers (B7-0387/2013)”. An policy to call on all Governments to ensure that equal pay for workers, irrespective of gender is achieved. The Conservative MEPs refused to vote for this, but instead signed a statement that called on all Governments to introduce such equality as a matter of priority. I now have an election address which arrived yesterday, it has David Cameron on the front and a photo of all of the candidates on the reverse, although perversely the one prospective MEP not on the photo, is one of our current MEPs who is the first name on the list of candidates that the document invites us to vote for. He wants us to vote for him, even though the Conservative Party could not manage to organise his photo for the leaflet. However perhaps more importantly the leaflet makes no mention of the commitment taken by the existing MEPs including Mr Hannan to ensure the coalition will improve equal pay rates in the UK. There has certainly been no public comment from any of them since they signed their promise in September. Whilst I am not a natural Conservative voter, there is no chance of me voting for MEPs who are unwilling to do anything about the commitments they have taken together voluntarily. I am also unlikely to vote for someone whose face I cannot see!