I have to confess a sneaky admiration for the tactical skill of David Cameron in announcing that a handful of parliamentary selections will be ring-fenced for women candidates only.
The Tory blogosphere is up-in-arms, particularly the sections of it who are boys who fancy their chances of becoming Tory MPs. I always find it a bit cringe-inducing when male wannabee MPs of any party attack All Women Shortlists (AWS) or their female equivalents advocate them - isn't it better for those with a prejudicial interest to shut up and let people who don't stand to personally benefit from the position they take on this do the arguing?
Of course, Cameron wanted a little issue where he could take on the internet boys, the hardliners and backwoodsmen and show them who's boss, and they've walked right into his trap. It's hardly the expulsion of Militant, the ditching of unilateralism, OMOV or new Clause IV, all of which incidents on the long Labour march back to power required genuine political courage for leaders who would have lost their jobs if they hadn't won the key votes, but it serves as a Clause IV moment lite that makes Cameron look tough and like he is changing his party against grassroots hostility, even though it's meaningless when the Tories have already completed almost all their selections.
Oddly, the same Tory bloggers who are going apoplectic about losing their opportunity to run in Spelthorne or where ever to women from their own party were completely relaxed when Cameron introduced primaries which mean that people who aren't even Tories can out-vote Tory activists in picking candidates, thereby destroying the tiny elements of internal democracy that exist in the Tory party. They also showed less interest when Cameron gifted two notionally Tory-held seats in Kent to candidates who had been in the Labour Party barely five minutes previously, over the heads of long-serving and better qualified "real" Tories.
Cameron's AWS gesture also increases the already large number of potential Tory MPs who could owe their position in the Commons not to their own political status but to careful sponsorship, intervention and rule-tweaking by the Leader's Office, and hence will be totally loyal to him. I wonder if he has been swapping ideas with Harriet Harman.
Finally, even though the electorate when they are asked about it don't like the "politically-correct" idea of AWS, they do like the idea of more women MPs and may have been slightly put off by the prospect of a ruling party with more Old Etonian MPs than women ones. Cameron knows the only way any party has ever managed to really increase the number of women MPs is Labour's use of AWS so he's prepared to ignore the rather un-Tory means to get the electorally attractive ends he wants.
One other oddity is that the thwarted boy candidates have got rather less to whinge about than their Labour equivalents. Labour has a couple of month long selection processes, a dislike of perceived carpet-baggers hawking themselves round the country to multiple seats until they get one (and a vigorous range of diary columnists prepared to mock anyone who does, as Shahid Malik experienced at the hands of the Guardian in the run-up to 2005 and to his credit toughed it out), and there is a propensity for CLPs to vote for local heroes rather than national party celebrities. This means that if you are a bloke in the Labour Party who wants to be an MP you usually get just one shot at selection in one seat in each four year cycle, and if the seat you are connected to or have been working on gets made an AWS by the NEC Org Sub, bad luck, you are very unlikely to be a candidate in that election. This is in contrast to the Tory Party where it is considered totally acceptable, rather than laughable, to apply for literally every winnable seat that comes up with no reference to local connections, be shortlisted in dozens before you win one, fight more than one at once and indeed in one famous case hust in two constituency selections on the same day, travelling between the two by helicopter! So a few AWSs won't stop the aggrieved Tory boys eventually gracing the green benches.