JENNI MURRAY: As usual, it's women clearing up the macho men's mess

JENNI MURRAY: As usual, it’s women clearing up the macho men’s mess

  • Jenni Murray looks at female leader who have kept their cool amid the pandemic 
  • It comes as Prime Minister Boris Johnson turned to his own female support team
  • Group includes Home Secretary Priti Patel and Press Secretary Allegra Stratton

What’s been abundantly proved, in this terrible year, is that when there’s a real calamity, you should call in a woman leader. 

Around the world, who calmly got on with things as the pandemic turned into the worst crisis in recent memory? I’d nominate New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, recently re-elected for a second term. 

Angela Merkel’s Germany, too, stands out on all the ‘Covid heat maps’ of Europe as having come through relatively unscathed. In Iceland, the Prime Minister, Katrin Jakobsdottir, didn’t just flatten the infection curve, she all but eliminated it.

Even the Americans have finally elected their first female VicePresident, Kamala Harris, who may one day be the first woman President, too. 

Jenni Murray takes a look at female leaders from around the world who have kept their cool amid the pandemic as she explains how Boris Johnson has turned to his own female support team

We haven’t yet got her measure, but we can expect her to take a very different approach from the supremely macho Trump. All of these female premiers, whose countries are doing so well, have emphasised the importance of honesty and cooperation, rather than wheeler-dealing and chest-beating tactics. 

So it’s refreshing to see our own PM turn, over the past week, to his significant female support team — the ones who’ve been quietly working away while his male advisers, Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain, have dominated the headlines. 

The fact this pair of ‘bully boys’ have been ousted is being widely put down to a group of clever women putting their heads together and making it happen. 

I’m talking about women such as: Munira Mirza, the respected head of the No 10 Policy Unit; the Home Secretary, Priti Patel; and Allegra Stratton, Boris Johnson’s new press secretary and someone I’ve known for a long time. 

On Woman’s Hour, she was our favoured political commentator, someone who worked in the real world for many years, then got into politics after seeing, as a reporter, how poverty damages lives in the North and the Midlands. 

Boris may not have the most admirable reputation with regard to women in his private life, but he does seem to recognise their worth in politics, there to serve rather than to serve themselves. Insiders tell me these women put their case to Boris through logic and argument. 

No plotting over drinks. No victory party when they won. How very un-Parliamentarian. A nd yet — in what feels like a sexist throwback to at least the last century — our attention has focused instead on Boris’s fiancee Carrie Symonds. The women en masse have been labelled ‘the Carrie Crew’. 

In the past week, the Prime Minister has turned to his significant female support team including Home Secretary Priti Patel


Munira Mirza, the respected head of the No 10 Policy Unit, (left) and new Press Secretary Allegra Stratton (right) are also among Boris Johnson’s female team

As a former head of communications for the Conservative Party, I’m sure Carrie does have strong feelings on the Cummings affair. What political partner wouldn’t? But, ultimately, it’s up to Boris to decide whose advice he takes. 

Carrie’s been neither elected nor appointed to a role in running the country, while there are plenty of other women who have. Let’s focus on what they have to offer. 

And that — as any busy woman doing three jobs plus the childcare will tell you — is a lot. But don’t take my word for it. 

Speaking to the New York Times this week, Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central Bank, said she finds it easy to work with Europe’s other powerful women, because ‘I don’t think any of us really cared whether we were getting the credit… So less vanity maybe. And better communication.’ 

After months of mixed messages on the Covid crisis, we could certainly do with some of that. 

Thatcher and the night Dickie made a pass at me 

Netflix released the latest season of The Crown, featuring Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher (pictured), on Sunday

Like so many people, I settled down in front of the TV on Sunday to watch The Crown. After a ten-episode mega binge, I staggered off to bed, feeling I’d revisited my early days working in TV. 

It brought back memories, including encounters with Mrs Thatcher when she was crushed by her supporters. 

Then there was filming at Lord Mount­batten’s (known to the royals as Uncle Dickie) home, Broadlands, and finding him to be an outrageous flirt. ‘Do stay for dinner, darling.’ 

Thank you so much, I said, but I have to get the film back. It wasn’t hard to resist his slightly sleazy approach, but it was a terrible shock when he was assassinated by the IRA. 

Finally, the whirlwind romance of the 32-year-old Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, 19. Many us wore badges urging ‘Don’t do it Di’. If only she’d listened. 

Omari, 12, is no flash in the pan

Omari McQueen, an accomplished cook aged just 12, has been given his own show on CBBC to demonstrate his culinary talents. But why stop there? Put this clever, sunny young chap — who learned to cook at just seven when his mother became terribly ill — on primetime BBC1 at once. 

I hate to cook myself, so I’m forever grateful that Jamie Oliver, in his early days on TV, taught my sons to produce meals far better than I, or their father, could hope to make. They’ve grown up to be brilliant chefs — and I’m just relieved I rarely have to wield a frying pan these days. 

  • Coppers have a jargon all of their own, from ‘What’s all this then?’ to ‘Let’s be ‘aving you’. So I got a welcome giggle from my sister-in-law, who told the family Zoom call that there’s a South Yorkshire police building on a road called… Letsby Avenue. True! 

My terror living in 70s leeds 

I cannot give Peter Sutcliffe that ridiculous, aggrandised title that compares him to Jack the Ripper, the serial killer who terrorised Whitechapel in 1888. The crimes of both men were heinous and I feel a great sense of relief that Sutcliffe has died. 

Peter Sutcliffe (pictured) killed more than a dozen women in Yorkshire

In 1977, in the midst of his murderous activities, I was advised by my manager in local radio that, if I were to last in the world of broadcasting, I must be competent in radio, print and television. 

I was sent on a summer attachment to Leeds as a reporter on TV’s Look North. 

I stayed in a university hall of residence in Headingley and it was during my time there that Jayne MacDonald, a 16-year-old shop assistant, was killed by Sutcliffe, his fifth murder victim. 

Suddenly, the West Yorkshire police had to backtrack on their clear belief that women who worked in the sex trade or liked to go out at night had been asking to be attacked. Jayne was considered ‘an innocent victim’. I remember being furious that the police displayed such a lack of respect for all women and their rights. We were advised to stay home and never to go out alone. 

As a determined and angry 27-year-old, I refused to be cowed. I did my job, had a social life, and have never been more terrified. Eight more women would die at Sutcliffe’s hands.

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