The first thing that came to mind when I heard Claire O’Neill (formerly Perry, formerly my MP and formerly the minister for clean energy) had been dumped as president for this year’s crunch UN conference on climate change in Glasgow (COP26) was they couldn’t cope with a ballsy woman. Or should I say a titsy woman?
According to The Guardian:
“She also issued a putdown to David Davis when he confused her with another female Tory minister, Caroline Nokes. Referring to Davis’s previous campaigning slogan, she is reported to have told him: “David, let me help you: Caroline is a C cup, I am a double D.”
I remember the sexist vitriol she suffered in the papers, and her edgy outbursts about giving blowjobs to have a say (a quote you could source back to original female hero Ripley in movie Aliens from 1986, and that was probably taken from a real world quote). The embarrassment was not because they were rude but because they put the reality of a woman working in Westminster under a harsh spotlight.
After all, the current PM and his closest allies aren’t strangers to public gaffs and causing upsets when it suits, and yet they survive.
Claire has been often, it seems to me, at odds with her role and the establishment. Sometimes she would totally toe the Tory whip line, to protect her position it seemed, and other times she would stick her neck out and rebel, as she did for a time over Brexit.
She is a hard working and often effective advocate for the climate, instrumental in the net zero legislation, and yet, as a minister, also supported fracking and voted for the third Heathrow runway.
Is it harder for a woman in Westminster, and harder for anyone trying to have a meaningful family life, to stay true to personal values (and keep their job) in an apparently toxic atmosphere of Punch and Judy politics?
Former Labour Minister Harriet Harmon recounted at Swindon Festival of Literature that bunking off from an important Commons vote was okay for an extra-marital liaison but not for her child’s birthday.
When Claire took a sabbatical from her cabinet ministerial position earlier this year due to a family illness, she told me in a CCL local meeting that MPs had no working rights and this was the first time this had been allowed, and only possible with the support of the then PM, Theresa May.
Fast forward a few months to Boris’ new regime and she found herself relegated to the back benches.
Whatever the real story behind Claire’s COP26 sacking, the political system needs to be less brutal, more nurturing. These are the people whose job is to care about our interests.
Fixing the climate isn’t about finding the most economical solution, though we at CCL have to sometimes employ this argument. It’s not about tackling climate change because doing nothing is the most expensive option. To really stop causing this problem now, and different problems in the future, we have to be capable of empathy; to care for and respect ourselves and each other and our liveable world.
And we, at Citizens’ Climate Lobby, have to leave bitter thoughts at our MP’s door when exploring that crucial common ground, and act how we wish it to be. Our caring and respectful actions and words will help make it so.
Louisa Davison is on CCL’s Steering Committee. These are her personal opinions and not necessarily the official opinion of CCL.