Can the Conservatives achieve 50:50 representation on their candidates list and use it as a path to increasing female involvement in the party?
The only female Prime Ministers that this country has ever seen have both hailed from the Conservative party. Currently, women make up thirty percent of the approved candidates list, and twenty percent of our Members of Parliament. Wales has never even had a female Conservative MP before. It’s about time we upped our game across the board.
More female members. More female candidates. More female MPs.
The party’s announcement in August of plans to achieve 50:50 representation on the candidates list is a welcome one. It’s a step towards increasing female participation across the party.
It is an ambition, a target, a goal — but most importantly, it is not a quota.
We do not believe in all women shortlists.
We do not believe you should achieve a position solely because of your gender.
What we do believe is that the party and our Members of Parliament should reflect the country.
What we do believe is that we can take positive action to help this happen.
There has been a boys club in politics since day one. It’s about time we had a girls club.
The party has changed for the better but we still have a long way to go. In 2005, we had only 17 female Conservative MPs, in 2010 we had increased to 48 female MPs.
Brandon Lewis acknowledged in his speech at the Policy Exchange in August that “this is not an easy ambition”. He announced three initiatives to help achieve this goal.
1.Conservative councils are being told to work on promoting parental leave policies — both maternity and paternity leave.
Currently only 4% of councils have any formal parental leave policy. In September, the issue of how to improve parental leave at Westminster will be debated in the House of Commons. Women are disproportionately impacted in circumstances where there isn’t accurate child care and maternity provisions.
2. The Young Conservatives group within the party will include a new Young Women’s Network.
As a young female conservative from an ‘unconventional’ background, I know the importance of getting more young women into the party. We cannot change the party’s image without them. We certainly cannot achieve this 50:50 ambition without them. We can never achieve a 50:50 candidates list until we increase female membership within the party.
3. A new networking scheme of mentors with opportunities for women to shadow female councillors and MPs. This is the kind of ‘girl’s club’ we need.
At some stage, every young female conservative has been asked the patronising question of whether they are really sure they are a Conservative. The left claim they have a monopoly on young people in general but particularly with young women. Even Harriet Harman repeatedly tries to claim the Prime Minister is not a “sister”. The best way to rebuke this claim is to show its falsity by increasing female participation across the board within the party, but particularly with candidates. If we increase female membership across the board, we can encourage more women to become interested in applying to be candidates and we can tackle the pipeline issue.
Women typically take between six and twelve months longer than their male counterparts to make the decision to apply. A primary reason for this is the issue of financing — women are more reluctant to spend ‘family finance’ on their political pursuits. Another is the difference of mindsets. Women typically have to be tapped on the shoulder and encouraged to stand for public office — a fact which inspired the #AskHerToStand campaign. Whereas men are more likely to set out with the ambition from an earlier age. If you know a woman with the skills and experience for public office, or who could be encouraged towards that path, then tap her on the shoulder.
Female MPs positively influence policy in areas such as women’s health care, education advancements and parental leave policies. How can you decide policies that are going to influence the everyday lives of women without their involvement? With more female MPs, we would be giving a generation of girls an entire group of role-models to inspire them to follow in their footsteps.
We cannot underestimate the importance of showing the party’s openness to potential female candidates. We’re fortunate to have organisations such as the Conservative Women’s Organisation which supports female members and Women2Win which offers support and mentoring through the candidate selection stage and post-selection. As the Prime Minister herself acknowledges, “for some, Women2Win made the difference between them being an MP and not being an MP”.
What the party is planning to bring forward is positive action and not any sort of quota style program such as all women shortlists.
In the United States the Democrats are experiencing a wave of female candidates running for office, which has seen them run a “the future is female” campaign, and hopefully we could soon see this trend on our side of the Atlantic.
Only time will tell.
(Authors Note: this piece was originally published in August 2018 on medium, and has been edited for this website)