Last Tuesday was the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 becoming law, which first introduced votes for women. It is worth remembering not only the men and women who had campaigned for so long outside Parliament, including the Pankhursts and Millicent Fawcett, but also the MPs (then only men), who campaigned in Parliament to introduce the legislation which started the journey to the full franchise ten years later.
As one of today’s male MPs, I am proud to be continuing in their footsteps by co-chairing Women2Win, the campaign group which for the past 12 years has led the effort to get more Conservative women MPs elected. Since the campaign’s launch in 2005, with the now-Prime Minister Theresa May as one of its founders, the number of Conservative women MPs has increased from 17 to 67. This is better but still not good enough. There is still much to do. This increase in the number of Conservative women MPs has been achieved by women competing with men on a level playing field.
However, the number of Conservative women stepping forward into public life remains significantly smaller than the number of men. The abuse they receive on social media is a problem. We also need to encourage the many well-qualified women already in public life to take the step to consider standing for Parliament.
The excellent #AskHerToStand campaign is beginning to reap rewards. Anyone, from those who have campaigned to keep their bus stop open or retain a playground, to those who run a Girl Guide group, or is a school governor, who has what it takes to be an MP should find out more. At Women2Win they would receive a very warm welcome and support to demystify the process.
We all need to acknowledge that there is an urgent need to address the under-representation of women and minority groups, both in the Conservative Party and in Parliament. Politics would be the better for it. Women’s representation and diversity are not optional extras but are rather essential features of any institution claiming to represent the people of this country.