The appointment of Maria Miller as the coalition Government's Equalities Minister has caused concern and some anger among equality campaigners of all stripes.
David Cameron's selection of the newly-appointed Culture Secretary to take charge of policy on rights for minorities has been questioned in the light of Miller's voting record on issues directly affecting the rights of ethnic minorities, disabled people, women and gay people in the UK. Miller's promotion has been viewed as part of a move to the right.
Her profile on the official Conservative Party website focuses heavily on Miller's status as a parent, referring to her as a "mother of three" and remarking that she "brings her experience as a working mother" to her role in politics. Observers point out, however, that on the matter of women's rights -- as on many other issues -- Miller is further to the right than the mainstream of her party.
When a controversial amendment to the Health and Social Care Bill was proposed last year by anti-abortion campaigner Nadine Dorries, Miller was one of those who voted in favour. The amendment would have banned abortion providers from providing counselling to those facing an unwanted pregnancy. In 2008, Miller also voted in favour of reducing the latest point at which an abortion can be performed to 20 weeks.
As Disabilities Minister, Miller was dubbed the "factory killer" by disability rights groups following her part in the closure of more than 50 specialist Remploy factories, which gave employment to disabled workers.
On the Equality Act 2007, she was conspicuously absent from the vote. The following year, she voted against allowing same-sex couples an equal right to fertility treatment. She has also voted against the right of same-sex couples to adopt children. Although less clear-cut, her position on gay marriage appears to be negative-based on her voting history.
Maria Miller has consistently voted against laws and regulations to address discrimination. She voted negatively on the 2005 Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, a bill designed to protect minority religious groups such as Muslims from persecution and to provide greater protection against abuse on the grounds of race. More recently, in 2007, she opposed moves to enable ministers to introduce regulations that would ban discrimination on the grounds of gender or sexual orientation.
The Guardian newspaper branded the Cabinet reshuffle that saw Miller take the role of Culture Secretary as "a good day for Maria Miller but a bad day for women." Writing in the Guardian, journalist Jane Martinson noted Miller's voting record on reproductive choice.
On the Change.org website, a petition to remove Miller is already garnering signatures from private citizens concerned with her appointment and what it represents. The petition accuses Miller of defending racial hatred and other prejudices as free speech; notes her opposition to the availability of abortion; and asks for her removal from the post of Equalities Minister. The petition's originator, Stephen Hogg, states: "Maria Miller is the wrong person for this job."
The recent cabinet reshuffle has seen the removal of two out of five female Ministers from their positions.