Andy McSmith's Diary: All-women shortlists now; Cameron advisers next?

A shortlist of four women has been drawn up by the Conservative association in South Cambridgeshire

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Indy Politics

The argument about whether all-women shortlists are the right way to improve Parliament’s gender balance has gone round in circles for more than 20 years. The Conservatives have always refused to impose them, on the grounds that candidates should be chosen on merit.

Now, for the first time, a shortlist of four women has been drawn up by the Conservative association in South Cambridgeshire, which Andrew Lansley held in 2010 with a majority of 7,838.

There have been other cases where the Tory candidates have been chosen from all-women shortlists, but never in a safe seat. The chances of the Conservatives losing South Cambridgeshire are pretty much nil, so whoever wins the selection out of Heidi Allen, a businesswoman with a degree in astrophysics; Jo Churchill, a county councillor; Charlotte Vere, also a businesswoman; and Helen Whately, a healthcare consultant, is effectively guaranteed to be elected an MP.

The late John Smith introduced all-women shortlists in the Labour Party 20 years ago this month, which pushed up the number of female Labour MPs from 37 to 101. In Labour’s case, selected local parties were – and are – ordered by the party headquarters not to open the selection to men. That had a catastrophic effect in Blaenau Gwent in 2005, when a man running as an Independent achieved a record 49 per cent swing to beat the woman Labour candidate. In South Cambridgeshire, by contrast, the contest was originally open to men, and the decision to whittle it down to four women was taken locally.

Who knows where this could go? Maybe they will let a woman back in to the tight circle of advisers around David Cameron.

On the street where you live

Nobody is saying that Nick Clegg is panicking about whether he can keep Sheffield Hallam, the seat he held in 2010 with a 15,284 majority, but he was quick to react when a caller to his LBC phone in yesterday identified himself as “Bob in Sheffield”.

“Just out of curiosity, Bob, where do you live in Sheffield?” he asked Bob responded: “Ecclesall. I’m one of your constituents.”

“Oh, hello!” said Clegg. “Where in Ecclesall?” When Bob perhaps understandably hesitated to reply, the Lib Dem leader added: “It’s all right, I’m not being nosy!”

Seizing on the awkwardness, host Nick Ferrari remarked: “Are you that keen to find a voter, Mr Clegg? You actually need the name of the street? Are you feeling a bit unloved?” The Deputy PM persevered: “I’m up in Sheffield tomorrow night. I might turn up at your door if you’re not careful.”

A sticky subject

I mentioned a couple of days ago that a square in Madrid was ceremonially named Plaza Margaret Thatcher. Yesterday, a shocking headline appeared on the Breibart website – “Spain’s new Margaret Thatcher Plaza Brits.” No, it wasn’t.

What happened was that some person or persons – and if I were hunting the culprits I would start with visitors with Scouse accents – have adorned the sign with stickers that commemorate the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster. Sticking up stickers is not vandalism. If you don’t like them, peel them off.

Europe gets bigger

There is a fascinating footnote in Hansard that gives statistics about the numbers of asylum seekers deported to other European countries. It includes the startling information that Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan are in Europe. I thought they were in Central Asia, but who am I to argue with a Foreign Office answer in Hansard?