Essex: MP speaks out on “unconscious slights” to women by Tory men

Essex MP
Bernard Jenkin

Essex MP Bernard Jenkin

Essex MP Bernard Jenkin has spoken out about a culture of “unconscious slights” to women, warning that Tory men needed to look at how they behave.

The MP for North Essex admitted many Tory men felt “women can deal with ‘women’s issues’, so men can get on with running the country”, also hitting out at the powerful all male coalition “quad”.

In an article for House magazine, he recounted how the prime minister had greeted a leading high profile business women, who happened to be the wife of a major donor to the party, by asking, “And where is [x – the husband]!?”

Mr Jenkin, who chairs the public administration select committee, said: “We men are all guilty of such unconscious slights to women, but women voters see it and feel it. A business change programme would involve zero tolerance of such behaviour. We have perhaps yet to understand what ‘change’ in the Conservative Party really means.

“It is not something the leadership does, or women can do for us. Every man in the Conservative Party needs to change or be left behind. The leadership needs to be on this 24-7-365, not just at re-shuffle time.”

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David Cameron has said he wants a third of ministers to be women by the end of the Parliament 2015, yet out of the 32 ministers entitled to attend Cabinet, currently only five are women.

Mr Jenkin added that the “Tory High Command” - Mr Cameron, chancellor George Osborne and advisor Lynton Crosby were all men and only three out of 25 on the party board were women.

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He added: “We should look at how we all behave. Generously hosting a 40-40 dinner to discuss prospects and tactics in the marginal seats, Lord Ashcroft was asked by a woman MP about declining Conservative support amongst women. “Shut up and sit down!” was his response. He was trying to make a joke, of course, but the need to make a joke speaks volumes about the anxiety provoked by the question.”

Mr Jenkin, who has been an MP since 1992, was once in charge of efforts to make the Conservative parliamentary party more diverse, by getting more female and ethnic minority candidates elected.

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