Politics & Culture

The Conservative Party are failing Female Representation

Rachel Tatam

I’m a woman and I’m a Tory. Shocker. 

Image Credit: Facebook (Julian Sturdy MP)

I care too much to keep silent about that. I’m a Tory Girl in a Private School Boy’s Club and I’ve opened myself up to more abuse than it’s probably worth. Yet it’s up to me, and other women, to fight the stereotype more than ever. The Conservative Party are failing female representation.

My childhood spent in a Conservative safe-seat, Hertford & Stortford, does a lot to explain my politics and I recognise that these beliefs come from a place of privilege. My involvement in the party only grew stronger, however, and the sex divide seemed to run even deeper.

In canvassing for the 2019 General Election, the photographer asked me to stand in the centre. Proudly displaying my blue rosette and gripping Back Boris leaflets, I tried to pretend that I wasn’t uncomfortable. I was their diversity, I was told. If I’m your diversity, a white cisgender straight woman, in a sea of barbour-wearing private school boys … then the party has a problem.

Underrepresentation of females goes beyond my uneasiness at being the token girl. The 2019 election did see the highest number of new female MPs elected – which is promising, right? It is, until you learn that 77% of Labour’s newly elected were female whilst this stood at a mere 32% for the Conservatives. On the whole, this is progress for female political representation. However, for the Conservatives? We’re going backwards.

Back in June 2020, in an online event with Chancellor Rishi Sunak, I asked him what he thought of current female representation in the cabinet and what he’d say to this being discouraging for women entering politics. My question was dodged. Sunak waxed lyrical for Boris Johnson’s BAME cabinet representation – a record for any government – but that wasn’t what I’d asked. Women make up 8 of 33 positions in Johnson’s current cabinet (24%)  and that’s the lowest since the coalition government. 

The way to overturn this systematic sexism? To ensure that females take their place among the political giants making policy decisions? Political engagement at grassroots level.

In a recent election in the University of York Tories, I challenged every male appointment to committee. Irate with the almost blanket exclusion of females, I campaigned and successfully changed the constitution to include a Women’s Officer for the first time in the association’s history. Perhaps it’s trivial but it’s my responsibility to reject grassroots sexism, alter views and pave the way for females in the Conservative Party.
Starting points include Conservative Young Women or the Conservative Women’s Organisation but it’s even easier than that. Debate with those around you. Speak up and change the expectations that women don’t belong in politics. It is my duty as a ‘Tory Girl’ to engage, discuss and campaign in the efforts that Conservative female representation must improve.