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Michelle Donelan: Quality, not quotas – why we need to encourage (not coerce) women into politics

Picture 32 Michelle Donelan contested Wentworth and Dearne at the General Election and is a member of the Conservative Future National Executive.

Last week I appeared on Channel 4 news alongside Lesley Abdela, discussing females in politics in the wake of just four women being appointed into the new Cabinet. 

The argument for fixed quotas of women in Parliament has re-emerged and been seized upon by the media and campaign groups claiming that there is serious lack of female representation in the party hierarchy. I disagree.  I would much rather see quality than quantity – a mantra I feel Gordon Brown failed to acknowledge as he ‘window dressed’ his Cabinet in a desperate attempt to hold the ‘progressive ground’.

We have four very strong inspiring women including Theresa May as Home Secretary and Britain’s first Muslim Cabinet member Sayeeda Warsi as Party Chairman – and I hope I don’t need to remind readers that we gave the United Kingdom its first female Prime Minister.

Tackling gender inequalities in Parliament is important, but we must not let it consume us – where would it stop, for ethnic minorities, for religious representation, for set minimums for homosexuals in Parliament?  It would turn into government by percentages.

We now have 48 rather than 19 female MPs and in fact around a third of our candidates at the election were female and I was one of them. I was not forced into politics or given an easy ride as a woman.  I would not condone this and find the idea terribly condescending. Encouraging and inspiring talented women to shape political careers is crucial, and I’m delighted the Conservative Women’s Organisation has taken the lead in this area doing some fantastic work in promoting female candidates, as has Women 2 Win.

I’m confident that with the systems we have in place we will deliver many more female MPs at the next election. especially given our commitment to Open Primaries. Conservative Future, the youth wing of the party on whose National Executive I serve, is packed full of strong young women who are the politicians of tomorrow.

I do not want to see a country which legislates quotas for its female parliamentarians because quotas do not lead to quality. I want the best politicians to be in the key posts - be they women or men who are black or white and gay or straight.

What matters is that we select the best candidates based on their skill set, not which boxes they tick to meet demographic correctness.  Caroline Flint said herself that she was used as ‘window dressing’ by Gordon Brown in a ‘two-tier’ Cabinet.  Tell me what the point is in appointing women if you are shamelessly using and undermining us further?

So I ask you - do you want a Cabinet composed of robust, inspiring and capable individuals who can work together to lead a country in challenging times?  Or do you want a weak and fragmented politically correct bunch that tick every box but lack the skills to get us on the road to recovery?

You can watch me discussing this issue on Channel Four News below.


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