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Where are the women in the leadership race?

Daisy Peck


On Thursday both female candidates in the Conservative Party Leadership race, Andrea Leadsom and Ester McVey, failed to get through the first round of MPs voting. After Matt Hancock's drop-out and Raab’s elimination yesterday, we are entering the third round with an all male (though lucky not pale and stale) final five line up. This is worlds apart from the 2016 leadership race when two out of the total five candidates were women - and both of them went on to top the ballot. So what's different this time and why does it seem to have gone backwards for Conservative women?


Firstly, we've had a general election since 2016 and we now have 64 female Conservative MPs out of a pool of 314. Whilst that's shockingly only 20% of the parliamentary party (a subject for another blog) it's only four less than we had in 2016 and still works out at the same male:female ratio.


The circumstances of the race, however, are drastically different: this race follows the reluctant resignation of a female Prime Minister who gave an emotionally charged resignation speech after losing the popular support of both her MPs and Party Members. Could the uncomfortable nature of Theresa May's resignation disproportionately have put female MPs off the job? Whilst I genuinely believe Mrs May’s 'men in grey suits' moment was triggered exclusively by her policies and not her pantsuits, the amount of attention the press paid to that one teary moment was probably enough to make female MPs reconsider a life in the limelight.


Another big difference is the scale of the challenge ahead. This time the new PM inherits a minority government, a more divided electorate and two robust opponents in Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage.


We also face the Gordian knot of Brexit. Our next Prime Minister will oversee the biggest 'make or break' moment our Party has had for decades. We know that women in the work place are far less likely to put themselves up for promotion because of a lack of confidence. Could this be another reason why our female MPs were less inclined to step up?


Whatever your take on why female MPs missed the boat this time, I am sure we all agree that we want to see a better ratio of female MPs taking part (and succeeding) next time round. But how can we help? Well, firstly we need more female MPs in parliament; we can do this but supporting organisations such as Women 2 Win and 50:50 Parliament (and of course CYW!)


Next we need to normalise emotions in politics; everyone wants their MP to be caring, so why do we make such a big deal when they care so much? To steal the tag line from Andrea Leadsom's campaign: we need decisive and compassionate leadership. We could learn a thing or two from Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand, her brilliant response to the Christchurch terror attack was an incredible demonstration of how emotions can and should be a powerful tool for a leader. Without her personal brand of compassion, she would never have got global leaders and communities to react so quickly to her calls for tighter internet regulation on terrorist content.


Finally, when it comes to giving female MPs the confidence to put their heads above the parapet, let's not forget that MPs need encouragement too! They don't suddenly become bulletproof when they are elected. If you have a relationship with a female MP, tell her she can do it. It doesn't have to be the leadership… write to her to let her know you think she'd make a great Select Committee Chair, Minister or Secretary of State because you believe she has the necessary skills and passion to do the job and do it well. #askhertolead


Daisy Peck is the CYW Environment Officer and works in public affairs.


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