Thursday, December 08, 2005

Tory Women

David Cameron used part of his first speech as Tory leader to moan about the fact his party was still represented in the Commons by a cohort that was 90% male. My first hope from this is that his desire to see it changed will not lead to all-women shortlists. They are anti-democratic and discriminatory, and it was one of the most pleasing moments of the 2005 election night to see Peter Law elected by a massive margin in Blaenau Gwent against the Labour Party's parachuted-in female hack.

The problem in the short term, though, is that it will probably mean Theresa May and Caroline Spelman keep their frontbench jobs. I can't see any justification for this, other than the fact they are women - the same principle that keeps Patricia Hewitt and Tessa Jowell in the Cabinet. Surely this isn't what the feminists mean by equality? The problem that faces the Tories is that far too many of the MPs that they do have do not pull their weight, or simply aren't up to much. May's uselessness was highlighted when she failed to land a single punch on Stephen Byers at the height of his unpopularity.

This generation of Tory women simply don't have the calibre of the previous generation, which threw Thatcher, Virginia Bottomley and Gillian Shepherd. Maybe the latter two weren't the most effective people in the Commons, but they certainly inspired more confidence than May and Spelman. The Tories need to find more candidates of quality, whether male or female. It may well be that the selection procedure doesn't allow quality to shine through. Where it is found, of course, success usually follows. Justine Greening, who overturned a majority in Putney significantly larger than the national swing to the Tories, because she put the effort in to spend time canvassing in the constituency every weekend for two years before the election.

If there are more female candidates like her, the Tories need to find them, and fast. But if getting more women in the Parliamentary party means more people like May and Spelman, I'd say they need fewer women representing them.