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13 June 2010

Has the Tory party decided it has enough women and non-white members of parliament?

A conservative message from Baroness Warsi.

By James Macintyre

Tory “modernisers”, such as they are, will be dismayed by an interview with Sayeeda Warsi in the Sunday Times today, in which she criticises quotas designed to get more female and ethnic-minority MPs on to the Conservative benches in the Commons.

From the report:

Warsi suggested the time for “quotas” for candidates from minority groups had passed. Instead she announced that the party would focus on other schemes, such as student internships, to get more young black and Asian people involved in Tory politics.

“Rather than having a panic moment and saying, ‘We need to find three black or brown MPs to fit the quota’, we have got time now to say let’s create a space for people to come in; let’s make the party a welcoming place,” she said.

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And here are the facts:

Since the general election the number of female Conservative MPs has risen from 18 to 49 and that of ethnic-minority members from two to 11.

One of David Cameron’s undoubted achievements was to increase diversity hugely in the Conservative parliamentary party, albeit from a very low base. Baroness Warsi herself — an intelligent, young, female Asian lawyer who failed to get elected to the Commons in 2005 — benefited from the Tory leader’s desire to rebrand the image of his party, becoming this country’s first female Muslim cabinet minister. It would be a tragedy if this same peer were to be responsible for a reversal of the progress made in this area.

After all, both domestic and international evidence shows that diversity within political parties depends upon proactive policies from the centre. For example, Labour’s decision to pull back from all-women shortlists in the late 1990s led to a decline in the number of female MPs in the 2001 general election.

And, of course, the Lib Dems in parliament are still an all-white party, with just seven women.