Earlier today the conservative Baroness Jenkins criticised the male dominant culture of Westminster. In this she was right, however her appeal to the use of quotas and forced equality were less convincing, and definitely less conservative.
Indeed, we live in an age of heightened sensitivity to identity politics, whether it be racial or gender. Only a few weeks ago we saw Hillary Clinton’s appeal to the public of America to make her the first female president, on a campaign which rested on this fact and the incompetence of her opponent, neither of which stressed her own record in office or ability. Whether we like it or not, our politics increasingly lays in our awareness of identity, which is problematic when we stop seeing people as individuals, rather than members of a block assumed to act homogenously.
Believe it or not our first female Prime Minister rarely spoke about the fact she was a woman, the characterisation of her leadership lies in her competence, talent, and ability. While Clinton aimed for the same leadership title, her campaign revolved around her identity as a woman. As someone who would describe themselves as a close follower of both US and UK politics, the only change or direction I could extract from Clinton’s campaign was that she stood for ‘progress’ and wanted to be the ‘first female president’, hence I’m with her. It was even used as an excuse for why she lost: ‘America’s just not ready for a female president’. Is anyone so in denial about her poor record in office, deceitfulness, and sheer contempt for the truth to suggest that anyone who didn’t vote for her has not quite caught up in the evolution of progressive ideas? No. She didn’t win against what should have been an easy Republican candidate not because she’s a woman but because America didn’t trust her and she didn’t offer change.
The left do not have a monopoly on promoting equal treatment of men and women. The difference between the left’s approach and the conservative approach is that one values blind ability and ambition, the other forces statistical homogeneity. Baroness Jenkins stated that the House of Commons is nowhere near reflective of the gender makeup of the United Kingdom, which is true. But will the problematic culture of UK politics be overcome by an appeal to Women2Win and the implementation of quotas? Of course not. The truth is that women today are put off by Westminster because they see it as male dominant. This is an issue which is not to be resolved by forced quotas, rather the culture within Westminster must be tackled by women themselves, who see their ability and conviction as the driving force for progress rather than some Clinton-esque notion that because they’re a woman they’ll be better candidates. Women do not function as a block, in the same way men do not either. As an individual person and as a woman I do not want to be patronised with quotas; any sexism existing in the workplace is a result of psychological influences too deep to dislodge with a simple quota likely to breed resentment and division. Working for a conservative organisation which does not use quotas or rely on any gender bias, I am proud that I co-lead alongside another woman. We are more likely to search for work in Westminster knowing that we are where we are on the basis of ability.
Let’s see women as individuals who can and will rise to the top positions through competence and capability. Sexism isn’t dead, but it will live as long as gender is considered a legitimate qualification.
Sophia Bryant is a Member of the Bow Group and Co-Founder of Generation Conservative