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Cameron is only talking about an aspiration Editor. It's a gimmicky announcement that he's probably not seriously committed to.

Doesn't this devalue and patronise women? How would they know if they got a ministrial job on merit or because they were part of a quota. I'm sure there will be many able women (as mentioned in the piece) who will rise through the ranks with through their own abilty and hard work. This is just copying Labour for the sake of it.

Our leadership appears to have a death wish - or no real conception of what is a good idea and what isn't. If politics goes quiet for three weeks, then they're back to wanting to be the "heirs to Blair" and introduce sex-based or race-based quotas. Doubtless we'll see a few attacks on grammar schools soon. Totally bizarre.

For goodness, sake, guys! Get a grip! Why are we getting into this nonsense? There is so much good in our policy positioning on so many questions - so much meat of politics that we could debate. We could be spending our time
- attacking the government's economic errors and formulating our own credible alternative
- criticising the government's half-hearted education reforms and being bolder with our own voucher-based alternative
- highlighting the failure of the government's "spend the earth" policy on the NHS and devising serious demand-side reforms
- exposing the government's spinelessness in foreign interventions, its desire to talk the talk without walking the walk in terms of defence expenditure (I understand that Labour has recently abandonned its plans for the two floating fortresses, thereby excluding itself from the next generation of foreign intervention)
- developing a serious account of how we will renegotiate our position in the EU so that we can stay as members
- criticize the government's foolish and counterproductive authoritarianism
- devise our own serious alternatives to the government's constitutional vandalism
- promote our own accounts of how fatherhood is to be resurrected and how role-models can be provided for violent and anti-social youths
and many other things. We have at least some of the policies, and in other areas we have good stories to tell. Instead, we squander our time on positive discrimination and other profoundly anti-Conservative concepts. Britain *likes* Conservatism. Why fight it?

Cameron's knee jerk support of politically correct causes and buying into the mainstream agenda of the centre left is making him look like a fool and putting the Party into difficult territory, Grammar schools, his calling of English people 'sour faced little Englanders', his failure to support Patrick Mercer, more recently his slapping down of Mancroft, now this.

If this is a quota and not based on best person for the job, surely this would be positive discrimination and therefore illegal. Also, if those appointed regardless of sex, race or any other personal characteristic are not the best person for the job then there is every chance that a Conservative Government would quickly make the sort of mistakes that have made Labour of late a disaster waiting to happen. In the words of Captain Blackadder; “the only thing wrong with this plan is that it’s B@LL@cks”

Bad idea, Mr Cameron,bad idea.People should be appointed to executive positions on merit. No other consideration should matter.
We have seen the overpromotion of people like Dawn Primarolo and Harriet Harman in the current government. Has their promotion had any beneficial effect for women or the Labour party? I really,really don't see it.

Hang on, it's described as both a pledge and an aspiration, which do not necessarily mean the same things in this context.

If I said 'I would like to be able to have women MPs filling at least a third of ministerial positions', that merely expresses an aspiration on my part that in ideal circumstances, I'd like to have women of that calibre to fill the roles.

If I said 'I will fill at least a third of ministerial positions with women MPs' then it means disregarding merit in favour of gender.

The article doesn't make it clear what he has actually said, although the fact they feel it necessary to add themselves "But failure to meet it would be embarrassing" rather suggests it is more likely the former than the latter, since it seems an attempt to add more weight, and, indeed, create more controversy.

It is an aspiration.
It would be "nice to have", I agree.
It is not a commitment, thank goodness.
It might not be possible without compromising on quality.

Hiding behind the idea that this is an aspiration is the politics of yesterday. It's the weasely language that cause voters do distrust politicians. Voters want politicians who mean what they say. They don't want to distinguish between aspirations and pledges and guarantees and vows and hopes. Get a grip Dave!

"They don't want to distinguish between aspirations and pledges and guarantees and vows and hopes. Get a grip Dave!"

With respect, it's the Observer that fails to make it clear and uses different terms to describe the same thing. They certainly know what they are doing however-the reaction here and from the MPs they quoted was most certainly what they were aiming for.

"Voters want politicians who mean what they say. They don't want to distinguish between aspirations and pledges and guarantees and vows and hopes. "

Voters have aspirations and commitments too - they understand the difference between aiming to lose half a stone by July and guaranteeing it .

Aspiration is good, provided it is accompanied by effort and a proper appreciation of the difficulties involved.

The ends justify the means in this case.

The "Heir to Blair" strikes again! This move reflects the genuine need to win the women's vote at the next general election. Conservatives lose elections when women fail to back us.

It is clear that Cameron and Osborne have learned nothing from the last 20 years. Women do not vote for Governments because they promise to have more women MPs or Ministers. The female vote reflects the economic climate.

Women voted for Margaret Thatcher because they were appalled by the Winter of Discontent. They supported her in the 1980s because they had more money in their bank and accounts and could afford better food, schooling and holidays, i.e. they and their families had a better of quality of life.

Women voted for John Major because they feared that Kinnock would wreck the economy with his socialist policies. Negative equity, resulting from shadowing the Deutschemark and ERM entry, plus Black Wednesday destroyed their confidence in the Conservatives' economic landslide. Women were also appalled by Tory sleaze, particularly MPs like David Mellor who cheated on their wives.

So women turned to Blair, much more acceptable than Kinnock, in 1987. They trusted him more than the Conservatives, especially as inflation was under control. Blair, however, found that his positive discrimination backfired. Most of his women MPs were useless in Whitehall departments and he was forced to recruit Ministerial talent from outside the Commons, i.e. his cronies and donors in the Lords.

Cameron is making the mistakes as Blair. Safe seats are going to identikit Cameroons just as Blair ensured safe seats for the Millibands etc. The Cameroons, like the Blairites and Brownites, are career politicians who have spent most of their careers in the Westminster village.

Margaret Thatcher was able to call upon the talents of QCs (Howe, Clarke, Rifkind, Howard) and City men like John Nott and Cecil Parkinson. Where are the QCs who will replacing those standing down or standing in target seats?

The next Conservative will inherit an economic mess and public services that are not delivering value for money. The new Tory ministers will have to take tough decisions, deliver radical policies and drive through REAL change. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of talent on the Conservative frontbench with the necessary skills and experience. The PC candidates in safe and target seats are no better and probably even worse.

The only incentive to vote Conservative is replace Brown with the Heir to Blair. I will do so but with extraordinary reluctance and a lack of expectation.

This sort of thing unhappily suggests that if we vote Cameron, we get Blair-style government. In a recent council by-election nearby, we nearly lost one of the most rock-solid Tory wards in Greater London to the Liberals because of a small but significant UKIP vote, composed mostly of Tories disgruntled by Mr Cameron's leadership. We do need to keep these people on-side - we are talking about a parliamentary constituency with a Lib Dem incumbent, of the sort that we must routinely win if we want to have a parliamentary majority.

Some of these women come ready to be Ministers from day one. An obvious example is Margot James who already has senior party status and also has great experience in the business world as one of the country's more successful businesswoman. I would expect her (like Theresa Villiers) to be promoted immediately. Equally Harriet Baldwin is an experienced city hand with expertise in pensions, you would imagine she'd be on the front benches almost at once.

Some of these women come ready to be Ministers from day one. An obvious example is Margot James who already has senior party status and also has great experience in the business world as one of the country's more successful businesswoman. I would expect her (like Theresa Villiers) to be promoted immediately. Equally Harriet Baldwin is an experienced city hand with expertise in pensions, you would imagine she'd be on the front benches almost at once.

Margot James was one of the women candidates worthy of being highlighted as outstanding activist. I should have included her in my quick list.

activist @ 15:33,

Theresa Villiers is NOT a good advert for women ministers.

Where is our transport policy?

"Theresa Villiers is NOT a good advert for women ministers."

When I heard the Theresa May was going to be on next weeks Any Question with Ken Livingstone, I though Oh dear there goes Boris's campaign to be Mayor.

When you are conceived you don't choose your parents, your sex, or your social
background. Will the heir to Blair ensure those who have attended Eton / public school / Oxbridge (name your own bonkers criterion), ensure that these are only represented in a Conservative Parliamentary Party/Cabinet/ in direct proportion to their incidence in the general population?

I would expect Phillipa Stroud (the candidate for the seat I referred to earlier) to pick up a job on her own merits, but I'm still concerned about the effect of statements like this on her chances of getting elected in the first place.

As for Theresa Villiers, we should be disappointed by her performance at Transport, unless the Tories are simply deliberately keeping quiet on that front, and saving the issue for a future date. I hope that that is the case.

In any case, if lots of these women are going to be good enough to get jobs anyway, why does Mr Cameron need to wind up his core voters for the sake of it? Tories are quite happy to vote for women, but are less keen on supporting the feminist movement - hence, they would/did vote for Mrs Thatcher, and wouldn't/don't vote for Ms Harperson.

What is Theresa Villiers doing? The absence of any transport policy is becoming an embarrassment. It is a complex brief requiring a firm grasp of finance and regulation and it seems she lacks the skills and experience to understand it. Whenever I hear or see her, she is out of her depth. Eleanor Laing MP, a former Special Adviser at the Department of Transport, would be an ideal replacement.

Why a third? Women make up half the population, so surely the only logical percentage, if you're going to go down this politically correct line, is half of all ministers? Half is ridiculous enough, but at least makes numerical sense. A third just screams 'GIMMICK'.

Crazy. Just crazy. This is pandering to the 'inclusionists', nothing more.

The *only* selection-criterion anyone should ever consider when appointing is 'are they the best person for the job?'.

Anything else is pure madness.

Even if there are a lot more female Conservative MPs after the next General Election, David Cameron still has the problem that many of them not have the experience to become senior ministers\shadow ministers by the end of the next term and there will be far more experienced men in those roles, so a surge at Under-Secretary level, most though will be on a sharp learning curve.

Priti Patel is someone who has had extensive experience in national politics albeit outside parliament and probably could fit into a cabinet role quite quickly, most others don't have this experience.

Why a third? Women make up half the population, so surely the only logical percentage, if you're going to go down this politically correct line, is half of all ministers? Half is ridiculous enough, but at least makes numerical sense.
Surely that would be likely to mean making nearly every female Conservative MP a minister, some won't want to be a minister and some won't be suitable

Whilst a supporter of David Cameron, I find his acceptance of Cultural Marxism, quotas and his imitation of New Labour worrying.

People in this country, and certainly any Conservatives you meet, in Liverpool at least, are Conservatives because they want to see the end of unlimited immigration, stronger deterrents for criminals, a UK that rules itself, the scrapping of devolution and an end to the type of nonsense that this quota is. Obviously, there has to be more, but that's for a different post.

I'm worried that this kind of thing alienates Northern voters, something that DC can't quite fathom.

It's an admirable idea to have women in high positions, but positions have to be gained on merit.

Sorry Mr Cameron, but I'm not happy with this one.

For pity's sake, doesn't Cameron understand how counterproductive his faux political correctness actually is. In one fell swoop he has mananged to insult women by suggesting that they can only progress in Conservative politics by means of artificial quotas, whilst at the same time angering both his male MPs and his membership and activist base with his more New Labour than New Labour PC crap.

Well done indeed, much more of this kind of nonsense and Brown will be laughing all the way to his election victory.

No doubt this will mean a seat in the cabinet for Baroness Thatcher - Leader of the Lords?
Now that would ensure victory!

Representing different parts of the community – like one butcher, one baker one candlestick maker – originated in the Paris Communes promoted by Proudhon.


The idea of having a percentage of different races, the sexes etc keeps popping up in Conservative thought – and communism is its origin. Outrageous!

Merit should be the only criterion.

I have one word for Cameron: 'meritocracy'.

Dear Mr Cameron
As a northern, woman, disenfranchised voter, can I just say that this positioning does nothing for me - nothing at all. What I want is the BRIGHTEST, TOUGHEST and the BEST people for the job. This country is in such a mess it is going to take that. In the 1970's I fought for women's liberation (please note Womans Hour - as a Conservative voter- feminism was not won by the socialists). But I didn't fight to put men down - and I am getting a little bit fed up of all this 'male' bashing.

I think there is another issue here.

We already have some very talented women MPs- the problem is that they are not in the Shadow Cabinet. I am thinking of Justine Greening, Anne Milton and Ann Main.
Quite what Spelman, May , Gillan and Villiers have done to warrant such elevated positions is beyond me.

I would go even further than David Cameron- I would fast track even more talented women and ethnic minority candidates into the seats currently held by our Bedblocker MPs- about 25% of the Parliamentary Party the last time I looked.

Whether it is an 'aspiration' or a 'policy', it will inevitably be seen and portrayed as the latter. Thus it smacks of the sort of misjudgement which one hoped had been left behind last summer and as such it would have been far better if it had been left unarticulated.

That is before one gives vent to one's frustration at yet another thing which many will consider to be a fundamental aspiration of being a conservative - meritocracy - being abandoned in favour of being more NuLabour than Blair.

Besides this does no favour to those excellent women who will be appointed on merit and merit alone who would nonetheless be tarred with the brush of 'she only got the job because she is a woman'.

Nor does it seem that anyone has learnt the lesson of Labour women being grossdly over-promoted because they were women and who then repaid their masters with rank incompetence: so bad that one of them admitted to being 'not up to the job'. Other egregious examples will come readily to mind: a gaggle of incompetent mediocre dross, even by labour standards.

Are there not more serious issues to which the electorate's mind might usefully be bent other than this 1970s rubbish?

For my own grump, see :http://tinyurl.com/3yhqqu

London Tory - I strongly object to the term "bed blocker" for older MPs. It's insulting and denigrates experience.

Every party needs a balance of ages, genders, and life experience in its ranks. The governing party (except in the case of a landslide, when things are skewed) normally has around 300 MPs. The usual balance within that is around 100 aspiring young potential ministers, around 100 serving ministers, aides and advisers, and 100 or so former ministers and/or long-serving senior MPs to offer advice and experience.

When Labour got back in in 1997, there was only one person in the cabinet (Margaret Beckett) who'd seen the inside of a red box before, plus only a handful of less senior ministers such as Michael Meacher and John Morris. It wasn't the ideal start, and the country pays while Ministers learn everything from scratch on the job. By the next election, the dwindling band of Conservatives with ministerial experience will be almost as small - kicking out older members, people who've been around for a bit, is NOT going to help.

Returning to the main subject of this thread - I think Cameron's aspiration is a noble one and I have no problem with it, so long as it's not promoting youth for the sake of it, at the expense of experience.

Not quite true Ephraim. Of Blair's first Cabinet, Jack Cunningham (Minister of Agriculture) had been an Energy Under-Secretary in the 1970s. Gavin Strang (Minister of Transport) had been a junior at Energy and Agriculture. Ivor Richard (Lords Leader) had been Under-Secretary of Defence in the 1960s. Ann Taylor (Commons Leader) had been a government whip in the 1970s. Donald Dewar (Scottish Secretary) had been a PPS. Looking at the careers of these (and Margaret Beckett), I think it shows that long termers who solely owe their position on the front bench to the fact that they were Minister for Spoons twenty years ago aren't necessarily the most capable ministers either.

This typifies everything wrong with Cameron. It is a sexist, discriminatory policy which ensures that even more vacuous yes-(wo)men rather than serious politicans fill the ranks of the seemingly obsolescent Tory Party. Were Ann Widdecombe and Margaret Thatcher selected on the basis of quotas? They most certainly weren't. The intelligent and tenacious women will rise to the top regardless of any poorly thought out promises.

Gavin Strang (Minister of Transport) had been a junior at Energy and Agriculture.
You are right about all those ministers, although I would just note that Gavin Strang was at the same level in the first Blair administration as Michael Meacher, they were both Ministers of State who sometimes attended cabinet meetings - John Prescott was the Secretary of State for the Department they were both ministers in.

Tony Blair was also the first PM to have no government experience since Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and the first Leader of the Opposition to have no government experience since the post was created in 1935 - Neil Kinnock was a PPS at the end of the Callaghan Government and John Smith was a Junior minister from the start on in the Wilson government, a Minister of State for much of the time and Secretary of State for Trade in the final 6 months of the Labour government.

Before IDS no Conservative Party leader had taken over with experience less than full cabinet status.

The Committee system though has given people such as IDS and Edward Leigh experience of the workings of government without actually having been in government, and of course people such as David Blunkett had had prominent roles in Local Government. The positions of First Minister and Elected Mayor of a Major City are of similar status to that of some of the more junior cabinet positions.

Strang was a full member of the Cabinet, albeit in a department where someone else was the head. Kind of like the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

And before IDS, Andrew Bonar Law became Conservative leader after only serving as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade - at the expense of Austen Chamberlain and Walter Long who had significantly more senior careers in government. However, he later became PM after holding numerous other posts in coalition with the the Liberals.

The question of experience is a tricky one. Most accounts say Thatcher's experience as a junior Pensions minister and Education Secretary was negligible and affected very little - as PM, she preferred to refer to her time spent as an Opposition spokesman than to her time in government.

I think we're getting ourselves into an unnecessary panic and bother here. Let's remember that our current crop of women MPs are younger than their male counterparts - after the next election there will no female equivalents of the grand old men of the backbenches (Clarke, Tapsell, Hogg, Young, Winterton, Spicer, Shepherd, etc.) except for Ann Winterton. Instead we have Caroline Spelman, Theresa May, Theresa Villiers and Cheryl Gillan who are currently in the Shadow Cabinet, never mind being on the frontbench. We also have Eleanor Laing, Justine Greening, Jacqui Lait, Maria Miller, Anne McIntosh, and Anne Milton on the Frontbench and Angela Watkinson in the Whips team. In the Lords our frontbenchers include Baroness Anelay, Baroness Warsi, Baroness Neville-Jones, Baroness Seccombe, Baroness Noakes, Baroness Hanham, Baroness Verma, Baroness Morris and Baroness Rawlings. So that totals 20 women who could transfer over to a Ministerial post straight away.

We also have Julie Kirkbride, Anne Main, and Nadine Dorries on the backbenches.

Then we can look at who ought to be coming in if we win at the next election:
Angie Bray
Susan Williams
Margot James
Harriett Baldwin
Philippa Stroud
Nicky Morgan
Priti Patel
Joanne Cash
Laura Sandys
Penny Mordaunt
Annunziata Rees-Mogg
Jill Skalla
Antoinette Sandbach

I cannot believe this. Quotas are an anathema to me. Ministers should be appointed solely on merit. I dont care if the cabinet consists entirely of women if they are the best people for the job. Who is this ambition suppose to appeal too? Woolly feminists? Surely any right-minded individual would see the absurdity ofthis like the A-List.

Scott, I think it's about laying old demons to rest about the Tories being a party of old white men who didn't want anyone else getting in on the act.

Looking at the numbers I suspect what Cameron has done is see what the talent pool he'll have to draw on if he wins looks like, reckons (quite reasonably in my opinion) that by the end of the next Parliament at least 35 of his ministerial posts will be filled by a woman, and sees no harm in letting other people know that.

This is not a quota. Don't let the Observer wind you up.

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