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18th September 2012

Maria Miller: keep on shuffling

One woman, two jobs: Maria Miller as culture secretary and minister for women and equalities?
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In David Cameron’s September party reshuffle Maria Miller, in an unexpected move, was announced as the successor to Jeremy Hunt as culture secretary, as well as taking on the portfolio for women and equalities. It is a significant promotion for the former Minister for disabled people and MP for Basingstoke, as she inherits responsibility for a department which encompasses the sports, arts and the media, whilst simultaneously representing women and championing equality.

Though Millers’ was not one of the names thrown about as a potential successor to Hunt, her CV does show evidence of experience in the media, if not strictly cultural, sphere. Her website details her time spent as Advertising Executive and then Company Director at Grey Advertising Ltd, with a four year stint as Marketing manager at Texaco in between, listing ‘Advertising and marketing’ as her profession. Miller claimed to be ‘looking forward to tackling the challenges (of) the role,’ and it is to be hoped she holds on to that enthusiasm as she attempts to pull the trinity of sport, art and media into a coherent and flourishing department, in the face of (surely) more budget cuts.

Whilst this appointment came as a promotion and marked Miller’s move into more frontline politics, she was one of the few female politicians for whom this was the case. Though just one male minister was removed, Sir George Young, two out of five women, Caroline Spelman and Cheryl Gillan, who previously held positions were shuffled onwards and outwards, with the current female cabinet total standing at four. Clearly, it’s a way off Cameron delivering on his promise of appointing a third of his first government’s jobs to women. Similarly, the appointment of Miller to both culture secretary and minister raises important questions about the significance of either role in the coalition government.

As they reported, following their invitation for comments on Millers’ positioning, the tourism agency Blue Sail tweeted the Guardian newspaper to suggest the assignment of dual roles to Miller might represent a ‘downgrading of the status of DCMS’. It would certainly seem that by demanding Miller split her time between the two positions, the Conservative government is saying that actually – neither of them are so important.

Miller is also – barring her media experience – an unexpected choice for the role with good reason. Having voted in favour of an amendment, proposed by Nadine Dorries, to the Health and Social Care Bill which would prevent abortion providers from also giving counseling, and also having voted in 2008 for the abortion limit to be lowered, Miller seems distinctly to the right of Conservative opinion.

It will be as interesting to see how she balances these more traditional personal principles with her new role as minister in charge of women and equalities as it will be to witness her taking the helm of the department for culture, media and sport – and we shall see in due course if her promotion serves either of those causes well.

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