The Times launches a strong attack on David Cameron's alleged failure to change the "male-dominated" Conservative Party this morning. "Women take a back seat in Cameron's Tory Party" is the main front page splash. A leader on page 2 says "David Cameron needs to do more to promote Conservative women." A two page spread on pages 16 and 17 explains "How Cameron's conference stage has become a women-free zone." The story is illustrated with a cleverly cropped photograph from Cheltenham with David Cameron surrounded by men on the conference stage. While it's true that the shadow cabinet is male-dominated The Times is misleading readers in using expressions like "women free". As Jonathan Isaby's photo below shows there were four women on stage with David Cameron in Cheltenham: Cheryl Gillan, Theresa May, Theresa Villiers (obscured but just sat behind William Hague) and Caroline Spelman.
I do not want to pretend that David Cameron has completely transformed female representation in the Conservative Party but The Times is being unfair to him. If the Tories win a majority at the next election there'll be 50 to 60 Tory women MPs (many more if we win a large majority). That's a big improvement on now. He has promoted women to his top team – arguably too quickly in some cases. Pauline Neville-Jones and Sayeeda Warsi were put in the Lords and into his shadow cabinet. Neither were at Cheltenham. Maria Miller and Justine Greening are doing well as more junior frontbenchers and could be promoted at any time. Nadine Dorries MP is a hot tip to join CCHQ soon. David Cameron aspires for one-third of his ministers to be women (an aspiration ConHome dislikes).
The most important thing during these challenging times for the nation is that David Cameron appoints the most able people to the top jobs in his team. If you are wanting competence and ability to be the top criteria (and they should be) it is difficult to quarrel with the rapid promotions he has given the likes of Michael Gove, Greg Clark, Chris Grayling and Nick Herbert. These are big brained stars of the future. The two women in the Tory team that most impress me are Pauline Neville-Jones on security and Theresa Villiers for carving out a distinctive transport policy. Now back at local government, after a rocky time as Chairman, Caroline Spelman is beginning to perform well again. Sayeeda Warsi is good in the media but otherwise yet to prove herself worthy of such a massive appointment two years ago. Theresa May at Work & Pensions has one of the most important jobs in David Cameron's team. Cheryl Gillan at Wales is difficult to assess.
In the long-term I hope David Cameron will continue to appoint on merit. Otherwise he'll have his Jacqui Smith-type problems. And, in the medium term, there is a lot of cause for encouragement about Tory women. PPCs such as Louise Bagshawe, Harriett Baldwin, Karen Bradley, Angie Bray, Lorraine Fullbrook, Rebecca Harris, Margot James, Andrea Leadsom, Priti Patel, Laura Sandys, Phillippa Stroud… [I could go on] are going to make fine Tory MPs… and, I hope, ministers.