A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Tory AWS

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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Informed, subtle and eloquent.

A perfect explanation for why the Labour party has ended up with battalions of union-sponnsored individuals of either sex with big heads wedged up big bums.

4:08 pm, October 21, 2009

Anonymous Paul said...

Good post, Luke.

While Tory primaries appear to be out of the window now, I think it’s pretty interesting who did get picked where they were going on.

In the middle England ones in Totnes and Bracknell the Tory punters went for two GPs, which suggests (though I accept it’s only two) that the real ‘high Tory’/squirearchy tradition remains really strong i.e. the desire to have as your MP someone from a ‘respectable’ profession, unsullied by political life, and who will do nicely at dinner parties and fetes – this being a greater consideration than whether they understand anything about government or running the country or economics or any such matters, sordid matters which do not really need talking about.

Yes, that’s a stereotype, but I suspect there’s something in it. Tory HQ, on the other hand, want political operators who will toe the line.

Of course, you can argue that the Labour party has the same divergence between the centre and local parties, and that more open selections – whether primaries or just selections without the initial NEC suitability vetting panel – would lead to people being selected who are closer to the old Labour traditions e.g. working class people.

However, the distinction seems to be clearer with the Tories – while the two ‘poles’ of Labour may have fraught relations at times around selections (which you made your ponit about) these tend to be around the specifics rather than a clear cut distinction between what HQ wants and what members want, and at least both sets of people want candidates/MPs who can deal with the 21st century, rather than someone who helps the Tory establishment hark back to halcyon days of deference to the local professionals and the rule of the country club.

5:00 pm, October 21, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...


5:01 pm, October 21, 2009

Anonymous Albert Shanker said...

God I missed the Tories

12:02 pm, October 22, 2009

Blogger Merseymike said...

I think that the problem is that its quite difficult to have a 'normal' job and seek a parliamentary career. Employers in the private sector, in particular, are not too keen on the idea. So the tendency will be to get self employed or professional people whose work won't be too heavily affected or who do jobs which are traditionally associated with politics
Hence the number of lecturers, research assistants, consultants, etc. GP's also have quite a bit of leeway in sorting their hours

9:42 pm, October 25, 2009


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