My name is Ellie King, and I’m a Bloody Difficult Woman. I’m inspired by Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May, the two female leaders of The Conservative Party and Britain’s only two female Prime Ministers. I’m inspired by Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservatives and responsible for the thirteen Scottish Conservative MPs that now sit in the House of Commons. I’m inspired by Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary; Priti Patel, Secretary of State for International Development; Justine Greening, Secretary of State for Education, and all the other women in the Cabinet. I’m inspired by Baroness Jenkins, co-founder of Women2Win, and all the MPs and candidates involved in this fantastic organisation, including Gillian Keegan MP, and Resham Kotecha.
I’m inspired by all our Councillors, researchers, campaigners, activists, and the many more incredible women I have encountered since I joined the Conservatives in 2015. I’m inspired by all the women past and present who have been on the Warwick Tories exec, and all the women I’ve met over Twitter in the past few months - especially to the six girls who, with me, make up the Bloody Difficult Woman squad.
I could go on for hours listing these women, but my point is, the Conservative Party has an ever-flourishing and growing group of women who will be our future leaders and MPs. And when I paused to think about why this is, and why the Labour Party is yet to produce a female leader despite claiming that they hold the keys to feminism, I realised that it is because being women is not what first and foremost defines us.
The reason I am inspired by all these women is not because they are women. I’m inspired by many men in this world too. It is because they are excellent at what they do. This idea is why the Conservatives have it better when it comes to women in politics: our gender identity does not hold us back, but instead enhances us.
That is why I have a serious issue with the use of All Women Shortlists. Quite recently, Labour announced that in 60% of seats, they would introduce an AWS for the selection process, which guarantees that a female candidate is selected. But it does not guarantee that the best person is selected, regardless of gender. And surely we want our MPs to be the best people, right?
I can see what the AWS’s are trying to do. Only 32% of MPs in the Commons are women, and it is obvious that we need to increase this number - as well as increasing the number of MPs from diverse backgrounds, races, and religions. Guaranteeing that a candidate is a woman is one way of improving this, but to me, it is seriously flawed.
This flaw goes way deeper than simply not selecting on merit. It actually reinforces the division of the sexes: it is making a clear point that the candidates are women, rather than just good. If I was selected on an AWS, I would feel like I wasn’t truly the best person for the job, and only selected because I’m the best woman for the job. There may have been a man out there who was way better than me. The problem is, AWS’s do not let women compete on the same level as men. What AWS’s say is that the Labour Party are not confident enough to believe that a woman would be selected in an ordinary shortlist. You cannot insist that both men and women are equal in their abilities, and celebrate the truly incredible achievements of female politicians, but then give women special treatment for selection.
I’m glad that the Conservative party does not do this. I’m glad that conservative women will always compete on a level playing field. Yes, we definitely need more women in parliament, and I’m so proud of all the incredible schemes and organisations out there that are helping women be the best they can be, such as Women2Win and Conservative Women’s Organisation. They give us the confidence to stand to the best of our ability, and train us in skills that we will need in the future. But when it comes to selection, and choosing leaders, gender is not a factor considered. Sometimes, I don’t even notice that the person I’m going to campaign for is a woman. Sometimes, I forget that the leaders of the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary, are all women. When I think of people who inspire me, like Theresa May or Ruth Davidson, I feel inspired because they are excellent and passionate politicians, not because they are women. But because they are women in such positions of power, it makes me think that maybe I, one day, could do that too.
Because the gender of a candidate is not highlighted, it means we are able to choose who is best. And quite often, that is a woman. They are good, and happen to be women; they are not good because they are women, or vice versa. This is an important mindset for us: it pushes us to be better and better all the time, because we know we are competing against men, not just other women. Ignore the glass ceiling. Concentrate on being a Bloody Difficult Woman. Only then can you truly smash it.