Theresa May - a champion for party members during the recent fight to retain members' voting rights in leadership election - submitted this article to ConservativeHome five days ago. She became Shadow Leader of the House in David Cameron's first shadow cabinet - announced yesterday.
If anyone thinks that the Conservative Party doesn’t need to do something to increase its number of women MPs, then I suggest they take a long hard look at the facts. Our Parliamentary Party is 91% male, and 90% white male. At the last election, despite gaining 33 seats, we increased the women on our benches by only 1%, and for the first time we lag behind Labour and the Lib Dems for female representation.
In an increasingly diverse Britain, with women playing an ever greater role in the workplace, it is hard to deny that our party doesn’t look or sound like modern Britain. Is it any wonder therefore, that modern Britain doesn’t believe we understand their values or the way they live their lives, and so don’t trust us with their vote?
The real concern is that it clearly dictates the results at the ballot box. In every election that the Conservative Party has won since the war, we have also won the women’s vote. At the 1992 General Election, the Conservative Party held a 10% lead over Labour among women voters, but in 1997, Labour led the Conservatives among women by 12%.
According to both Mori and NOP, in 2005, not only did the Conservative share of the vote amongst women actually fall by 1%, our vote went down among women in almost every category. If only women had voted, Labour’s majority would be nearly 90.
Particularly worrying is our very low appeal to young women. Among women aged 18-34, Labour is now ahead by 20 points and the Lib Dems by around five points. What is clear is that if we are to win power, we must win back the women’s vote, and that choosing more women MPs will help us to do that.
Two weeks ago, a number of MPs and supporters launched a new organisation called Women2Win, a campaigning group with one aim – to elect more Conservative women MPs. As part of that we are campaigning for changes to the way the Party selects candidates, but that is only part of it. We also want to give women more support and training.
Not all of those involved believe that the answer is all women shortlists. Not all believe that an ‘A’ list or a gold list is the best solution. But what we all agree is that waiting and hoping for more women to be elected is never going to deliver the results we need. The time has come for us to take positive and radical action.
Perhaps most importantly, this view is now shared just as much by men in our party as it is by women. You will remember that just a few weeks ago, 6 male MPs were brave enough to put their heads above the parapet and say that it was time we took positive and radical action to guarantee more women candidates. Since then, a number of others have joined us. This is no longer an all girls club, the men have gate crashed the party. Our Women2Win declaration, calling for positive action up to but not including compulsory all women shortlists has gained the support of 12 members of the Shadow cabinet, and an increasing number of MPs and Peers.
Women 2 Win is the signal that the Conservative party is determined to win back the women’s vote and to win back power. Over the coming months and years, we will work to ensure that more women re selected. We will raise the profile of Conservative women in the Party and in the media. We want to raise the money to provide training and support.
As many of you will already know, I firmly believe the Conservative Party needs an A-List – a list of say the top 100 candidates it has identified as best able to fight and win the top 100 most winnable seats and that 50 of them should be men and 50 should be women. And there should be a clear commitment to diversity among the list including of ethnicity.
I know that, some people don’t like these kinds of gender-specific targets. Either they believe it patronises women who would reach the top without a helping hand, or they think it threatens to dilute the quality of candidates we offer by shoehorning in women who are not up to the job.
I think there is nothing patronising about making the professional judgement that we will win more seats, attract more support, take better decisions, and ultimately form a better government if we have a more even split of male and female faces representing and running our party.
To those who say we would risk diluting the quality of our candidates and MPs by introducing a fairness guarantee to our selection procedure, I simply say “What planet are you on? Do you seriously believe that the Conservative Party cannot find 50 females of the highest quality to stand as candidates at the next election?
In not doing so, not only are we continuing to look detached from modern Britain, we are missing out on a huge pool of talent. As an organisation that is drawn from a small group with similar life experiences, we will continue to make less good decisions than ones with a wide and diverse pool of people.
It’s time for the Conservative Party to stop talking about the difficulties of getting more women in politics, and get on with the job of doing it. In short, it is time to recognise that the Conservative party really does need women to win!