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May: The Conservative Party needs more women

Speech to the Adelaide Group, a 750 strong group of senior business women

"Increasingly, in recent times, the big political debates of the day have shifted from what the Americans sometimes call 'daddy issues' --- like the economy and defence --- to what they call 'mummy issues' --- things like the public services and welfare policy.

People today are less concerned about rampant inflation, mass unemployment, and nuclear war --- and far more concerned by the state of our schools and hospitals --- the balance they are able to strike between work and home life --- and the struggles they have raising their children and looking after their elderly parents.

As a result, politics is more than ever about individual people and families and what government can do for them.

It is about making a difference to their day to day lives.

The job of political parties is not to own particular issues and policies and to reject others.

Our job is instead to offer competing sets of values, and to apply those values to finding practical solutions to people's problems, whatever they may be."

She went on to say

"I think the Conservative Party needs more women.

We need more women candidates, more women MPs, and more senior female faces on television, on the radio and in the newspapers.

Why?

Five reasons.

Firstly women make good Mps. Their skills of listening, and delivering are ideally suited to what an MPs role increasingly requires.

Secondly, if we are seeing a shift of salience in British politic to a feminisation - a less macho form of politics, a move away from the ya-boo tone, the car bore obsession with mind-numbing details, and the focus on traditional, big political issues that characterise the old macho approach - then surely it makes sense to have more women MPs.

Third, a party seeking the most talented and able candidates should not ignore 50% of the population and their talents.

Fourth, women have different experience sets to men - they know first-hand about things that most men don't.

The same goes for all the other under-represented groups in politics - they all possess valuable experiences that are unique to them.

It is a fact that any organisation that has its decision-making dominated by a narrow group of people who think the same way and have the same set of background and experiences will, over time, take decisions that are less good than an organisation that embraces much greater degree of diversity.

That's why the more diversely we are constituted as a party, the better decisions we will take.

Finally, and perhaps fundamentally, we need more women to vote for us, but as things stand, the modern Labour Party is far better than we are at speaking the language of the woman voter.

They are better at focusing on the kind of issues that matter disproportionately to women.

And they are better at avoiding the kind of excessively adversarial and negative tone that we know disproportionately turns off women.

We used to be the party of the woman voter - the housewives' choice - and every election we have won since the war has been on the basis of a majority of the female vote.

At the 1992 General Election, for example, the Conservative Party held a 10 per cent lead over Labour among women voters.

In 1997, Labour led the Conservatives among women by 12 points.

That was a 22-percentage-point swing from Conservative to Labour among women over just one parliament.

We have yet to win them back. Failing to do so will mean continuing electoral failure

Most starkly, we seem to have entirely lost the support of young women.

These young women represent the aspirational career women and the young mothers whose priorities should be perfectly aligned with the principles and aims of the Conservative Party.

These women want the freedom to live their lives and balance their families and careers exactly as they choose.

Nothing could fit in better with the ethos of a modern Conservative Party.

And yet too many of them today regard as the Party that disapproves of their choices and that thinks they should be staying at home.

Labour are supposed to be the bossy ones --- the ones with a rigid blueprint for society --- not the Tories.

How did it ever come to this?!

However it happened, our only hope is to win back their support - and to be not just the housewife's choice once more, but the career woman's choice, the working mother's choice, and the ambitious young female's choice too.

By selecting more women to represent us, and by promoting more women to senior leadership positions we will deal with these problems faster and more effectively than if we wait for men to come up with all the answers.

It won't just happen overnight. We need to make it happen.

The Conservative Party, its leadership, and a potential Conservative government is the product we need people to buy.

And our local candidates are our most direct link with our target market.

They are our faces and voices in towns and cities across the country.

If they look old fashioned and out of touch, so do we.

But I don't want to impose anyone on individual seats.

After all, the local candidate is both product and salesman, because our system means that if people are to 'buy' us they must do it by 'buying' our candidates.

As a result, just as the candidate is the salesman for the Conservative Party, so the local Conservatives are essentially the sales team for the candidate.

And we need them to be enthused by what they are attempting to sell. So of course we should maintain local involvement in the selection of candidates.

But that mustn't mean that our best and most talented candidates are left on the shelf or, at best, put on sale in seats where we have little or no chance of winning.

In order to present the Conservative Party in the best possible light in the increasingly important local market place we need to ensure that we employ the best possible quality of candidates.

That's why I believe the Conservative Party needs an A-List - a list of the top say 100 candidates it has identified as best able to fight and win the top 100 most winnable seats.

We should use the time and space we have now to identify the 100 best Conservative candidates in the country.

These would be the 100 people we would like to see more than anyone else in the House of Commons.

To me, this is part of the Conservative Party's responsibility to offer the British people the best possible alternative to the Labour Government, and if that means a compromise of the autonomy of local associations then that's how it has to be.

But this alone is not enough.

Within our top 100 there should be a clear commitment to diversity --- of ethnicity, sexuality, background, geography, and age --- in short, diversity of life experiences.

And, specifically, 50 of them should be men and 50 should be women.

Now some people don't like these kind of gender-specific targets.

Either they believe it patronises women who would reach the top without a leg up.

Or they think it threatens to dilute the quality of candidates we offer by shoehorning in women who are not up to the job.

Well I think there is nothing patronising about making the professional judgement that we will win more seats, attract more support, take better decisions, and, ultimately, form a better government, if we have a more even split of male and female faces running our party.

And as for those who say we would risk diluting the quality of our candidates and MPs …

What planet are you on?!

Do you seriously believe that the Conservative Party cannot find 50 females of the highest quality to stand as candidates at the next election?

If we cannot find 50 grade-A, top-class women who want to offer themselves to the British people as Conservative candidates at the next election then we should probably all give up now!

I have no desire to impose particular candidates on particular seats through central diktat.

But I also believe we have to be idealists, and sometimes it takes a bit of force to turn our ideals into reality.

Andrew Lansley and I originally raised this proposal after the General Election defeat in 2001.

It was an idea I returned to during my time as Party Chairman.

There were some valid practical objections to its introduction then, half way through a Parliament, when many of our candidates had already been selected.

And of course there will still be practical issues involved in such a seismic shift in the way we select our candidates.

But I firmly believe this is remains a crucial aim, and it is now or never for the Conservative Party to make it happen."

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