Case defends membership of all-male Garrick Club

Cabinet secretary tells MPs it's easier to change outdated institutions from the inside
Simon Case appears before MPs yesterday Photo: Parliament TV

By Jim Dunton

20 Mar 2024

Simon Case has robustly defended his recently revealed membership of the exclusive men-only Garrick Club.

The cabinet secretary was one of the influential figures newly identified as being a member of the Covent Garden club by the Guardian this week.

Cabinet Office secretary Oliver Dowden and MI6 head Richard Moore were also named as members of the club by the newspaper. Other longstanding members of the £1,600-a-year club are the actors Brian Cox and Stephen Fry, and some of the nation's most senior judges – including Supreme Court judge David Richards and several Appeal Court judges.

Case was quizzed about his membership of the Garrick Club, which has routinely resisted calls to accept women as members rather than guests, at a meeting of parliament's Liaison Committee yesterday.

Committee member Liam Byrne asked the cabinet secretary, who is head of the civil service, whether it is possible to "foster a genuine culture of inclusiveness" at the same time as being a member of an all-male club.

"Is that a good signal to send to the machine?" he asked.

Case told the sesssion – which was due to hear evidence on strategic thinking in government – that his position on the Garrick Club was clear. He strongly suggested he was keen to see the admission of female members. 

"If you believe profoundly in the reform of an institution, by and large it's easier to do if you join it to make the change from within rather than chuck rocks from the outside," he said.

Case added: "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 that when you want reform, you have to participate."

Case said he believed other government officials who are members of the club shared the same thinking.

"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," he said.

According to the Guardian,  Case joined the Garrick Club in 2019 – the same year as Dowden.

Case's observations were supported by Liaison Committee member Sir Robert Buckland, who is a KC and a former justice secretary. Buckland is also a member of the Garrick Club, along with former cabinet colleage Michael Gove and former attorney general Dominic Grieve.

Case told yesterday's session he was not sure Garrick Club membership was "that important" in the context of strategic thinking in government.

Speaking to the Guardian after the hearing, Institute for Government director Hannah White said:“Simon Case’s professed selfless motive for joining the Garrick will sound bizarre to the 284,000 women of the civil service who it would bar from membership, when they weigh the relative benefit he has gained for himself in his five years of membership against the lack of progress he has apparently achieved on their behalf."

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