I believe that when political parties are selecting candidates, what most people want to see is that they are selected purely on merit and not according to a given particular characteristic, be it gender, faith, disability or what sort of relationship they may be involved in. Everyone should have an equal opportunity to apply to become a candidate, and by all means, we should be encouraging as many people as possible to come forward for selection. However, personally, I do not want to see the imposition of quotas, which in reality mean fixing the result of the selection process before it has even begun. By their very nature, the use of all-women shortlists, for example, discriminates not just against men as a whole, but, by extension, against men belonging to a group under-represented in the House, such as those from a working-class background.
It is entirely wrong that those who seek to remedy what they perceive as discrimination against women should adopt as their solution the practice of all-women shortlists, which discriminate against men. We should oppose all forms of discrimination and not seek to legitimise it, as happened with the passing of the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002.
Good candidates will always rise to the top. As has been mentioned, Margaret Thatcher became leader of our party, and Prime Minister, without the need for any special help. As she said in her book “Statecraft”,
“the use of quotas applying to the appointment or promotion of individuals because of their collective identity or background is an unacceptable incursion on freedom, however well-intentioned the motives. Nor does it help those who are its intended beneficiaries. Individuals from these groups may well feel patronised; their professional reputations in posts which they would anyway have attained on merit are diminished, because they are thought to occupy them by special privilege; and they are likely to become the targets of resentment and possibly even ill-treatment.”
The report of the Speaker’s Conference stated:
“at present few people think that members of Parliament understand, or share the life experience of the people they represent (their constituents). Building and restoring public faith in Parliament is of crucial importance to the future of our democracy.”
One certain way to alienate voters up and down the country is to put forward as candidates to be their potential representatives people chosen on the basis not of merit but of their gender.