Monday, July 10, 2006

Time to think the unthinkable?

Two years ago, one year ago even, if you had asked me my views on All Women Shortlists for Parliamentary Selection I would have bristled indignantly and launched into a long diatribe about how un-necessary they are. But now I'm not so sure.

In 2005 only 17 of Conservative MPs were women - that's about 8.5%. 8.5% is a derisory figure in the 21st Century. The Conservative Party wants to represent the entire country, yet its Parliamentary Party looks nothing like the whole country. It is almost exclusively a white, male, heterosexual, middle class body. And some of those white, heterosexual, middle class men are excellent MPs and representatives of the Conservative Party who are undoubtedly the best people for the job. But some aren't. Some are bed-blockers, some are arrogant, some turn voters off.

Acknowledging the problem David Cameron established the A-List of candidates with 50% of members of this list being women. Although there are problems with the A List I generally like the idea but it doesn't seem to have worked. In the ten selections since the A-List was established only 2 women have been selected - 20%, hardly great steps forward. In several selections the final three have consisted of two women and one man and there are suspicions that this is a deliberate ploy to split the pro-female vote and ensure a male candidate. It wouldn't surprise me.

I have been involved in selections where looking at a female CV members of the panel will sniff about her being pushy, a similar male CV being regarded as dynamic. I have known one woman to be rejected because she sent her children to private school and by doing so wouldn't be able to understand the needs of parents with children at comprehensives. None of the men were asked what schools their children went to.

I have been interviewed for jobs in the Conservative Party and been asked about my outside life and where I expect to be in 5 years time. Nothing wrong with those questions until you realise that none of the male candidates were asked the same questions and then alarm bells start to ring.

There is still an inherent sexism in the Conservative Party with many of the worst culprits being women and its now time to ask whether looking at the practicalities of All Women Shortlists should be considered.

I know all the arguments against and agree with them. Women don't want to get a job or seat without proving their merit. I don't want mediocre women to be selected as Conservative Party candidates in preference to well qualified and impressive men. But the problem at the moment is that women are not being judged on their merits and mediocre men are being selected in preference to well qualified and impressive women.

I don't know that AWS are the answer, but we can no longer reject them out of hand confident that good women will claw their way through the process. It isn't happening and the Conservative Party has to address this problem strongly.

Conservative Home runs an excellent service updating candidate selections.

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