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Wednesday, 6 September, 2000, 16:36 GMT 17:36 UK
Party women, Tory style
Packed Commons
Women are scarce in the House of Commons
By the BBC's Becky Milligan

Blair's babes were paraded alongside their new leader Tony after the last election. But it's unlikely the Conservatives will be able to do the same with William's Women.

I don't believe that women should get into parliament or be considered as parliamentary candidates until they are say in their forties and they have made their way and have established their families

Roy Barnes
Female Tory candidates remain a pretty rare breed despite the existence of a mentoring system to coach and encourage women to do better.

None have been selected so far to stand in a safe seat and the shadow minister responsible for womens issues, Theresa May, says that it will be sometime before that situation is reversed.

Motherly attitude

Joan Spiers, chairman of the Reigate Conservative Association in Surrey, does not believe it is right for women to consider a parliamentary career until their children are grown up.

"Babies and children need their mother and the most important thing that any woman does is to rear her children and give her children the security and comfort that only a mother can give," she said.

MP Theresa May
Theresa May sees a long way to go
That view was endorsed by her deputy, Roy Barnes: "I don't believe that women should get into parliament or be considered as parliamentary candidates until they are say in their forties and they have made their way and have established their families.

"I think it's time that women stopped saying what I want, what I need, and instead ask what does my family need, what do my children need? I think women should stop being quite so selfish."

Both Joan and Roy, however, were at pains to point out that although a younger woman would not stand a chance of being selected to be the Conservative candidate in Reigate, an older woman would be considered and perhaps even encouraged.

Parliamentary desire

For the women who want to be selected it is another story. Sheila Gunn is John Major's former press secretary and would love to be an MP.

"Sometimes some of the older members have difficulty understanding how a woman can juggle family and career responsibilities and how it's actually quite commonplace these days.

"But in politics, still, I just think there is a perception the man is in the suit and the wife helps make the teas and pours the wine", she added.

She is on the Conservative party's approved list of candidates. She has been to over 30 contests and has still failed to be selected.

The Conservative party is worried and is trying to find out why women who have got to the final round are still failing to be chosen.

Slow pace of change

Theresa May admits that they have a long way to go.

"Constituency associations jealously guard their right to select a candidate. I think we need to ensure that people who are doing the selection are truly representative of the Conservative vote locally.

"We need to ensure that they understand the job of the member of parliament and that we have more women coming forward. That is a long process its not an instant solution," she explained.

So far, of the Tory 326 seats which have selected candidates no safe ones have gone to a woman, though 25 women have been chosen to stand in target seats in the next election.

Jill Andrew is a lawyer in the city. It is her life's ambition to be an MP and she has been passionate about politics from an early age.

In the 1997 general election she stood in Walthamstow but now she wants to be selected in a safe Tory seat.

She was in the final round at both Henley and Huntingdon. For her, change in the constituency is too slow.

"I would like to think it is going to change more quickly than it appears to be doing at the moment. But whether we are going to see a huge sea change in the immediate foreseeable future, I am a little bit cynical, pessimistic about it."

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See also:

26 Aug 00 | UK Politics
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