We are all agreed that politics is in crisis. The public are disenchanted with all parties. Apathy is at an all time high and as they say in any relationship “indifference is the killer”.
In my view the fact that parliament is still largely comprised of white middle class men who look and sound the same is a significant part of the problem.
Parliament needs to be significantly modernised and reformed. Having pledged to fix our economy, our society and our politics, it falls to us to lead the way on this. Part of that involves ensuring plenty of female MP’s in the next parliament.
The reality of day-to-day life in Britain in 2009 is that 70% of women work, making up half of the national workforce. Those same women are at the heart of British families as opinion formers and consumers. The harnessing of the energy and goodwill of these women will be vital to implement the policies necessary to repair a broken Britain.
Yet at present only 30% of our Candidates’ list is women. We clearly need to encourage more women to consider a career in politics. The public is entitled to ask itself why we select such a low proportion of women and telling them it is because there is a low number on the list only begs more questions. We must do something to break that vicious circle. Until the far-reaching change needed in politics has come the least we can do is improve the chances for the 30% of women who are on our candidates’ list so that our party becomes more representative of the country it seeks to govern.
Dave’s proposal would not be needed if so many Associations weren’t so resistant to change. They like having the type of (white, male) candidates they are used to. It may not be conscious but it feels familiar and safe. If that isn’t the case - if it didn’t require audacious intervention by David Cameron - how come Priti Patel took so many years to find a winnable seat, or Jane Ellison or Andrea Leadsom or the many other brilliant women candidates selected since Dave became Leader?
We are kidding ourselves if we believe such change will be organic. A meritocracy requires an underlying system of fairness to operate (think of state school comprehensive kids getting a chance at Oxbridge). The playing field is not level. The inbuilt prejudices of the existing system are not fair. The fact that women in the party before Dave found it so hard to be selected tells us this. The trend away from selection of women since the abandonment of the A-list tells us this (disgracefully, only one woman has been selected in the last sixteen selections). The reaction to this piece will tell us this too.
Dave has said that all women shortlists are being considered if things have not changed by Christmas. I hope very much that they will not be necessary but for 12 years resistance to change has kept us in an electoral wilderness. It is progressive policies on welfare reform, the environment and international human rights which have changed the public’s attitude to us as a party but we still have a long way to go to secure a solid and consistent lead in the polls. And we have a long way to fall if we do not meet the need to reflect back to the British people an image of the society in which they would like to live.
I hope every Association still to select a Candidate will play their role in building a party the public can really relate to and love by embracing the change we will be asking of them.
As a lifelong Conservative and meritocrat I don’t think it is ideal to impose all women or indeed all anything shortlists and maybe if more women are selected by Christmas we won’t need to. If we do, however, I will be 100% behind their imposition. We need to show people that even if the party won’t change at the bottom it has damned well changed at the top.