Conservatives new policy

// 2 March 2008

David Cameron has apparently promised that a third of ministerial posts will go to women if he’s elected. That’s obviously a comfort given we make up 52% of the population and given the Conservatives are likely to elect less than 60 women MPs. Currently he seems to have seven women (22%) in a thirty one strong Shadow Cabinet – maybe he should start there, unless his “senior posts” means women will, again, end up doing the lowest of the “senior” posts like being Whips. But Cameron makes this nod to involving women dependent on a Conservative victory – the implication – if you don’t vote the conservatives in you’re responsible for Conservative women not gettting ahead in the party. Sorry Cameron, sort it out now and I’ll believe it’s an aim you want to meet.

In the interests of fairness Labour has a cabinet of 29 and 10 (34%) of them are women. Sadly four of those are only in attendance and not full voting members (taking off all non voting members makes it 25%).

Comments From You

dan // Posted 2 March 2008 at 12:55 pm

I think your article is slightly unfair on David Cameron, you say he needs to sort his current house in order but as you also point out, he does have the disadvantage of having only a small number of female MPs. The last thing those calling for greater female representation in government need is it to become clear that some women are being promoted merely to meet targets rather than on ability. (By this I meen that if there are only a few female MP’s in comparison to men, it stands to reason, that there will be fewer, really talented female MP’s ready for a ministerial brief, than men) It seems to me that this is more a first step by Cameron, increasing (potentially) the visabilty of women in the Tories thus increasing demand from women wishing to become Tory MP’s thus increasing the tallent pool, thus enabling a cabinet based on skill that will move towards gender equality at the same time.

Louise Livesey // Posted 2 March 2008 at 1:47 pm

Not sure how you think I’m being unfair – Cameron hasn’t made mention of any moves to increase the number of female MPs, just the number of women in “senior” posts. Now given there won’t be any new candidates surely he could just reshuffle his shadow cabinet now so show he’s serious about the commitment.

You do make an important point about the selection of candidates for election – but he’s not suggesting changing that either. Thing is that from the stories I’ve heard from candidates for selection the chance of more female MPs are very very low. Young women are still routinely asked about how being an MP would fit with their husbands career (because being an MP obviously isn’t a career for women), asking about childcare arrangements and potential of having children and the list goes one… One potential candidate was even asked whether she was a lesbian because the questioner noted she was wearing trousers. Now that can be dismissed as ridiculous and more of a comment on him than her – but no-one censured the questioner.

If Cameron is serious about increasing the visibility then why doesn’t he do something rather than just make rather guarded and coded promises? How will he increase the pool of talent? How will he bring selection meetings into the 21st Century? Why doesn’t he promote women now rather than some unspecified time in the future depending on success? As the saying goes, if there is (political) will, then there’s a way…

dan // Posted 2 March 2008 at 2:58 pm

I think he has made attempts to increase the number of female MP’s, his top candidate list that he came up with ages ago, was I think quite evenly split between men and women, one of the problems he faces is the whole organisation of the conservative party. It is actually very democratic and independently minded of the party leadership. As a result, the leadership cannot parachute in candidates, they have to be approved by the local parties, who hate the idea of having candidates fostered on them by outsiders. The local parties themselves do have a high number of female members, the problem is that the local parties do tend to have a very high average age and are very conservative with a small c. Many seem stuck in the past and the world in which they were raised in, which is reflected in their views of men and womens differing roles in society. So while Camerons efforts may be very genuine, in the short term there is not much he can do in the short term. (having outlined in my original reply the problems in chosing a shadow cabinet more evenly split on gender from a parliamentry party that is anything but evenly split)

Roxanne // Posted 2 March 2008 at 9:28 pm

“In the interests of fairness Labour has a cabinet of 29 and 10 (34%) of them are women. Sadly four of those are only in attendance and not full voting members (taking off all non voting members makes it 25%).”

However Welsh Labour in 2003 had a record breaking 63 per cent Labour women AMs, and exactly half of the Welsh Assembly were women. I#m not sure if the figures are still that but they are still very good.

Also Labour have things such as Emily’s List to encourage women into parliament and local government. As a Labour student i attended the Spring Conference this weekend and even though i’m only 20 i was encouraged to get onto the parliamentary lists just in case i became interested later on in actually running. The Labour Women’s Network stall was extremely prominent and well placed and the women staffing it were extremely enthusiastic. The atmosphere made me feel that i could run and win if i wanted to.

Talking about the Tories in the European paliament only one MEP is female and she is retiring this year. She’ll proberbly be replaced by another man. Cameron’s tories are all talk and no actual structures set in place to actually achieve what they claim to want.

dan // Posted 3 March 2008 at 12:23 am

There are structures in place to encourage women in the Tory party, the A-list of candidates I mentioned above for example is a 50/50 split, and there are other organisations encouraging women to get actively involved, Women to Win was the name of one I think, which I imagine is still around. The advantage Labour has is that as a party, it has been organised with much more central control, and so it is easier for the leadership to place the candidates it wants on to seats. This is not the case with the Tories whose system is more democratic but because of is ageing members is more conservative with a small c. What direct action is it people want to see him take? He can’t parachute women(or anyone) into seats easily without upsetting local parties (who are often at least 50/50 women), he cant use all women lists as they are illegal, so all he can do is to make small steps such as the one in the original article. I don’t think he sees it as the end point, merely a step on the way to more equal representation amongst the party, but it will be some time yet before women make up 50percent of any party at Westminister.

Sonia // Posted 3 March 2008 at 8:30 am

Dan, you say all-women shortlists are illegal so Cameron can’t use them, but they are used regularly by the Labour Party, which changed the law so that they could be used ( If Cameron were really dedicated to the idea of increasing the number of women in Parliament, then he would start using them too. It may upset local Tory parties (it upset some local Labour parties), but, no matter how much they long for the 1950s (or 1850s), they need to accept that they live in the 21st century.

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