Cameron’s continuing quest for female candidates

Published by ConservativeHome

women_mpsIt’s always good to clear out the garage or purge the attic of junk, detritus, bad memories and dead wood. There’s something therapeutically cathartic about rationalising a crowded space and establishing a new order. The only potential hazard is the sort of over-zealous purgation which hastily discards a lifetime of faded boxes you never thought you’d need, only to realise, years later, they actually contained treasures and photographs, yellow with years but utterly unique and irreplaceable. Today’s surplus and dispensable can be tomorrow’s necessary, valued and very much desired.

A year ago, Tim Montgomerie reported that CCHQ had embarked upon a mass culling of the Approved List of Candidates. That’s okay: politics isn’t fair, as David Cameron said to Patrick Mercer. And so hundreds of parliamentary hopefuls (not to say loyal Party volunteers) were summarily struck off following a 45-minute interview with ‘senior party workers’ which purported to measure such qualitative criteria as ‘manner and attitude’, the ‘ability to relate to people’, and ‘commitment to inclusion and diversity’. Despite every one of these Party members having already passed (and paid for) a comprehensive, thorough, day-long Parliamentary Assessment Board (PAB), and having unequivocally established their unwavering commitment to the Party and conservative values (not, of course, always the same thing), they were judged to be somehow deficient, and so eradicated.

The cleansing was wholly ethnic (ie white) and the overwhelming majority of those removed were male (ie 97%). There were a few exceptions, perhaps most notably the case of Annunziata Rees-Mogg (aka Nancy Mogg), whose sorry plight occupied the pages of the Mail on Sunday for a couple of weeks, with her brother elegantly (as he does) proclaiming:

“The attitude of Central Office is shameful… I think my sister has been treated disgracefully by an unjust procedure that brings the party into disrepute. Traditionally the Candidates’ department was well run by an experienced MP and senior members of the voluntary party. It is now run by arrogant, discourteous apparatchiks.”

Jacob is right about ‘traditionally’, and also about ‘arrogant, discourteous apparatchiks’. I doubt he’d have made past two modernising assessors on ‘manner and attitude’ or the ‘ability to relate to people’. He had the audacity to criticise Carlyn Chisholm, the current Chairman of the Candidates’ Committee, for her ‘poor manners’. He’s right about that, too.

So it’s more than a little odd, having offloaded a very able and gifted woman like Annunziata, that last week (17th November) Carlyn Chisolm sent out an email to all female Conservative councillors asking them to consider a career in Parliament. She wrote:

Subject: Email from Carlyn Chisholm, Chairman of the Candidates Committee

Dear Cllr Mrs. *******

Have you ever thought about becoming a Conservative Member of Parliament?

The purpose of this letter is to ask you to consider it. When David Cameron became Leader of the Party, he made it very clear that the Party had to change to better reflect our society. Huge strides have been made over the past five years and it was fantastic to see our largest ever intake of women MPs elected in 2010 – but we want to go further.

You are, I am sure, enjoying the rewarding work of being a councillor whether you are a group leader, a portfolio holder or a backbencher. You are able to command respect locally and win over people who may not be Conservative supporters. Many of our councils would simply not be able to function without the army of women councillors the length and breadth of the country!

The work of a Member of Parliament is very demanding, the hours are long but it is a vocation like no other. It is a huge privilege and responsibility to serve this great nation of ours and to play a part in our Government as we work to put the country back on its feet after thirteen ruinous years of Labour government. Our leaflet, “A Guide to becoming a Conservative MP”, is available on request. If you feel that you would like to pursue this, we would arrange for you to have an informal chat with someone from your Regional Office team and then you would be recommended for a PAB (Parliamentary Assessment Board). Once you were on the Approved List, you would take on a wider campaigning role and be ready to apply for seats for the 2015 General Election.

Please think carefully about this. If you would like to discuss it further or make an application, I or one of the team will be happy to talk it through with you, either in person or on the telephone. If, however, you feel that the time is not right for you or you would prefer to stay as a councillor, thank you for considering it – but our door is always open!

I look forward very much to hearing from you and thank you for all that you are doing for your council and local residents. If you are interested, please email us including where you are a Councillor.

Yours sincerely,
Chairman of the Committee on Candidates

I don’t know about you, but I’ve met some ghastly councillors (of both genders) who would (I imagine) score very poorly indeed on ‘manner and attitude’. Quite why women are deemed to be more capable than men ‘to command respect locally and win over people who may not be Conservative supporters’ is something of a mystery. Surely we need the most winsome of both genders. But this appeal is also bizarre because it wasn’t so long ago that David Cameron was inviting (indeed, preferring) applications from people with non-political backgrounds: independent-minded individuals like headteachers or business leaders with no previous links to party politics.

And there are quite a few misleading procedural certainties in this email which merit a little scrutiny. Carlyn Chisolm talks of women councillors having an ‘informal chat with someone from your Regional Office team’. She follows this with: ‘you would be recommended for a PAB’, and continues ‘Once you were on the Approved List…’. There isn’t the merest hint of any conditional ‘if you are successful at that round’ or ‘should you pass a PAB…’ (with an indication of cost). And, perhaps most disingenuously, she then talks of these women being ‘ready to apply for seats for the 2015 General Election’.

It’s all apparently as easy as learning your ABC. The reality, however, is that the 2015 General Election is unlikely to see any sizable influx of new Tory blood, even of those privileged to possess the XX chromosome. With extensive boundary reviews and many highly-experienced MPs fighting among themselves to be selected as 650 MPs are reduced to 600, you’ll probably be able to count on one hand the number of newcomers in the 2015 intake. So, with about a third of the current Approved List already constituted of women, why head-hunt 100s more? And why, in particular, from local government?

Priti Patel MP has made it known that she felt ‘used’ by the Candidates Department, whom she accused of manoeuvring her into numerous interviews so they could tick two diversity boxes – ‘Asian’ and ‘female’. And that is precisely what Carlyn’s letter is about. Very few of the women approved and selected as a result of this appeal will win the seats they contest: this is about perpetuating the appearance of change, and so an abuse of those who already dedicate countless hours and joules of energy to the Party. This is nothing but a crass and desperate attempt to engineer the gender composition of the Approved List: Carlyn Chisolm wants parity, and she will doubtless be rewarded with a peerage for manoeuvring and manipulating to achieve that particular diversity objective.

But this letter is not only an insult to the hundreds of men on the Approved List: it is a slap in the face to our male councillors whose contribution to the Party is every bit as vital to the Conservative cause. Further, it is confirmation of a departure from candidate diversity in terms of socio-economic status and professional disposition, because the recipients will be of certain financial means, social status and (not to put it too bluntly) age. And I cannot but wonder how the radiant Annunziata Rees-Mogg might feel about it all, though I have no doubt she will have been advised to keep her head down, enjoy her time with little Isadora (aka Izzy Mogg), and wait until transient CCHQ staff (and/or the Party Leader) have moved on. She also has an additional £80 a year to spend on Pampers.

Carlyn Chisholm said: “As a woman I ensured all female candidates got a fair review.” I would suggest, as a Conservative, she ought to ensure that all candidates and ex-candidates are treated equally, fairly, and respectfully: they are as valuable to the Party today as they were yesterday. It is insensitive in the extreme to tell one undoubtedly committed and energetic woman that she is deficient in ‘energy and commitment’ (without any kind of appeal), and then seek to open the Approved List of Candidates to a plethora of women who may be somewhat lacking in other areas. Especially if it’s simply to fulfil the preferment objectives of the Party Leader.


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