Any coalition deal with the other parties that involves sharing cabinet positions, will inevitably mean the percentage of women sat around Labour’s top table will get smaller.
This is not due to backsliding on Ed Miliband’s part. Far from it. He promised during the Labour leadership contest – and has consistently repeated it since then – that he will deliver 50:50 gender equality around the cabinet table (and has more or less done so with his current shadow team).
It is simply that the stock of female ministers from the other potential coalition partners is extremely low. And despite watery protestations to the contrary, all the current polls indicate that Miliband will need either the SNP or the Lib Dems to join his administration in order to form a stable working majority in the Commons.
Only one of the SNP’s six MPs in the last parliament was female and, although led by a woman, just 36 per cent of their parliamentary candidates are women. (And given Nicola Sturgeon is rather preoccupied serving as Scotland’s First Minister, she would not, presumably, be available herself?)
Similarly, just seven of the Lib Dems’ 57 MPs in the last parliament were women and five of them are likely to lose their seats (although, to be fair, it’s perfectly possible this number will be replenished with newcomers).
But from day one of the next government, there will be precious few women MPs from among either the Lib Dems or SNP experienced enough in frontline politics to be considered for cabinet positions.
The only choice open to Miliband, if he’s serious about honouring his pledge, is to appoint a greater number of Labour women to meet the shortfall. This, in turn, means appointing fewer men who currently sit in the shadow cabinet.
The in-tray of an incoming prime minister is deep enough without creating that kind of explosive row and in the process generating an officer-class of senior, overlooked men who have slogged away on the frontbench for years only to have their careers ripped away from them.
No, look instead for Miliband to pepper the junior and middle ministerial ranks with women as cover for the Labour-led government’s first U-turn.