Tory Women have success in candidate selection for ‘Boys Club’

11 Min Read
Tory women succeed in 'Boys Club' candidate selection

Tory Party Chairman Richard Holden (Alamy)

7 minutes reading

Female Tory candidates claim they have been left out in the last-minute rush to fill vacancies, claiming Rishi Sunak’s allies were overseeing a ‘jobs for the boys’ operation.

The party worked under emergency rules to select candidates for 160 seats nationwide in preparation for the July 4 general election. During the process, local associations were offered a shortlist of three drawn up by Conservative Campaign headquarters, or one person was put forward by the party in the final hours before the candidate list closed. The deadline was Friday at 4 p.m.

In Downing Street were James Forsyth, Sunak’s political secretary, and Rupert Yorke, Deputy Chief of Staff Number 10, who PoliticsHome understands oversaw a “pre-selection” of which individuals could go where in the selection process.

“The boys’ club is alive and well. If they don’t like you, you won’t even be in the mix for the candidate committee,” said a woman who lost in a selection.

From there, CCHQ’s Candidate Committee was formed – a group of eight people, three of whom were PoliticsHome We have been told they are women – decided on the formal shortlist.

Emily Sheffield, who was seeking a seat and happens to be the sister-in-law of Foreign Secretary David Cameron, has been publicly critical of the process, asking questions on X, the social media website formerly known as Twitter: “ Where are the women deciding who gets on these lists?”

Nadine Dorries, the former culture minister, went one step further, writing that “the number of female candidates coming through and winning a seat is so low it resembles the 1950s” and using the hashtag #jobsfortheboys.

A number of Conservative women, albeit anonymously, have expressed the same sentiment and are concerned about the party’s response.

Why should women be encouraged to volunteer for unwinnable seats?

In the last parliament the Conservatives had the lowest percentage of female MPs at just 25 per cent, while at the last general election just over half of Labor MPs (52 per cent) were women – and there are fears among Tory women that this could get even worse.

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Greg Hands, as party chairman last September, said this ConservativeHouse half of all Conservative Party candidates at the next election should be women.

However, Women2Win, the Tory campaign group set up by former Prime Minister Theresa May and Baroness Anne Jenkin to encourage women into politics, expects around 30 per cent of Conservative candidates to be women in this election. PoliticsHome understands. A small number of selections had yet to be finalized at the time of writing. Meanwhile, almost half (47 percent) of Labor candidates are women.

One Tory woman, who was placed in the bottom three of a selection, said: ‘There are a lot of people who feel the same way. What you ended up with is a lot of male villains (Special Advisors) or guys with connections to Number 10 who made it into the final or safer shortlists. It has been brutal.”

Another claims that “it seemed like some people were allowed to get on the candidate list at the last minute, which doesn’t seem particularly fair to me.”

A woman who missed the selection told the story PoliticsHome: “Number 10 boys and displaced male MPs have implemented the new rules quite well. Why should women be incentivized to volunteer for things that can’t be won, while men end up on shortlists for safe places?

Former minister Nadine Dorries has publicly criticized the Tory Party's candidate selection process (Alamy)

Her main complaint is that women were encouraged to stand in Conservative ‘unwinnable seats’, while ‘displaced’ male MPs – hit by border changes or on ‘chicken runs’ to safer seats – and men working in Number 10, stood in a route were sent to more secure seats.

There is a feeling that as the deadline for selection approached, CCHQ attempted to correct the lagging figures at the last minute by placing women in no-hopers.

“Women have ignored the safer seats that have been opened up, but are concerned that they would not fill all the vacancies that women were called upon to fill in the unwinnable ones,” said a female Tory figure, who suggested that when the candidate selection takes place, many women will not run for office again because they feel they have been treated so poorly this time.

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The frustration is echoed in Women2Win, with claims that women were pushed to stand for office in Labor Party-dominated constituencies such as Hackney North and Stoke Newington in North London, or Liverpool Riverside, and “were left in those unwinnable areas pushed”.

Meanwhile, in Stratford-on-Avon, the old seat of former Chancellor Nadhim Zahawi, who had a majority of 19,972 in 2019, former MP Chris Clarkson was elected after announcing last year that he would not contest his seat of Heywood and Middleton in 2019 with a majority of 663. The shortlist included Clarkson, Declan Lyons from Number 10 and a local woman.

The Conservative group leader of Stratford-on-Avon District Council has also accused the party of overlooking women in the selection process.

Sarah Whalley-Hoggins told the BBC: “I am appalled by the way female candidates and potential candidates have been treated throughout this process and across the country. The best female candidates have been left out of the shortlists.

“I would like to know how many women were involved in assigning candidates to the seats. High caliber candidates are overlooked for a reason. I’m tired of women being treated so shabbily.”

They are jealous, but it is part of politics and politics is cruel

As one female former Tory MP said PoliticsHome: “The boys are trying to mess around.”

However, another female Tory figure said attempts to build a squad or parachute in a candidate do not always work in the men’s favour. Using the example of South Northamptonshire, they claimed that the party high command wanted Festus Akinbusoye as its candidate, but in the end it was Sarah Bool who secured the candidacy.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak campaigns in Redcar (Alamy)

Despite criticism of the emergency rules allowing the parachuting of men, the same woman said it helps get impressive women straight onto the final shortlist who would sometimes get in the way of local politics – “where there are almost no women” -.

She claimed that the party’s “best women” are based in London, and that the rules the party is using to select candidates in this general election will make it easier for them to reach the final shortlists in constituencies they do not come from . “If the local guy, our Bob or our Jack, who is normally on the council, gets a chance, he can pack the room and get the bums in seats that work for him,” she said.

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This ‘jobs for the boys’ approach is nothing new, she says, ‘every year you see guys trying to help their friends – in 2019 it was Dougie Smith’, but ‘often it doesn’t work for them’.

For example, she says: “I’m sure (Michael) Gove lobbied for Henry Newman (his spad) to get into the final of Bexhill and Battle”, even though he failed to do so and ran against former MP Dr . Kieran Mullan, who was elected in 2019 for Crewe and Nantwich with a smaller majority of 8,508.

One of the problems in general is that, as another female former Tory MP shared PoliticsHome“many women don’t really want to stand this time.”

They report that, with the abuse mainly targeting female candidates and the general election approaching, there are women who should apply for selection but do not: “Many women will have thought it is too late. Guys never think that. The boys always think they deserve it, and that they are entitled to it.”

One older Tory woman, however, does not have much sympathy: “Those who complain are usually not the most talented.”

She suggests that these people will not last long in Westminster if they hold grudges.

“People rightly ask, ‘Why not me?’ They are jealous, but it is part of politics and politics is cruel.”

This was said by a spokesperson for the Conservative Party PoliticsHome: “The Conservative party is committed to building a party that reflects the whole country. Associations across the country have had the opportunity, according to our selection process, to select candidates who best reflect their constituency.”

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