Conservative Party Conference: Maggie May

7 October 2015

Does the Conservative Party still have a “woman problem”? Among the headlines on housing ahead of David Cameron’s speech, a number of this morning’s papers quoted complaints from fresh female Parliamentarians feeling furious about their perceived treatment as accessories for the PM.

“I didn’t get into Parliament to be a bit of arm candy”, one told the Spectator, sounding the bell for another round of verbal sparring over the status of the increasingly numerous female Conservative cohort.

While many prominent Conservative women will proudly protest that this was the party to deliver the first female Prime Minister, doubts still appear to remain about its overall treatment of ladies who legislate.

Truth told, it is often from the outside that the sternest protests come. A mini social media storm erupted around this year’s Tory fringes after BuzzFeed chose to humorously highlight the rather unbalanced makeup of the room at many panel discussions with an article entitled 16 All-Male Panels at the Tory Party Conference Talking About Serious Stuff.

While BuzzFeed’s banterous outside-looking-in perspective articulated a certain incredulous millennial response to the frustratingly slow pace of progress in political representation, its complaint was not necessarily the whole story.

There were certainly some rooms at #CPC15 where a panel composed entirely of female speakers commanded the attentions of an interested audience – though it is true to say that they centred on proudly free-market-friendly discussions of women’s issues.

Furthermore, an absence of female voices was also apparent in many Labour events, revealing – if the cries of sexism over Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet appointments were not enough – that each of the major parties still struggles with the question of gender balance.

Meanwhile, in the leadership stakes on the right, Home Secretary Theresa May strode tall and confident across the front page of the Daily Telegraph today.

Despite her iconic poise, the Conservatives’ most prominent female hopeful was feeling the heat from some quarters this morning after making a confrontational setpiece immigration speech.

The Mail was impressed, proclaiming: “Magnificent Mrs May Shows Cameron the Way”.

However, this populist fervour was not shared among writers in other parts of the right-wing press. “The speech was far too divisive for a supposed Leader-in-waiting”, complained Matthew Goodwin in the Times, while the Telegraph delivered a surprisingly withering response. “Awful, ugly misleading, cynical and irresponsible” was the devastating verdict of James Kirkup as he bluntly assessed her “fading” chances to take the reins.

While the paper had once compared the Home Secretary to Thatcher, after a conference which at times felt like a coronation for the Chancellor, it seems the Conservatives might be forced to wait a little longer for their next Iron Lady.

Anna Haswell, Senior Political Analyst and Content Marketer
Anna Haswell
Senior Political Analyst and Content Marketer

As Senior Political Analyst at DeHavilland, Anna Haswell leads on financial services policy, as well as covering media issues. In her capacity as Content Marketer, she is also responsible for DeHavilland's briefings and analysis output, working across teams to ensure relevant messages reach current and prospective clients alike. She is a graduate of the University of Oxford and Goldsmiths, University of London.