The government’s glass cliff

Numerous commentators recently have used the term “glass cliff” to describe the phenomenon whereby women finally get promoted to the top of an organisation after the all-male leadership has driven it into a crisis, so that the men get to benefit from the trust generated by such a conspicuous change, and also have a good scapegoat for the nearly inevitable failure.

I naturally thought of this when I read today’s reports on David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle:

As shellshocked former ministers walked the corridors of Westminster on Monday night, there were the first signs of a backlash as the scale of the cull of middle-aged men became clear. “It’s the night of the long knives and that went really well last time,” one Tory said sarcastically, referring to Harold Macmillan’s* desperate attempt to shore up his government in 1962, when he sacked a third of his cabinet.


Tory sources have made clear that Cameron wants the “old lags” to move on to make way for women and younger men who will be promoted on the second day of the reshuffle on Tuesday. Esther McVey, the employment minister and former breakfast television presenter Truss, Nicky Morgan, the women’s minister, Amber Rudd, the whip, Anna Soubry, the defence minister, Priti Patel and Margot James, members of the No 10 policy board, are all expected to be promoted. This should take Cameron close to his target of ensuring that a third of his ministers are women.

You’d think Cameron had been trying and trying and trying to get women into his cabinet, and now, finally, with less than a year remaining in the parliament, has nearly accomplished the herculean task.

* It’s pretty funny that they explain the origin of this expression without referencing the Nazis. Though, apparently, the deeper origin of the expression is British after all, describing a massacre committed around the year 450 by Saxons against Roman Britons (described here, in German).

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