That’s a question I never thought I’d ask. Women shouldn’t need to be patronised by creating a special class of system to run for election. But with the announcement of the Conservative Government’s PPS list yesterday I was shocked to note that only 8 out of 43 appointments were women. That’s a mere 18.6 percent of the list. At 21 percent of the Conservative parliamentary party, women are still too under represented, despite the valiant efforts of our Prime Minister and Baroness Jenkin through Women to Win and similar party efforts to encourage more female candidates. To give the Prime Minister credit where it’s due, out of all of the ministerial and whips positions available to MPs – rather than peers – my (admittedly very rough) estimate is that 25.5 percent of these positions are now held by women, slightly outstripping our representative share of the Parliamentary party without completely depleting our female talent on the select committees.
So where are we going wrong? Does the Conservative party naturally attract fewer women in the first place? Not according to YouGov’s breakdown of the 2017 election, where women broke for the two main parties at 43 percent each. Are Conservative associations naturally disinclined towards selecting women? Not in my experience; when I went for selection as a candidate in 2015 I was in the final four with three men, and the winner of the selection was someone with a considerably larger local connection than my own which was, admittedly, non-existent.
This selection room was one where, anecdotally, you would have expected a woman to do badly; the average age was probably mid 60s, there were more men in the room then women, and yet I found the experience to be educational and enjoyable, and at no point was I made to feel as though my failure to get selected for that seat was because I was a woman. (Incidentally the man who was selected was not only far better qualified for the seat than I was, he also went on to fight the seat in two elections, and will one day be an absolutely stellar Conservative MP. Of this I have no doubt.)
Is it possible that women are not standing because they are worried about the rough-and-tumble of Westminster politics? I like to think we’re made of stronger stuff than that, so I sincerely hope that’s not the reason. Equally, is there a sense that it’s hard to strike a balance between having a family and work life? I know many of my female contemporaries share my view that having children before standing for election would be our preferable outcome, but this is not always possible.
In order to overcome this, the Tories may have to consider adopting a selection system that I have always felt to be patronising to women, namely the all-women shortlist. It could then be imposed on an adequate percentage of winnable seat selections. While this would certainly guarantee us an increase in female representation within the Conservative parliamentary party, would this guarantee us high-calibre candidates?
I’m aware this piece raises more questions than it answers, but shouldn’t we have found more answers to these questions by now?
Lauren McEvatt is the Managing Director of Morpeth Consulting and a former Wales Office Special Adviser. She tweets @LaurenMaeve