Seven in 10 Tory candidates are male, study shows

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Pick any Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate at random and the chances are it will be a man who has served in local government, according to an analysis of would-be MPs.

The study shows that 70 per cent of Tory party associations across the UK that have finalised their selection process for new candidates have picked a male, with almost two-thirds opting for serving or former local councillors.

Only 25 per cent of Tory MPs are currently women and the new analysis indicates the ruling party is unlikely to significantly improve upon this stark gender disparity at this year’s general election.

The data produced by the “Tomorrow’s MPs” transparency initiative, led by journalist and author Michael Crick, also shows that the Conservatives are failing to hit their long-standing target of 50 per cent female candidates.

Antoinette Sandbach, a former Tory MP who lost the whip after rebelling against the ruling party and subsequently lost her seat in 2019 when she stood for the Liberal Democrats, said it was a “great shame” that the party’s attempts to recruit more women appeared to be “going backwards”.

But Nickie Aiken, a Tory MP and a vice-chair of the Conservative party with responsibility for women, said many potential female candidates had been deterred by growing concerns of political violence facing parliamentarians.

“A lot of women are put off by safety issues and also by the worsening discourse in politics, I’ve been told by a lot of women that it’s not a place they want to be,” she said.

Former Tory MP Antoinette Sandbach said it was a ‘great shame’ that the party’s attempts to recruit more women appeared to be ‘going backwards’ © Yui Mok/PA

She said she hoped the lessons learned from the handling of the chaotic parliamentary vote on Gaza on Wednesday by Sir Lindsay Hoyle, which the Speaker said was designed to protect members, would “be a watershed moment where all parties wake up to the threat that MPs face”.

Tory party officials said a significantly lower proportion of women put themselves forward for seats than men.

Baroness Anne Jenkin, chair of the Women2Win campaign that aims to get more female Tory MPs elected, said: “I’d encourage any women on the candidates list to put their names forward. When they do so, they have a very good chance of getting selected.”

The research shows that the main opposition Labour party, which has a majority female representation in the Commons, has selected slightly more men (56 per cent) than women as prospective candidates so far. Currently, 52 per cent of its MPs are women.

The analysis only takes in prospective candidates rather than sitting MPs standing for re-election and has tracked 134 parliamentary selections by the Conservatives and 206 by Labour.

Since these processes are ordinarily shrouded in secrecy, Crick has relied on party sources, as well as local press reports, to piece together the background to the contests that have taken place to date.

It confirms Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s reshaping of the party after replacing left-winger Jeremy Corbyn in the wake of the Tory’s 2019 general election landslide with most of the candidates chosen identified as centrists.

Almost 20 Labour candidates are either former MPs or have family links to politicians who have served in the House of Commons, a tally likely to reprise allegations about the existence of a “political class” in Britain.

Former Labour MP Mary Creagh is attempting a comeback © Danny Lawson/PA

Former parliamentarian Mary Creagh this week became the 13th so-called “retread” to be picked to stand in a constituency for Starmer’s party, alongside former New Labour international development secretary Douglas Alexander and ex-shadow cabinet ministers Emma Reynolds and Heidi Alexander.

Six other candidates are either children or partners of a current or former Labour MP, including Hamish Falconer, the son of former justice secretary Lord Charlie Falconer, and Emma Foody, wife of Labour MP Alex Norris.

The Tories have so far selected four candidates with family links to a sitting or ex-MP, while a husband-wife duo are fighting adjacent seats in Norfolk. One Conservative candidate, Stephen Kerr, is a former parliamentarian.

While both main parties are yet to fill all their nominations, and late announcements of retirement among some sitting MPs will create new vacancies, candidates have been chosen in the vast majority of seats deemed winnable, according to party insiders.

The defining trait that candidates across both the main parties possess in common is a local link to the area in which they are standing, more so than in previous electoral selection cycles.

Crick argued it was a negative development. “It greatly restricts choice. Budding candidates have fewer seats they can realistically try for, while the party has less choice, so it reduces the quality of candidates.”

A Labour spokesperson said the party was “proud to have a gender balanced parliamentary party, shadow cabinet and front bench”, adding that a Starmer government would require all parties to publish data on the diversity of their candidates.

The Conservative party declined to comment.

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