Nadine Dorries is MP for Mid Befordshire and writes her own blog.
Not surprisingly, the atmosphere on the Conservative back benches is somewhat febrile since David Cameron stated his intention to consider implementing all women shortlists for candidate selection.
I just would like to state that this isn't really news. It has always been David's intention to consider anything which would make Parliament more representative of the people for whom it legislates. No Conservative leader has ever attempted to unite equality with meritocracy and increase the number of women selected as Conservative candidates to the extent David has.
From Women2Win, a candidates department and staff committed to assisting associations with guidance in selection, to the A-List, he has jumped through hoops in a few short years to do everything he possibly can.
The latest initiative has taken the party through a squeaky clean wash cycle of open primaries for key vacancies, of which six constituencies out of seven selected men. When once it was the Conservative associations who were blamed for selecting a certain type of candidate, who do we blame for this? The open primary voting audience is made up of members of the public of all political parties or none, of all genders and backgrounds. We are giving the public, for goodness sake every single woman in the neighbourhood, a chance to do it for themselves, only they aren't.
As only 30% of applications to become an MP are from women, and that’s after all the hype and window dressing, we have to ask the question, what do women really want? Because it’s becoming pretty obvious that 70% of them don't want to be an MP.
I'm in the 30%. Three weeks before the 2005 general election I, a council estate Scouser, was selected as the Conservative candidate to represent a southern rural constituency. Because the vacancy occurred so quickly and so close to D-day, the party provided my association with a shortlist of seventeen candidates, of which, about five were women. Following a long day of interviews in hot sunny rooms, the list was whittled down to a shortlist of three.
The by-election procedure David Cameron spoke of yesterday existed then, however it was a little more generous to the association in terms of choice. At 9.10pm that evening, Sir Graham Bright invited me to walk back into a packed school hall where I had just delivered my final speech of the day. Met by a wall of applause and a standing ovation, with tears in my eyes, I was informed that I had been selected outright on the first ballot.
I have never, other than when looking into the eyes of my new born babies, felt as proud as I did on that night. That pride, that sense of achievement, the knowledge that I was selected on the basis of my performance and merit above all other candidates on that day is what enables me to hold my head up high in this place. It's what humbles me every morning when I walk into Members' Lobby. It gives me confidence to take on my male colleagues with not just a little bottle, because I got here by exactly the same process that they did. They are no better than me and I no lesser than they.
That night provided me with a mandate which enables me to stand up in Parliament and take on difficult issues, because I can, because I'm worth it, literally.
Sometimes I feel sorry for some of the Labour women who were selected via all-women shortlists. Everyone knows who they are. They are constantly derided, and that's just by the male Labour MPs. Parliament takes no prisoners. No one in any party takes them seriously and actually, many are amongst the worst performers in the House. They constantly suffer the humiliation of comments made to wound, spoken to remind them that they didn't arrive because of anything they had achieved, other than being born female. I would find that very tough, impossible even. But then I am shot through with working class pride.
Parliament is a hard and demanding environment. I sometimes think back to the night I was selected and wonder how I would feel if I had been selected from an all-women list? I do believe I may have felt as though the male MPs were travelling in a first class carriage and I was somewhere behind, in economy. I'm not sure I would have had the ability to pursue such a controversial and demanding issue as late term abortion and I'm sure I would have crumbled part way in.
But the crunch question I ask myself is this: if one of my three daughters became an MP as a result of being selected via an all-women shortlist, how proud would I feel? I know the answer. I would want them to compete on merit, because they are worthy of that.
However, David has made a pledge and he is determined to keep it. He is a man of his word and there is no one surprised at that, or what he said yesterday. I just thank God I got here when and how I did.