Today’s Times reports that the Conservative Party may have had to dilute its plans for a ‘priority candidates list’ of 70 men and 70 women. This, it reports, reflects the fact that "of the 450 hopefuls who have applied for a place on the priority list, only a quarter are women". If the party had not diluted its plans over 60% of the women who have applied for the A-List of parliamentary candidates would have been successful but only 20% of the men. Mr Cameron is attempting to alter the fact that only 8.6% of Tory MPs are women – compared to 27.5% of Labour MPs (as mentioned in today’s Guardian). Francis Maude has said:
"Far too many Conservative MPs are like me: white, middle-class, English, based in the south-east – identikit Tories. And it doesn’t look like modern Britain, where 52% of the electorate are women and 8% are ethnic minorities. If we don’t look like we are capable of representing that 52% of the electorate who are women, we won’t secure their support."
It is not clear how many people will be on the modified priority list but CCHQ fears a very negative reaction from some of the male candidates who are set to be disappointed. One unnamed MP told The Times:
“We are seeing a lot of very, very good men come in for interview and there will not be room for them on the list. It is not that the women are not good too, it is just a fact that it is much easier for them to make it through… For many [males] approaching their forties this is their last chance to become an MP. The danger is they walk away if they don’t make it and we lose dozens of loyal activists.”
Candidates who have attended Priority List interviews have told ConservativeHome.com of very unsatisfactory experiences. Few have been subject to the rigorous testing of competencies that they had anticipated. Some have felt that they were prejudged after their interviewers spent considerable time explaining how restrictive the list was and that there were many alternative ways to serve the party.
On the other side of the table, interviewers have been concerned that many of the women candidates are of insufficient quality and experience. They believe that more time should have been given for initiatives like Women2Win to talent spot and mentor women so that the 50/50 objective could have been achieved without any risk to candidate quality.
The Priority List has always been controversial amongst the Tory grassroots. By 60% to 37% the ConservativeHome Members’ Panel opposes its 50/50 character.
The Guardian reports that big decisions about the Priority List will be taken this weekend and candidates will receive letters about their status after May’s local elections.