Based on yesterday's Autumn Statement, the obvious take is that George Osborne only hears the men who make the most public fuss, most notably Islamic State (Isis) and the House of Lords.

Rebekah Brooks
Rebekah Brooks was among a number of women whose voices George Osborne should have heededGetty Images

As a result of the recent tragedies in Paris, the police (80% male) got a budgetary reprieve. From a communications perspective this was a bad time to take them on, no matter that most are focused on things other than global terrorism. The Lords (also almost 80% male) scored too, finally convincing Osborne to defuse the tax credits bomb before it blew up into his own poll tax.

Women didn't appear to do so well. Campaigns to end the 'tampon tax' led to an involuntary requirement to fund women's charities. You can almost picture special advisers high-fiving each other for solving the problem so ingeniously: "Wow, violence against women and women can pay for it. Yay. Double win". Meanwhile nurses (90% female) and midwives (99% female) will lose their training grants and have to take out loans instead.

But if you look more closely, there are women wielding power in a less obvious fashion.

You can trace the biggest political U-turn in living memory back to women. Heidi Allen MP bravely used her maiden backbench speech to attack her own front bench. Michelle Dorrell, the Tory voter on Question Time, captured the pain of her betrayal. The Sun threw its weight against the cuts, which happened immediately Rebekah Brooks took charge. Even in the Lords it was the Tory Baroness Hollis who was the gamechanger.

Many have commended Osborne's masterful "statecraft" in this spending review. His powerful trouncing of the opposition. His bravery in changing direction when he realises he's wrong. His sixth form debating club banter over Mao's red book.

Rubbish. This is a man responding to circumstances and rewriting numbers on envelopes. He isn't listening to anyone who isn't like him, especially those the tax credits cuts would have hit hardest. You have to worry when the House of Lords, average age 70, senses the national zeitgeist better than you.

The lesson is that the future is negotiated. We all need to think about who we should listen to first, long before we make sweeping decisions we don't understand. If Osborne had called Rebekah Brooks before he proposed the cuts, then maybe the last six months would have been easier for him and his party. More importantly it would have saved thousands of people sleepless nights over the immediate risk of greater poverty.


Christine Armstrong is a contributing editor of Management Today, author of Power Mums (interviews with high-profile mothers) and founder of www.villas4kids.com. She can be found on Twitter at @hannisarmstrong.