Tory bastion lifts its ban on women

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ONE OF of the last bastions of all-male clubbishness fell last night when the Carlton Club, home of the Conservative Party, voted to admit women for the first time in its 166-year history.

The club only dropped its all-male rule for Baroness Thatcher, who was made an honorary member in 1975 when she became the Tories' first woman leader. However, some in the club regarded her as an "honorary man".

Lesser women were admitted, but have not been allowed full membership until now. The club, founded in 1832, has about 70 female associate members.

It was still regarded as a club for men, sometimes behaving badly, with a cad's corner beneath the sweeping staircase. But its strength was based on its role as the natural watering hole of the male establishment.

It has seen prime ministers come and go, including Churchill, and it was been the scene of some serious Tory plotting, including the backbench revolt which led to the creation of the 1922 Committee.

It was bombed by the IRA in the late 1980s in the belief that a random attack on the Carlton Club would have a fair chance of claiming at least one cabinet minister.

Other clubs in St James's such as the Reform had a more liberal tradition and even allowed women on to the management committees.

The Carlton Club result, counted by the club's auditors, was: for a rule change to admit women - 577 (59.6 per cent); against - 391 (40.4 per cent). The majority in favour was 186 (19.2 per cent). A total of 968 members voted - 62.5 per cent of the membership and the result will be formally reported to the general committee on 24 March when it will consider what steps should be taken.