One image – the all-male coalition frontbench of 2014/15 – and three little words – ‘calm down dear’ – will likely come to epitomize the 2010–15 Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition's regard for women and gender equality. The former embodies the maleness of the government; the latter symbolizes the masculinized nature of its politics. Since its very inception, the coalition has been dogged by questions of women and gender equality. Two dominant tropes stand out. First, the coalition's austerity politics are accused of having a disproportionate and negative impact on women – as consumers, users and employees of the welfare state. Second, and linked, the coalition, and especially the Conservatives, are said to have struggled to attract the woman voter. That said, any serious account of what the coalition ‘did for women’ has to be more nuanced. Since 2010, individual coalition policy developments and legislative interventions have, in many instances, opened up opportunities for women; offering women greater choice. These include: greater flexibility in parental leave; the right to request flexible working, now available to all employees; greater state support in the tax system for childcare; and various measures taken, domestically and internationally, to address women's health, and violence against women (VAW). The commitment to protect NHS funding and overseas aid – the coalition made a firm commitment to retain the outgoing Labour government's pledge to allocate 0.7 per cent of GNI to development spending for example – had a significant gender dimension. Collectively, these priorities and interventions arguably constitute evidence of a wider diffusion of liberal feminist values in British politics and society.
Such a development should not, in all respects, be that surprising given that the coalition followed the most feminist governments to-date, the New Labour years of 1997–2010. By 2010 a cross-party gendered marketplace in British politics was established: all the three main parties explicitly competed over a ‘women's terrain’.
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