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Does the Conservative Party Have a Women Problem?

Last night, sitting Conservative MP for the constituency of Stafford in the West Midlands became the second woman to be deselected by her constituency selection committee.

Only days after returning from maternity leave, Theo Clarke became the latest victim of a campaign to deselect sitting MPs.

Elected for the constituency of Stafford in 2019, Clarke had resigned her role as a government trade envoy last July in protest at Boris Johnson’s handling of government through partygate and sleaze allegations.

Campaign targeting women?

Clarke became the second sitting woman Conservative MP to be deselected after MP for Hastings and Rye, Sally-Ann Hart was deselected earlier in the month.

This journal has seen a WhatsApp target list of “woke” sitting women MPs compiled by the Conservative Democracy Organisation (CDO). Chaired by former UKIP MEP David Campbell Bannerman, the CDO list comprises MPs who said they had no confidence in Boris Johnson last year.

The CDO was founded by Conservative Party activists to stop “left-wing candidates and a left-wing agenda imposed on us from above.”

Funded by Conservative Party donors loyal to Boris Johnson including Lord Peter Cruddas, the leadership team includes Political Commentator Alex Story who recently accused Rishi Sunak of “blackmail”.  The CDO blog is run by “constitutional consultant” John Stafford who challenged changes to Conservative Party selection rules in 2001 and is a well-known thorn in the side of many Conservative Party leaders. 

Whilst the CDO has repeatedly denied claims that their campaign is designed to lay the groundwork for a return of Boris Johnson as leader, the CDO leadership is filled with personal friends of the ousted Prime Minister. With high profile backers like Johnson ally Priti Patel, it will be difficult for the CDO to shake their reputation for being a plot to bring back the embattled former Prime Minister.

The BBC recently reported that the CDO website was still running a “Bring Back Boris” campaign.

Screenshot 12
Theo Clarke has been Conservative MP for Stafford since 2019 (Image: Parliament TV)

Will the Conservative Party act?

The Conservative Party will face serious questions ahead of International Women’s Day on why sitting women Conservative MPs are being deselected.

With three in four mothers (77%) mothers saying they had a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy, maternity leave, and/or on return from maternity leave according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Clarke’s case draws significant light on a party that has not shaken its misogynistic image.

In a statement last night, Clarke said: “I am deeply disappointed not to have been adopted this evening as the Conservative candidate to fight the new Stafford constituency at the next General Election. Living at home in the new constituency and working here, I stood on a record of successfully bringing investment into Stafford such as millions for mental health services and crucial infrastructure.

“Our town will soon see investment from the Levelling Up Fund and the Shared Prosperity Fund is already transforming the town centre with the Shire Hall due to fully reopen soon. I tirelessly campaigned for these wins, they will make a difference and make Stafford an even greater better place to live, work and raise a family.

“I have only returned from maternity leave this week and I have been very disappointed by the abuse that I have received since I announced I was having a baby.

“The selection committee have made their decision and it is my full intention to go the membership.”

With the MP confirming that she will fight for selection with the full membership, Conservative HQ could place the association into special measures, as some are calling for on social media. However, it seems unlikely that the Conservative Party will act ahead of the full membership vote in the coming weeks. 

According to most polls, whoever wins the selection for the Stafford constituency at the next General Election, the conservatives will have an uphill battle as Labour are odds on favourites to win the seat with a substantial majority. 

The National Chairman, Pamela Hall told Chamber “this is an individual Association matter we are unable to comment at this time.”

Chamber has contacted the new Conservative Party Chairman, Greg Hands to ask for a statement on the events in Stafford and to see if the Party has any intention to intervene. The CDO was also contacted for comment.

Misogyny online

In recent years, many women politicians have highlighted how social media has created a febrile environment. Following the shock resignation of First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon online hate against women has been given a new spotlight.

Women in politics face daily misogyny online.
Women in politics face daily misogyny online

Conservative defector and UKIP Parliamentary Candidate, Richard Hilton was accused of gross misogyny after he accused Clarke of ‘playing the baby card’ in her statement. 

It should be noted that many of the comments online have been supportive of the MP and her work across Stafford.

Final thought

The deselections of candidates are becoming a headache for the Prime Minister.

The CDO is becoming to the Conservatives what Momentum was for the Labour Party and look how that ended for them…

The targeted action against sitting women conservative MPs cannot be brushed aside as mere coincidence – something is going on and it reeks of misogyny.

Whilst the deselection of two women MPs may not sound like a cause for concern, let’s not forget the fact that only 25% of Conservative MPs are women. 

In any other walk of life, women can take action against an employer who may have discriminated against them after they’ve had a child.

All eyes are on the Conservative Party to see if their new Chairman will act over this potential case of maternity discrimination.

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