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Last male bastion: Finance ministry

The UPA is not the only government that has rolled back budget proposals under opposition pressure — Britain’s coalition government is making quite a habit of it. On Tuesday, the finance minister, Prime Minister David Cameron’s buddy George Osborne, withdrew a planned 3p rise in fuel duty.

world Updated: Jun 29, 2012 00:21 IST
Dipankar De Sarkar

The UPA is not the only government that has rolled back budget proposals under opposition pressure — Britain’s coalition government is making quite a habit of it. On Tuesday, the finance minister, Prime Minister David Cameron’s buddy George Osborne, withdrew a planned 3p rise in fuel duty.

The government has been doing one U-turn after the other on tax proposals — including those on Cornish pasties, static caravans, skips, churches and charities — although everyone here knows Margaret Thatcher’s famous definition of U-turns: “You turn if you want to.”

And so when the government froze the fuel tax, people expected Osborne to defend the U-turn on the night. But instead of facing the BBC’s news anchor-inquisitor Jeremy Paxman, the finance minister sent his junior Chloe Smith, who, at 30, is Britain’s youngest minister.

Paxman didn’t take very kindly to this. “When were you told (of the U-turn)?” he demanded angrily of Smith. “When was the decision taken? Today? Can’t remember? I’m not asking for a running commentary; I’m asking for a statement of facts.”

“From which (government) departments will the gap be made up? Are you waiting to be told that as well?”

“Is his some sort of a joke? Do you ever wake up in the morning and think, ‘My God, what am I going to be told today’?” And then the killer blow: “Do you ever think you are incompetent?”

Chloe Smith, despite finding a sudden ally in a glass of water, rode out the storm bravely. “Cameron should make her finance minister,” suggested a journalist. But the post never goes to a woman — not in India, not in Britain, not in Germany, not even in America.

Around the world since 2000, only around 160 women ministers have had any economic role and only a handful have been full-fledged FMs — mostly in developing countries. In the major economies, there’s only Christine Lagarde — FM of France from 2007 to 2011.

It’s the toughest of all glass ceilings, for that’s where real power lies.