The Leader of the U.K. House of Lords compared herself to the singer Beyonce last night as she insisted she could stand up for herself despite having her job and pay downgraded by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Tina Stowell, 47, told the British parliament’s upper chamber that while she would have preferred to have a vote at the Cabinet table and the same pay and status as her male predecessor, she was proud to have taken the job.
“I’m an independent woman and a single lady,” she said during a 90-minute debate on Cameron’s decision. “Noble Lords might want to think of me as the Beyonce of their Lordships’ House.”
Lawmakers in the House of Lords voted 177 to 29 to support a motion calling on the prime minister to reconsider his decision to pay Stowell 22,147 pounds ($38,000) less than the man who did the job before her and to move the job outside his 22-member cabinet.
“He has trampled on the constitution, he has discarded the principle of equal pay,” Betty Boothroyd, a former Speaker of the House of Commons who now sits in the upper chamber, said. “It won’t do.”
Cameron’s decision to downgrade the role of Leader of the Lords, taking it out of the Cabinet for the first time in modern history, was announced on July 15 as he reorganized his government to increase the number of women in prominent roles in an effort to increase his party’s appeal. That was undermined when Bloomberg News reported the difference in Stowell’s pay.
Within hours, his aides said the Conservative Party would make up the difference, allowing Cameron to tell Parliament the next day that Stowell would “do the same job as her predecessor” and “receive the same money.”
That defense collapsed on July 23 when Stowell said the bipartisan nature of her role meant she couldn’t accept Conservative Party funds. Cameron then wrote to Tory members of the Lords, saying the situation was “a purely temporary one, which I will want to rectify at the earliest opportunity.”
Last night Stowell was once again put in the position of having to defend the downgrading of her own role as members of the upper chamber took turns to attack the prime minister for what even his own party members said was a poor decision.
John Cope, a Tory who met Cameron to discuss the matter last week, said the prime minister had explained Stowell couldn’t be given the full salary because Cameron wished to keep former Foreign Secretary William Hague in the Cabinet on full pay. “It was impossible to demote him,” he said.
Janet Royall, Stowell’s Labour Party opposite number, said her experience was that there was a difference between being a junior minister attending Cabinet and a full member, especially when the job required her to stand up to colleagues.
“It cannot be right that a female Leader of the Lords is paid less than her male counterpart was, and it is a terrible example for the women of this country,” she said. “This from a prime minister who we were told was reshuffling his cabinet with the aim of promoting women and equality.”
Stowell isn’t the first politician to cite Beyonce Knowles as an example, though as a Conservative she’s more unusual. The singer was chosen to perform the national anthem at US President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, and in 2012 he described her as a “role model” for his two daughters. Michelle Obama was photographed with her daughters at a Beyonce concert this week.
Boothroyd, speaking at the end of the debate, warned Cameron that the issue would continue to be raised and he faces “gale force winds” from the House of Lords until he changes course.
“That gale force has gathered strength with this debate tonight,” she said. “It will not cease. This issue will not go away.”