Uh oh. The ‘all-women shortlist’ is again being touted as a good idea for the Conservatives, this time by Nicky Morgan, the new women’s minister. When asked about using shortlists to increase the number of female MPs, she told a Mumsnet chat: ‘I do think the big issue is we just aren’t getting enough women coming forward (which is an issue for all Parties). I think we need to see where we end up in 2015 and if we are still struggling to get more women MPs then no option is off the table.’ In response, a senior Conservative has said that quotas are ‘categorically not an option’.
Why can’t people like Morgan see that an all-women shortlist (or any form of social engineering) is a bad idea? It is women who end up looking weak and incapable each time it is discussed. The fact that the position of Minister for Women exists, without a corresponding Minister for Men, already stinks of sickly sweet patronisation. Calling for a pro-female bias only makes matters worse.
There should be more women in parliament, but like Morgan says, not enough female candidates are coming forward. Time, not positive discrimination, will change this. At present, 16% of Conservative MPs are women, compared to 33% of Labour MPs. This looks bad, until you consider that Labour brought in all-women shortlists in 1997.
But take a look at the percentages of female Tory MPs over the past century. In 1918, 0% of MPs were women; 16% in 2014 is progress. For the 2015 election, 30% of Tory candidates are female. Progress may not be as fast as we’d like, but it is happening, without the need for social engineering.
Sexual inequality has all but reversed in Britain in recent years, and girls routinely outperform boys at school and university. Why can’t we wait for the effects of this to reach Westminster? Much better to play the long game, and support a meritocracy rather than a mediocracy. I have absolutely no doubt that my generation of women will have the confidence to run the country – so let’s not rush things.