Blair’s Babes was the pleasingly alliterative (though hugely patronising) epithet attached to the 101 women MPs elected in 1997 as part of the landslide Labour victory. That huge surge in the representation of women was largely attributable to the introduction of all women shortlists (AWS) for a large number of winnable seats. The imposition of AWS on many seats is still not without controversy in the Labour Party, notably causing the 2005 election of Peter Law in Blaenau Gwent. Law had resigned from Labour in protest at AWS, running as an independent and over-turning a 19,000 Labour majority in the process leaving party managers red-faced.
“It seems that David Cameron is keen to increase the number of tall blondes on the Tory benches”
In the process of modernising his party, Cameron and Co have read the New Labour form book from cover to cover and ripped off as much as possible; get a new logo, pick fights with your own party to demonstrate how you’ve changed, and finally, make your party ‘more representative.’ So, it was with a depressing inevitability that Cameron announced this week that he was thinking about introducing AWS for Conservative selections. Taken alongside the recent rumours that Michael Heseltine is likely to feature in any future Tory cabinet, it seems that David Cameron is keen to increase the number of tall blondes on the Tory benches. But this wholesale thievery of yet another aspect of Blairism that has left the Tory old guard fuming.
“…vote socialist, shag Tory”
This could be put down to Tories perhaps being slightly more unreconstructed in their views; Gosport Conservative Association’s Chairman got into trouble over the summer for suggesting that more women in politics was a good thing as long as they were worth looking at. That may not be entirely fair though; both sides seem as bad as each other in this regard, with one certain Labour MP remarking ‘vote socialist, shag Tory.’ Rather, the argument for AWS seems to fall down on the evidence; in particular, the record of the 1997 intake of women MPs offers cause for concern. Of the original 101, a third had left Parliament through stepping down or losing their seats by 2005. In short, AWS seems to increase the likelihood of a short tenure and (arguably) devalues any AWS MPs vis-à-vis women in the Commons who fought open selections. Taking the long view, it’s clear now that Blair’s Babes didn’t usher in a new dawn of women in politics; the record of AWS can be described as mixed at best. Given that fact, it’s fairly unlikely that Cameron’s Crumpet can do any better.