Hoping to banish its image as the party of the “male, pale and stale”, the Conservative party held a fringe event on diversity in parliament – with the requisite added tagline: “Now is the time to level up”.

It gathered speakers Caroline Nokes (chair of the Commons women and equalities committee), Sarah Sands (former Today Programme editor and chair of Bright Blue), Helen Pankhurst (founder of the Centenary Action Group which campaigns for better representation in parliament), Kanwal Gill (chair of the Conservatives Diversity Project) and Anita Boateng (a former special advisor) – who discussed the barriers minority groups – and half of the population – face when trying to enter politics. [Your helpful reminder: women make up only one third of the House of Commons, just 63 (of 650) MPs are BAME and only five have a self-declared disability.]

Good old fashioned sexism remains a big problem, said Nokes – who is one of the few Conservatives willing to talk openly about these issues. She (not for the first time) spoke of her own experience: “I had colleagues in 2016 telling me I only got the job because of my tits.”

Speaking about the abuse she has received on social media in particular in the past, she added that she had developed “the skin of a Rhino”, adding that the best step she had taken for her own sanity was switching off social media notifications from her phone

Whenever I did something in the media, the first comments were saying that I’m fat and stupid. I don’t care anymore.

Panelists were asked the best way of tackling the persistent lack of diversity in their own party ; shouldn’t it consider all-women shortlists? [Another reminder: 24% of Conservative MPs are women; compared to 51% of Labour MPs (which put all-women shortlists in 1993)].

“Not keen” was the overall consensus, although Kanwal Gill said direct action did need to be taken or it was “going to take another generation” for parliament to attain gender parity.

Helen Pankhurst, the convener of the women’s rights coalition Centenary Action Group, and great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, urged all the panelists to push the government to collect and publish diversity data on candidates.

This may sound dull – but it’s actually really important. And, it’s in the Equality Act (section 106, for those interested) – it’s just never been enacted. Pankhurst said: “It is the Right in power now that can change things.”

Nokes backed that call to enact Section 106, saying: “We must make sure we have a new generation of women able to stand up and wanting to stand up”

The Centenary Action Group is launching its “Data Drives Diversity” report tomorrow, on this very issue.

Centenary Action Group

Today is the 10th anniversary of the Equality Act 2010.

10yrs on and the govt are still yet to enact Section 106 of the Equality Act, which would help make politics more representative.

Women make up only 1/3 of MPs, just 63 MPs are BAME & only 5 have a disability. #Enact106 pic.twitter.com/GGvRShiRzh

October 1, 2020

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