Adam Wildman is Deputy Chief of Staff for the GLA Conservatives and a local Conservative candidate for Bexley council. He writes in a personal capacity.
Throughout this general election campaign, female parliamentary candidates have had a more prominent profile than in previous elections. Of those Conservative seats that became available due to the retirement of the previous MP, half have now selected a female candidate, including Kemi Badenoch in Saffron Walden, Gillian Keegan in Chichester and Julia Dockerill in Hornchuch and Upminster.
In total, 30 of the Party’s 70 targets are being contested by women. During the 2015 general election, approximately one fifth of our MPs were women, the progress made in this election will ensure that the Party begins to approach parity with Labour in terms of female representation.
The selection and election of these “May’s Maidens”, as some have termed them, may see the Party approach Tony Blair’s record of electing over 100 female MPs in 1997. This is clearly to be welcomed, since the Conservative Party has not always been so good at selecting women MPs. When the Prime Minister was first elected in 1997, there were only 16 other female MPs in the Party. The progress we as a party have made on this is something to be proud of.
This increase in diversity did not happen by chance. It is partly down to CCHQ and local associations adopting a more inclusive approach, but it is also in part due to the tenacious campaigning of Women2Win. This group, founded by Baroness Jenkin and Theresa May in 2005, aims to increase the number of Conservative women in Parliament and in public life. It identifies, prepares and mentors female candidates for office. The success of this initiative should not be underestimated, and it has had a hand in the training of the majority of those female candidates now up for election. Women2Win, it is fair to say, has been a resounding success.
But despite the Party making great strides in selecting more female parliamentary candidates, we have not done so well in including those from other demographics (in particular those from a poorer background). In fact, on many measures, the Party performs poorly on inclusion and diversity when compared to all other major parliamentary parties.
Research from the Commons Library shows that, of those Tory MPs elected in 2015, about half went to private school, 30 per cent went to Oxbridge and 25 per cent went to other Russell Group universities. Only 34 per cent of those elected in 2015 went to a comprehensive school, despite roughly three-quarters of the population attending comprehensives as a whole. Furthermore, there are only four cabinet members that attended a comprehensive school, and almost all of the cabinet attended a Russell Group university.
It is a similar picture when one analyses the prior careers of MPs. Of the 2015 group of Conservative MPs, 32 per cent were from the professions (half of whom were lawyers), 44 per cent were from a business background and 23 per cent were from political backgrounds. Only one per cent of MPs in our party were once manual workers, which compares unfavourably to Labour, where seven per cent of MPs were once manual workers.
For a political party that now, perhaps more than ever, asserts its ‘One Nation’ credentials and considers itself to be the champion of the ‘Just About Managing’, this is simply not good enough. Perhaps it is time that the Party builds upon the successes of Baroness Jenkins, and creates a new organisation tasked with increasing the representation of those from poorer backgrounds within the Conservative Party: a ‘WorkingClass2Win’ if you will.
This organisation, which would complement and work alongside Women2Win, should target both men and women. It should also seek to promote and mentor those Conservative activists and supporters that attended comprehensive schools, studied at lower ranked universities and came to politics from careers currently underrepresented within the Party.
During her victory speech, on the steps of Number 10, Theresa May pledged to be a ‘one nation’ Prime Minister. While our rhetoric and policies certainly match this commitment, our MPs do not reflect the picture of the nation as a whole. To be the ‘workers party’ as some suggest, we need more parliamentary candidates from poorer, disadvantaged and underrepresented backgrounds. A new ‘WorkingClass2Win’ could help to achieve this aim.