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CF Women – Another false dawn or finally turning the corner?

John Moorcraft writes a weekly article putting current young Conservative issues into a historical context.

"It is known when the list of candidates is sent down to the constituencies and if a women’s name appears on the list, her name is often struck off because she is not considered suitable…I would ask you to specifically consider the Young Conservative women and do all you can.  This is a resolution on which you can act.  Go back to your constituencies and give a chance to Young Conservatives, particularly the Young Conservative Women"

- Frances Vale speaking at the 1947 Blackpool Conservative Party Conference

Two_cfers In the manifesto section of his campaign website, Mark Clarke expressed concern about the shortage of women occupying positions of responsibility in Conservative Future.  He brought to light the statistical fact that, despite having a near 50/50 ratio of male/female members; Conservative Future only had 3 female Area Chairman (out of a possible 44) at the time of the last CF elections.  In addition, he also highlighted the fact only 3 out 47 university branches in existence at the time of the last CF elections had a female chairman.  Having revealed these statistics, Mr Clarke pledged to explore this particular issue (and one relating to the loss of members following graduation) and present a plan to the board in order to try and fix the observed problem(s).   

Upon reading this manifesto pledge, my immediate reaction was “good luck mate, because you’re really going to need it!”.

The recruitment of women has historically never been a problem for the young conservative movement; something those who wish to peddle the myth of “Tory Boy” seem to either conveniently forget or simply be ignorant of.  Indeed, according to the true guru of young conservatism, John Holroyd-Doveton (1996:134), women joined the YC’s in the same, and occasionally even greater, numbers then men right from the very outset and a substantial number of female recruits were more then happy to participate in the political activities of the group. For example, historical documents reveal that the first YC Conference, held at Filey in 1949, wasn’t devoid of either female attendees or speakers, whilst many women involved in the Greater London Young Conservatives (GLYC) during the late sixties and early seventies were at the forefront of campaigns demanding the end of discriminatory treatment against their gender. 

However, despite such willingness to become politically active, the “problem” of young conservative women either refusing or being prevented from taking up positions of responsibility within the young conservative movement is one that is clearly and continuously observable since the establishment of the YC’s in 1945.  This is perhaps most unambiguously demonstrated by the fact that, throughout the YC’s 52 year existence, there was only ever 1 female National Chairman (the highly proficient Frances Vale in 1949).  When pushed as to why so few women took up positions of responsibility in the YC’s, one former National Chairman (who shall remain anonymous) said to me that:

“the system was always open and the best people generally won the elections.  It just so happens that the best person for the job was frequently a man!”

In the past, those who have endeavoured to address this particular issue have generally done so by simultaneously attempting to end perceived discriminatory practises and encouraging more females to participate in the politics of the young conservative movement. For example, the GLYC successfully managed to put an end to the popular Miss YC competitions in 1973 by boycotting the event, encouraging female members of the YC’s not to participate and convincing male counterparts that such events were offensive and discriminatory towards their gender. 

In addition, prominent females in the young conservative movement, such as Frances Vale, Elisabeth Steele, Stephanie Reid and Lynda Chalker, all attempted to encourage others to come through the ranks by writing persuasive articles in official magazines and working extremely hard at branch and regional levels to make political events more attractive to women (the whole marriage bureau stereotype demonstrates how both sexes enjoyed social events in equal measure!). Regrettably, all such endeavours proved unsustainable and, after an initial upsurge in females taking up positions of responsibility in the young conservative movement, things quickly returned back to “normal”…

As with all previous attempts, the considerable effort Mr Clarke and this year’s CF Exec have put into encouraging young conservative women to take up positions of responsibility in Conservative Future has yielded some positive results.  For the first time in the modern history of the young conservative movement, we are seeing the emergence of a new generation of talented young conservative women coming through the ranks (for example; Miss Bray in Worcestershire and Miss Gregory in Somerset). 

I am personally extremely happy this year’s Exec have highlighted the lack of women in prominent positions in CF and I am pleased that, for the first time since the GLYC heyday of the late sixties and early seventies, this particular attempt to address the issue is being driven by a member of my own gender.  Whether this initiative proves more sustainable then all the others remains to be seen…but I for one sincerely hope it does.


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