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Parties must make sure women are given the opportunity to stand for winnable seats

4 min read

The ‘Westminster bubble’ is broader, more welcoming and better than it is perceived to be, says Mims Davies MP, Chair of the APPG on Women in Parliament.

I was the 380th woman ever to be elected to the House of Commons – which is lower than the current number of male Members of Parliament.

In fact, it was not until 2015 that the total number of women ever elected exceeded the number of male MPs in a single parliament.

This should be surprising but, sadly, for many women in the UK I don’t think it is. Because let’s face it, any women looking at the work of a Member of Parliament from the outside doesn’t see a hugely welcoming atmosphere.

It’s a job with long hours - you’ll often spend more time with your staff than your family, and there has rightly been much publicity of the awful abuse and sexism experienced by current female MPs of every party particularly on social media. There is also very little information on how pregnancy, maternity leave or even caring responsibilities will fit around the job.

But this doesn’t truly reflect the reality - it is a hugely rewarding job, both locally and in Westminster. I have the privilege to stand up in the mother of all parliaments and debate laws that make a real difference to the lives of my constituents. As MPs we have a unique platform to raise issues and affect change in a way that other jobs cannot. And I passionately believe that the group of people afforded that privilege should reflect the society it represents.

To do this we need we need to demonstrate why what we do is worthwhile and to encourage fresh talent to join us from those in sections of society that may not think this is an option open to them. I’m pleased that the Conservative Candidates Department are looking to put in place an outreach programme to speak to people from a wide range of backgrounds to encourage them to embark on this career. Alongside organisations such as Women2win which are supporting the Conservative Party’s commitment to select more women to fight parliamentary seats.

The Conservative Party has a proud record of promoting women in politics. The first woman to sit in the House of Commons, Nancy Astor, was a Conservative and we were the first party in the western world to elect a female leader and Prime Minister. We are now on our second female Prime Minister but there is still more to do. Which is why we are working hard to attract female candidates to stand in local and national elections because if women aren’t on the ballot they can’t be elected.

Coming from a family with no political links and no political passion, there was a time when the thought of becoming an MP would have seemed somewhat out of reach or rather unsuitable, but after two years in this place, I have realised that my assumptions of what makes an appropriate parliamentarian have changed.

And now I and other parliamentarians have the responsibility to demonstrate that the ‘Westminster bubble’ is broader, more welcoming and better than it is perceived to be. It is more inclusive than it is often portrayed in the media and when that is understood by women up and down the country I believe we will see far more female candidates putting themselves forward.​ I have used my time here to try to reach out beyond Westminster into the playgroups, business premises and charitable sector to name a few. 

We do also need to continue to make the case for a more inclusive parliament, with more flexible working practices and take advantage of technology to make this historic parliament more accessible. 

I’m looking forward to our Party conference next week where I and my colleagues will be reaching out to our grassroots and younger members who may be inspired and motivated to throw their hat in the ring and become the politicians of both the now and the future.

All parties must do more to make sure women are given the opportunity and encouragement to stand for winnable seats and have a realistic route to political success, because women’s life experiences aren’t better or worse than men’s, but they are different and it is critical they are represented.  As the chair of the All Party Group on Women in Parliament I will continue to do all it takes to get more women’s voices from across the UK heard in Westminster. 

Mims Davies is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Eastleigh

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