There was a moment just after Beverley Hughes resigned as
immigration minister when the cameras captured her face portraying
the emotions of hurt, bewilderment, plus a hint of resentment that
this should happen to her.
The sight of a damsel in distress provokes more sympathy than that
for a male equivalent. When she headed for the backbenches of that
intimate theatre which is the Commons chamber, one could palpably
feel the sympathy of her female colleagues.
However, my sympathy for a “sister” was transitory. It has nothing
to do with the male-dominated world of Westminster. Others,
including myself, had fought against those bastions. The worst they
have had to tolerate is being dubbed Blair’s Babes. No one could
argue she was judged more harshly on grounds of sex.
My fleeting sympathy is because, in her own eyes, Hughes had
punctiliously adhered to all the diktats of New Labour. Which
explains why she and her sympathisers feel so hard done by.
On a visit to Strasbourg while the Hughes resignation was being
played out at home, I noted to a gathering of Conservative MEPs
that the populace no longer votes for figures of authority or
leadership but, if voting at all, tends to opt for those who
“create empathy”. Hardly an original or inspiring comment.
However, unlike the MEPs, I had closely scrutinised the birth of
this thing called New Labour. And New Labour understands one thing
above all else, that in a televisual age, exceptional human beings
too often look – well, exceptional.
Beverley Hughes obeyed the laws of Blairism. She presents herself
as someone the public can empathise with. She recited the “key
messages” and “lines to take”. She had protected her New Labour
Yet what should make everyone angry is that she has said nothing of
those who were affected by her decisions as a minister.
In recent months, while helping prepare female politicians in
eastern Europe for EU membership, I have found wide differences
between them on many issues.
Yet there is one statement with which they all agree. They hope,
one day, to be able to say: “I helped improve my country”.
Beverley Hughes has given no sign that she recognises such an
aspiration. For this omission alone, she deserved to lose
Sheila Gunn is a political commentator and a Conservative
councillor in the London Borough of Camden.