Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hate the idea, love the tactical wins it provides

If my memory serves me correctly on this, way back in the 1980s, there was a strange phenomenon where people, when polled, said they couldn't stand the Thatcher government and then, when asked who they would be voting for, said they'd vote for Thatcher. When the obvious contradiction was put to them the response would be along the lines of "Oh but she's a strong leader!".

I mention this simply because there seems to be a bit of concern on ConservativeHome (they even did a big graphic) and from Iain Dale about David Cameron saying he would "consider" all-women shortlists for candidate selection, which has then inevitably led to things like this from Paul waugh which report a 'grassroots rebellion' for Cameron, plus speculation of rebellion here in the Guardian.

Now, on the matter of all-women shortlists, I don't think they're a good idea. In fact I think all forms of positive discrimination are a profoundly stupid idea. This is because the minute you start using quotas you'll inevitably end up with the best of the lowest common denominators. You only have to briefly look at the quality of some of the 1997 in-take who were chosen through positive discrimination and compare them to later in-takes that were not, and you can see what sort of dross ends up sitting in the Commons making our laws and gorging on our taxes.

I take a view similar to Ann Widdicombe's the slogan of which I think should be On merit, not boobs!®.

This said though, whilst I'm opposed to such things in principle, I'm also realistic enough to realise that the vast majority of us in the great unwashed couldn't give a rat's arse about the obscure inner-workings of how political parties choose a shortlist of candidates that they then select or put to open primary/caucus. As such, I can't help thinking that a little bit of "grassroots rebellion" in the Tory party is exactly what Cameron intended/needs.

Seems to me his comment puts him in a sweet position of being able to "face down his critics" (as journalists like to say), say "bugger you all", and press ahead with the odd all-women shortlist safe in the knowledge that its impact on those of us that pay no attention to politics will be minuscule anyway; whilst for those that do pay attention the prospect of not getting rid of Labour is so strong that it won't really turn already secured votes away in the marginals where it really matters (and candidates have already been chosen anyway!).

Cameron gets to be a "strong leader" in the face of those who are what's quaintly called "unreconstructed". The naysayers moan for a little while, then they shut the f*** up because the election gets going and the right result is more important than internal politics. At the same time he neutralises the charge from the Left that the Tories are inherently misogynist, and doesn't alienate the soft-liberal centre ground swing votes in the key marginals. Then, during the run up to the election in early 2010 a big fanfare is made of some all-women shortlists in seats the Tories won't win anyway (because all the big targets are sorted now), then the whole issue gets parked for maybe three years once the election's over.

Simples! But ultimately cynical I know.

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