This piece was contributed by my wife, Anna.
First we had the joke from Alan Duncan about "living on rations". The nation was hardly laughing with him. Now we have Alan Scard, the chair of Gosport Conservatives Association, suggesting that "only attractive women should become MPs".
What Mr Scard actually said was "If they are attractive, yeah, I would go for it. I know it's a sexist thing to say but you could get the blokes saying, 'Oh you know, I would vote for her because she's really attractive', but then the other women say 'Oh I don't like her, she's too attractive'." He later claimed that this was "tongue in cheek" and meant in jest, but his "joke" was a loaded one and shows what attitudes still exist in the male dominated world of politics.
I dealt with this issue in a previous blog entry when discussing Caroline Flint's resignation: What Should we Make of Caroline Flint's Resignation? Unfortunately, blatant sexism isn't going to go away overnight.
The comments were made after a Tory MP who knows a thing or two about sexism, Anne Widdecombe, expressed concerns about her party's drive towards "A-lists" of female and ethnic minority candidates. She feels that parties should go for "ability rather than category" and is concerned that selecting people on the basis of their ethnic origin or gender will result in "second-class citizens" in the Commons.
Strong language indeed. But I agree with the gist of what she's saying. We do need more women in the Commons but quotas, all-women shortlists and "positive action" (Toryspeak for "discrimination") isn't the way to do it. In fact, we need more women in politics at all levels, because from top to bottom it's still dominated by men. What needs to happen is for more women to become involved in politics, to make contributions to their communities and local parties and then to be selected on merit. The key is not in making targets, but in empowering talented women and people from minority groups to become more active in politics. When this happens, the problem of sexist relics such as Mr Scard will become a thing of the past.