'If men want to get together in a club, it's up to them': Ben Wallace says Garrick Club members should be 'left alone'

21 March 2024, 09:47

Ben Wallace on the Garrick Club

By Kit Heren

Ben Wallace has said that men should be "left alone" to form all-male clubs, amid a row over prominent public servants in the Garrick Club.

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The former Defence Secretary told LBC's Nick Ferrari that "if a lot of men want to get together and have a club - it’s up to them".

On Wednesday, Simon Case, the top civil servant, and Richard Moore, the head of MI6, both resigned from the Garrick, which only admits men as members.

It came amid media pressure after the 200-year-old club's membership list was made public. Other prominent members include King Charles and Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, as well as former England football manager Roy Hodgson and actors Stephen Fry and Brian Cox.

The club held a vote on female membership in 2015 in which a very small majority voted in favour. This was not enough, as a change would have required the backing of two-thirds of the membership.

Read more: MI6 chief and civil service boss end Garrick Club membership after criticism over its exclusion of women

Read more: Ben Wallace steps down: Former Defence Secretary's best LBC moments

Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace. Picture: Alamy

The debate centres on whether prominent public servants like Mr Case and Mr Moore, who work for taxpayer-funded bodies that say they support gender equality, should be members of a single-sex club.

Asked for his opinion on the row, Mr Wallace said: I just wish people would all be left alone."

He added that the debate on single-sex members' clubs restarts every few years.

"There are plenty of all-male clubs, and there are actually all-female clubs out there," he told Nick.

Other London men-only clubs in London include the Travellers Club and White's - from which David Cameron resigned his membership over its no-women membership policy. The University Women's Club does not allow men to be members.

The Garrick Club
The Garrick Club. Picture: Alamy

Mr Wallace, who has been an LBC guest presenter, insisted that he hadn’t "lost any sleep" over the row.

"Whether the Garrick has men or women - it’s not my business," he said. "I’m not a member of it, but frankly I don’t think anyone’s lesser off it."

He cited the example of former Conservative Cabinet minister Kenneth Clarke, who is a Garrick member.

Mr Wallace said: "I worked for Ken Clarke - Ken Clarke is a lovely, great politician and a friend, and a great man - he’s a member of it, does it make him any lesser? He’s probably one of the most liberal, progressive Conservatives we’ve ever had.

Watch Again: Ex-Defence Secretary Ben Wallace joins Nick Ferrari | 21/03/24

"For what it’s worth - if people want to do that, let them be free to do it."

Cabinet Secretary Mr Case resigned from the Garrick after first claiming to be reforming the club from within.

While giving evidence to the Commons Liaison Sub-Committee of Strategic Thinking in Government on Tuesday, Mr Case was asked by Labour MP Liam Byrne whether he could "foster a genuine culture of inclusiveness" in the civil service "while being a member of an all-male club".

Mr Case defended his involvement, telling MPs: "I have to say, my position on this one is clear, if you believe profoundly in reform of an institution, by and large it is easier to do if you join it and make the change from within rather than chuck rocks from the outside.

Simon Case
Simon Case. Picture: Alamy

"And by the way, maths is also part of this. Every one person who leaves who is in favour of fixing this antediluvian position, every one of us who leaves means these institutions don't change.

"I think when you want reform you have to participate."

Mr Case continued: "I'm very sure I speak on behalf of all the public servants who have recently joined the Garrick under the banner of trying to make reform happen."

Mr Wallace, 53, was Defence Secretary from July 2019 - August 2023. He said last year that he would not be standing again at the next election.

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