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How does the Tory party solve its ‘women problem’?

9 February 2014

It’s a week since Harriet Harman claimed it was ‘raining men’ in the Tory party, and yet the debate still rages about whether the Conservatives have a ‘women problem’. Tory backbencher Tracey Crouch has written a forceful piece for the Mail on Sunday on why she felt Ed Miliband’s intervention at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday was patronising. It’s worth a read, not least because she tries to dispel the myth that women are being turned off Parliament just because it’s rowdy:

‘Some of the loudest and, in some cases, most effective hecklers in Parliament today are women MPs. Even the most unruly Labour men think twice before taking on Conservatives such as Anna Soubry and Claire Perry because they know they will be cut down to size by an even sharper and wittier putdown.

‘And Labour’s Emily Thornberry and Angela Eagle can shout as loud as anyone on the Opposition benches. It seems pretty unreasonable to whinge about that. Equality works both ways. The idea that women can’t hold their own against men in the hurly-burly of political debate is anathema to me. It is nothing to do with chauvinism.’

That some of the best hecklers in the Conservative party are women hasn’t been lost on those trying to co-ordinate the Tory attack at Prime Minister’s Questions: Therese Coffey is one of the ‘beserkers’ recruited for the Prime Minister’s ‘Q-Team’ of backbenchers who bellow insults across the Chamber at Ed Miliband. And in Theresa May, co-founder of Women2Win, the Conservatives have a strong boast of a female Home Secretary who hasn’t just survived but succeeded in one of the toughest jobs in public life.

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Yesterday’s mini-reshuffle following Mark Harper’s departure also saw two women promoted: Karen Bradley from the whips’ office to the Home Office, and Harriett Baldwin from the backbenches to become an assistant whip. This has encouraged those agitating for change in the party that the leadership is listening.

That’s not to say that there isn’t a problem with female representation in the Conservative party. But the problem seems to be as much about supply as it is about retention of female MPs. On Friday I wrote in my Telegraph column that party sources accept that ‘we do not have enough women coming forward in the first place’. CCHQ won’t release the figures for the percentage of people applying to be Conservative candidates who are women, but sources I’ve spoken to since have told me that the figure is just under 30 per cent.

The party’s Women2Win programme gives female candidates a great deal of help, including between four and eight hours of training a week, and practice for hustings, public meetings and selection panels. But if women aren’t coming forward as readily as men to even apply to be candidates, then clearly more needs to be done. And stories about a ‘women problem’ won’t help attract more female candidates, either.

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  • Pankaj Soni

    I have been looking for something like this.
    Kitty Parties for Women

  • Pankaj Soni

    I have been looking for something like this.
    Kitty Parties for Women

  • rtj1211

    Perhaps you should ask the female MPs in the Tory Party right now?

    Clearly, if by telling the truth their careers are derailed, you have all the evidence you need that sexism is alive and kicking!!

  • Smithersjones2013

    That’s not to say that there isn’t a problem with female representation in the Conservative party. But the problem seems to be as much about supply as it is about retention of female MPs.

    If women do not want to be politicians why is it a problem? Men don’t generally want to do nursing for example but no one sees that as a problem?

    Unless this country and particularly women cannot get past what is in effect a concept of gender apartheid all that will happen is society will further become divided along the lines of gender (and it is already divided in many other political promoted ways) because one thing is pretty certain the type of woman who currently put themselves forward as politicians are no bloody good to men (because they seem to be little different to the men they complain so vociferously about)!

    The problem is not one of gender but one of the nature of the political class

  • David Webb

    Why does “more need to be done”? Why should the party target any particular level of female representation? Isabel Hardman is a hardline socialist/egalitarian, working for a supposedly conservative magazine. Women have different interests, and very few women have high IQs – all studies show the female bellcurve much flatter, with few dunces and few geniuses – and so there is no reason to think that there are vast pools of female talent being untapped. Women are consensual by nature, and even at board level, tend to adhere to the consensus, whereas men can and do come up with original ideas. There will always be one or two women like Margaret Thatcher who deserve political leadership, but any society with an equal representation of women in the higher echelons of the state will be a society in decline. Even on the Spectator, I have noticed time and time again the difficulty Isabel Hardman has with standard English and writing grammatically correct copy. I have commented on this in the Comments section before. So fair shares don’t always mean promotion of the talented or the deserving.

    • Rockin Ron

      I don’t think there are any recruitment procedures at The Spectator. It just seems to be Fraser and his mates in a tight, metropolitan bubble. You never see Spectator jobs advertised, so I presume it is just the Old Boys (and now Girls) Network.

  • Hexhamgeezer

    If Labour were truly worried about the proportion of women they should make it a condition of being adopted as a candidate that one should undergo ‘gender reassignment’ if they win. Additionally, perhaps 30% of their Lords should offer themselves up for the scheme. This would surely demonstrate their commitment to the idea of gender balancing and encourage genuine females to apply.

    Any other approach would be complete b0llox.

    • Mike Purves

      So that explains the Eagles!

  • JimmyLinton

    The Tory party doesn’t have a women problem.

    Harman, cooper, reeves, various eagles, etc, etc,

    Now, that’s a women problem!

    • Mike Purves

      Indeed. If Cameron’s problem is the women he doesn’t have, Labour’s problem is the women they do have.

  • Daniel Maris

    It’s a very good line of attack for Labour. They could maybe garner 1-2% off this I think.

    • Colonel Mustard

      But that is all they do. Engage in the politics of dissatisfaction and division. They are the party of barrack room lawyers, trouble makers, busybodies and sh*t stirrers. If you have a grievance, real or imagined (usually the latter) vote for them.

      Look at education. It is not about excellence and aspiration but rather carping about some getting a better education than others and trying to prevent it.

      A negative party for negative people.

      • DWWolds


      • dmitri the impostor

        Mediocrity for all. Dependency for as many as possible. And that, pretty much, is it.

  • Kitty MLB

    Milli fillies, Cameron cuties, rather like Blair babes
    Quite honetly the lot of them token ladies and
    the men are not much better, in fact they are
    all not fit for purpose.

  • ButcombeMan

    “the debate still rages”

    Where exactly?
    Most households outside the bubble could not care less.

    • Daniel Maris

      I think you’re very mistaken. And why do you say “households”? This is an issue for women. It will be seen as symbolic. I think Labour are getting some purchase with this attack.

      • ButcombeMan

        Answer the question then. Outside the bubble?
        it is a silly attack.
        Do you think anyone gives toss among all the other serious issues?
        Remember Jaquie Smith and weep for what the UK was reduced to. Tokenism.
        BBC playing their corrupt games.
        it is not an issue. Capable women will make it, as Thatcher,love her or hate her,proved

      • Lady Magdalene

        I’m a woman and I couldn’t care less whether it is a man or a woman who votes to transfer our Sovereignty to the EU. They’re both despicable.

  • Julieann Carter

    I don’t see there is a problem at all. The Left have decided it is a problem, and the Conservatives appear to be buckling at the knees by the accusation.
    For good measure, (and no doubt solidarity), the BBC have announced a ban on all male panels.
    Not all women are fickle and feel oppressed or unrepresented by an all male front bench. The Conservatives must cede to their supporters preferences, and not those of theirs and ours, ideological opposers. Should they cede under pressure of what is, emotional blackmail; then their supporters will deem them weak and then very likely unmotivated to vote for them.
    Marxist Feminism is anathema to Conservative minded women.
    We want the best! Like Margaret Thatcher & Michael Gove.
    Selecting by ability gives us Margaret Thatchers.
    Selecting via quota gives Labour Diane Abbots.
    There’s no contest. It’s the difference between Renaissance art, and painting by numbers.
    Some of the best critical thinkers happen to be men. And that us what we need.

  • Rockin Ron

    Harriet Harman
    Tracey Crouch
    Anna Soubry
    Claire Perry
    Emily Thornberry
    Angela Eagle
    Therese Coffey
    Theresa May

    Not exactly an encouraging list is it? I mean none of these women have much substance, which is perhaps the biggest turnoff. We want men and women with strong values, a commitment to serve, a love of their nation, a sense of calling, eyes ablaze with refining purpose, determined to make life better for their constituents. This lot do not inspire very much confidence. The article in the Mail on Sunday seems to be saying women are just as good as men at heckling. How underwhelming.

    • 2trueblue

      Of course J Smith, H Blears, were a couple of dubious females in the last parliament.

    • John Lea

      You forgot to mention the political colossus that is Diane Abbott.

  • Alexsandr

    women who a re good will get selected and elected. The rubbish will fall by the wayside. thats how it should be. having quotas and foisting rubbish MP’s on the electorate is a bad idea.

    • HookesLaw

      The problem is all the hoops that people have to go through to get selected. Reading out the list of labour women MPs shows its they who have a woman problem not the tories.

      Of course the real party with the problem is the LDs.

      • Alexsandr

        knock knock
        who’s there?
        lib dems
        lib dems who?

        thats 21st century politics for you.

  • London Calling

    More Women please………..up the chain of command,,,,,,,,,,,bring them out of the woodwork and promote a few…..simple………an all Male front bench is so old school chaps………….:)

  • alabenn

    Get out of the bubble of Westminster, look at the women as seen by people around the country, there is hardly a women in Parliament that looks as though she is capable of running her bath.
    Labour had over a hundred in 97 none amounted to anything and the current crop is even worse, it is hard to be worse than Jacqui Smith, but you can bet they will try their hardest.

  • 2trueblue

    “Millies Fillies” looked embarrassed and so they should. Whatever gave them the idea that it was dignified to be told to pitch up, be dolled up, and sit here dear.

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  • Daniel Maris

    Can we have an example of a “sharp and witty” put down from Anna Soubry. Because I don’t believe one exists.

    • Kitty MLB

      Oh yes she is the woman who is suppose to be like
      Thatcher_yet no wit I am afraid.
      She does seem to get worked up about Nigel Farage
      a little too often though.

      • Daniel Maris

        Soubry’s a Belgian name…and Nigel’s roots are in Belgium…it’s probably personal.

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