Emma Burnell's complaint that politics is "becoming increasingly macho" seems widely shared. There's disquiet over how the Cabinet reshuffle further reduced women's role in government. And Rachel Sylvester in the Times today bemoans how Cameron "has gone all 'calm down dear' butch."
We need some historical perspective here. Politics has long been a masculine affair. Back in the early 80s, David Owen - then leader of the SDP - tried to present a macho image, prompting Michael Foot to quote Mae West: "men who try to act macho aren't very mucho."
Nevertheless, Emma's point raises a paradox. It starts with evidence from at least two different arenas shows that masculinity can be a handicap:
- Among equity investors and analysts, women (or at least people who conform to traditional feminine sterotypes) seem to do better than men. This could be because men are more overconfident and risk-seeking.
Granted, this evidence is not wholly overwhelming (pdf). But it's directly relevant to politics. Equity investing and corporate strategy are like policy-making, in that all require people to make judgments under uncertainty.It might be no accident, therefore, that there's also evidence that countries with more female MPs tend to have faster economic growth than others.
And here's the paradox. Although the empirical evidence seems to undermine the case for machismo in politics - or at least, it doesn't obviously support it - there seems to have been no decline in such machismo. Politics is still dominated by the silly masculine traits of certainty and overconfidence.
Why? Here's a theory. What people (or the media?) want from politicians is not an ability to take decisions, which requires the recognition of uncertainty.Instead, they want is a false sense of certainty, a "strong leader" with a "clear" direction. And this demand favours macho politicians, even if they are poor decision-makers.