I was at a private dinner late last week with a senior member of Cameron's Tories who, it's fair to say, has some involvement with the enaction of the so-called Priority List, or A-list, for potential Tory candidates in target seats at the next election. This list, of course, has a 50% quota for men and women. Now, my own feelings are that the A-list is a good idea. It is vital that there is an emphasis on taking positive steps to attract the best people to be candidates for the party. My problem is that the plan goes further than this. The powers that be have decided 50% of the list will be women regardless of merit.
Aside from the fact that this exposes to question a fundamental principle, which I hold dear and believe the Conservative party should too, relating to a belief in gender-blind, race-blind and religious-blind meritocracy, it is so unnecessary. If one wanted a more representative collection of candidates, as this blog has said before, it would have been quite possible to make sure that you head-hunted the best young women and did all you could to make them apply for the list - and you could have achieved your aim without starting down the slippery slope away from merit and towards discriminatory quotas.
So, yours truly set out to test this pol's mettle with a fairly simple question.
I'm delighted you're taking on one of the remaining bastions of unacceptable discrimination on the grounds of sex and ethnic background with such conviction, I said, and I agree with almost all you suggest to tackle it. Will you and the party leadership commit to also taking on one of the worst bastions that remain though? In the judiciary, at High Court level a mere 15% of judges are women. You would need to increase the representation of members of ethnic minorities on the bench by some 300% just to match the current representation such groups have at the bar, let alone in wider society and no concern seems to be shown about this. You say the Party won't be half the Party it could be without more women and more members of ethnic minorities, well surely the bench won't be half the bench it could be on the same grounds - and the judiciary doesn't even have the legitimising quality of public elections. Given what a brilliant tool you think the Priority List quotas are for the Party, can we have one for the appointment of judges too?
Was there an answer, any answer? No. Not even a suggestion it could at least be considered if it proved to work for the Party? No. Not even an intelligent discussion about being pragmatic and ditching bits of what one believes in to avoid having all you believe ignored. Of course it was tricky - my question shows up the absurdity of the vacuous scheme. To the shame of this pol though, all I saw, as my question was ignored, was squirm after squirm after vacuous resort to the Tory Party as "employer". Cos, y'know, of course, all sorts of employers, even in the law, had to have equal opp policies now. Sure. That doesn't mean that when they have two vacancies one is for boys and one is for girls. This figure couldn't defend it in anything other than vacuous and patronising sound bites lifted from Cameron's acceptance speech.
This may be a necessary evil to win an election. I'd still at least appreciate a dog whistle to let me know those with their hands on the rudder can understand the full consequences of such rash ideas no matter how well they play in the Times. Because if I can pose a tricky question like this, you can be damn sure that those merry souls in Old Queen Street fancy their chances of putting a squeeze DC on this too.