Over the weekend, Bristol Conservatives completed the line-up of candidates selected to fight for the city’s four parliamentary seats. Our columnist Charlotte Leslie MP already represents Bristol North West. Civil Engineer Isobel Grant has been picked by Bristol South Conservatives. Cllr Claire Hiscott was selected for Bristol West. Art historian and entrepreneur Theodora Clarke was chosen to fight Bristol East.
The first thing to note is what a strong, varied team they are – bringing experience of local government, business, skilled professions and the arts to the table.
They are, of course, also all female. Amid slight panic about the Conservative Party’s supposed unwillingness to select women as parliamentary candidates (in the FT, Beth Rigby writes that only two women have been selected in the nine seats which male Tory MPs will vacate in 20151), Bristol’s all-female line-up rather jars with the narrative.
It’s also worth noting that while Labour had to resort to an all-women shortlist to select Kerry McCarthy in Bristol East, local Conservative Associations needed no bullying or restrictions to present a platform of entirely female candidates. That is to their credit, and that of the whole party.
The Bristol example is part of a wider success story. Despite the hype, Conservative Associations are on the whole proving meritocratic and open-minded (unless you’re a SpAd seeking selection, but that’s a post for another day). The efforts of Women2Win, who helped and trained all those selected in Bristol, also appear to be paying off. That around a third of candidates in safe or marginal seats are women, and a tenth are members of an ethnic minority, suggests the panic is excessive.
The perception that the Conservative Party lags behind among women is also overblown. Notably, the FT refers to the voting intentions of mothers, not women as a whole – as YouGov reports, there is no overall gender gap among the Tory vote (though there is a gap in some age groups).
We must also bear in mind that diversity in candidates is not just a matter of gender. It is just as heartening to note that Isobel Grant, for example, is an engineer as it is to note that she is a woman.
What people do, where they are from, how much (or how little) money they have and what they think are all matters in which we would benefit from having a more diverse range of candidates and MPs.
In Rigby’s FT article, she doesn’t just mention gender – she lumps in “eurosceptic” and “independent-minded” along with “male” as though those characteristics are over-represented at the moment. Far from it: it was not so long ago that being out of step with the leadership was branded as crusty and unattractive, at odds with what the party required. Parliament is still far less eurosceptic than the electorate at large, so the selection of more eurosceptics is simply correcting a previous lack of representation.
If we want greater diversity of candidates – and we should, if we hope to appeal as widely as possible – then we must encourage and embrace it in all its forms.