Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis delivered a speech on 8 August 2018 on women in politics.
It’s a real pleasure to be here and I’m so grateful to Victoria and Helena – two women who have made an enormous contribution to public life in this country.
I realise that there is more than a slight irony in me standing here as a middle aged man, speaking to you about the voice of women in politics...
But all too often, women have been excluded from having enough of a voice in the places where decisions about their lives are made.
The time for a radical change is long overdue. And I want our party to take the lead in tackling this important issue.
THE CASE FOR MORE WOMEN
Politics works best when it is representative of the communities it serves. I saw that first hand when I was elected to Brentwood Council in 1998. And before that as an association officer.
I sat in on meetings where just one female Council colleague among a room full of men was the norm.
I know this is an all too familiar experience for many people here today – Although I’m pleased to see that for once I’m outnumbered…!
In Brentwood, I remember thinking at the time: This room doesn’t reflect the meetings I hold in my business life…, it doesn’t reflect the local party membership who campaigned hard to secure places at the table… and most importantly it doesn’t reflect the community that we have been elected to serve.
So I took action. I worked with the whole team – as a councillor and as an association officer – to recruit more women.
And by the time I stepped down as Leader of the Council in 2009, we had gone from 2 to 11 Conservative women.
With a better gender balance, Brentwood became a better Council.
Now as Party Chairman, I am driving forward change at Conservative Headquarters. We must lead by example, which is why I have put more women at the heart of our operation – appointing more women at all levels, but especially into senior positions…
…Making a commitment to having the greatest possible policies on parental leave and the best support for those with caring responsibilities…
And I’m proud of the fact that across our party we’re bucking the national trend ensuring equal pay for equal work.
RECORD IN GOVERNMENT
And in Government, our second female Conservative Prime Minister has been doing the same: not just talking about the importance of women – but getting stuff done.
There are now more women in work than ever before… And we’re making sure that there are equal opportunities in the workplace – breaking that glass ceiling so women can rise to the top of their professions.
The gender pay gap is at its lowest level on record – and we’re working with business to close it completely…
We’re investing 5 million pounds to help those coming back to work after long career breaks.
And we’ve doubled free childcare to 30 hours a week, making it more affordable for eligible working parents…
I am so proud of the work that we have done as a government so far – but this is just the start.
For one, there is a particular challenge for MPs who have to vote whilst on parental leave…
That’s where our informal pairing system comes in. Often it works, but sometimes it doesn’t.
And when mistakes are made it’s not good enough…
That is why I apologised to Jo Swinson.
I didn’t know that I was paired with her.
And I welcome the debate, taking place in September, when Parliament will discuss how we can make Westminster a better place for those on parental leave.
AMBITION FOR MORE WOMEN
We need the best people in our Parliament and in our Party, representing their communities up and down the country.
We will not achieve this if women are excluded and if their voices are not heard.
Right now, around 30% of those on our approved candidates list are women. This is not enough.
That’s why I am setting out an ambition here today – to have women make up 50 per cent of our candidates list.
This is not an easy ambition. But we have a duty to achieve it and I will personally work tirelessly to make this a reality.
And that requires action.
Action to level the playing field…
Action to make sure women have the same opportunities to succeed…
Action to ensure women are not discriminated against because of who they are.
As some of you may know, we’ve just started the process of selecting our Parliamentary candidates for the next General Election.
We now require association selection panels to reflect their local areas – including gender balance – to help ensure that at every stage women are treated fairly and equally.
Of the three selections that have already taken place, two women were chosen.
This is a promising start. But in order to reach our ambition, we need to have a wider strategy.
STRATEGY TO ACHIEVE AMBITION
Now I can’t go any further in a speech on the voices of women in politics without thanking the Conservative Women’s Organisation and Women 2 Win for the incredible amount of work they have done in engaging and supporting women at every level in our Party.
But as a Party we need to do more.
Around 40 per cent of our members are women, compared to just 20 per cent of our MPs.
To achieve our ambition of getting more women on the candidates list and into Parliament we need to find out where barriers to success exist, and what action we can take to overcome them.
I wish I could give you all the answers – but I can’t…
I know that on average it takes women 6 to 12 months longer from showing an expression of interest in joining the candidates list, to applying - Compared to men who often take a couple of days.
We haven’t got to the bottom of why, so we will commission a substantial piece of research into the issues that lead women away from political and public life.
We will use this to take action to break down barriers wherever they exist, and provide the practical steps to overcome them.
Women must have opportunities at every level of Government, especially locally. Yet just 4% of Councils have formal parental leave policies, which often affects women the most. So I will be encouraging our Conservative councils to take the lead on this issue and offer better paternity and maternity policies.
We will build a Young Women’s network, as part of the Young Conservatives, to increase the participation of young women. Because I am determined to show women of every age and background that they have a vital role to play in our future.
We will create a new network of mentors and shadowing opportunities at all levels of politics, to give women a chance to work with councillors and MPs who are balancing politics, family and day-to-day life. Because, for many women, elected office and the life of an MP can seem incompatible with their lives and responsibilities.
Today I am making the same call as I did as a Brentwood councillor all those years ago.
As the leader of our Party has rightly said, we need more women to join us in Parliament and more women to join our Party.
For too long we have relied on women to come to us. And that isn’t good enough.
That’s why I am here - to hear your voices, learn from your experiences and to say that if you want to stand, we will support you every step of the way.
I am absolutely committed to meeting that ambition of an equal gender split on our candidates list. It will be a challenge. But if I know anything about our Party, it’s that we are not afraid of a challenge.
At our heart, we are the party of opportunity, and I want to make sure we are the party of equal opportunity.
So as we continue to build a Britain fit for the future, I have one message for you - the exceptional women out there;
Come and join our Party…
Stand for office…
Make your voice heard…
And help us create a country that works for everyone…