Cameron, Next and “padded bras”

Will the Conservative leader condemn the Tory party donor Simon Wolfson?

David Cameron yesterday was quick to condemn the high-street chain Primark as "disgraceful" for selling swimsuits with padded bras for seven- and eight-year-olds -- or "paedo bikinis", in the typically inimitable words of the Sun, which broke the story.

With the Tory manifesto highlighting the "sexualisation" and "commercialisation" of young children as a campaign issue, it's not surprising that the Tory leader was so "delighted" to see Primark apologise, and immediately withdraw the offensive clothing range, only days after his party's manifesto launch.

However, today's Sun moves the story on, reporting that other leading high-street clothing stores, including Next, Tammy and Peacocks, have been selling similar items. Next, says the Sun, sells "padded bras in Size 28AA in their girls' sections online".

So, will Cameron also be condemning Next as "disgraceful"? Will he be calling for a boycott of Next by parents of young girls? Or reminding Next of its responsibilities, as he did with Primark?

I doubt it. Next's chief executive is Simon Wolfson, one of David Cameron's most vociferous supporters in the business world, having donated to Cameron's campaign in the 2005 leadership election and co-chaired the party's Economic Competitiveness policy review.

He also happened to co-ordinate the all-important letter from business leaders backing the Tories' National Insurance policy last week. Oh, and his dad, Lord Wolfson, is a former Thatcher lackey.

So, expect radio silence from Cameron on Wolfson. Primark, BAD BAD BAD. Next, perhaps not so bad.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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