Young women Tories fall at the blue rinse hurdle

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"What they really want is for us to sit at home and make jam," said Dr Grace Campbell. The 37-year-old GP isn't talking about the attitude of the Tory leadership candidates to Conservative career women. She's having a dig at the most powerful enemy she and other politically ambitious females face: the blue rinse brigade.

Votes from women party members will, for the first time, decide the future leadership of the Conservative party. Nevertheless, Dr Campbell believes they are not getting the recognition they should within the party.

Dr Campbell has come to the Perth Scottish Tory conference to ask Kenneth Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith very specific questions about primary health care. She stands out on the conference floor not because of her medical qualifications: she is young, articulate and female. They are not attributes that work for her within Tory ranks.

"The majority of the people in the party are elderly women and they are the worst culprits," said Dr Campbell. "They are not particularly keen on having women involved at any active level." Gender politics hasn't featured largely in the contest between Ken Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith. Neither seems particularly worried that women under 45 make up less than 2 per cent of the membership.

"It's the elderly blue rinse females who don't give us a chance," said Dr Campbell. Despite having a huge female activist base, the party in Scotland appears straddled with the traditional attitudes to women which the overwhelmingly elderly membership brings with it.

Dr Campbell's experience is typical. Kate Pickering, who stood unsuccessfully for the Conservatives in Donald Dewar's former Anniesland seat, underwent an undignified interrogation for the candidacy.

"I've been asked some quite ridiculous questions at selection meetings," said Dr Pickering. "I pointed out that there wasn't exactly a queue behind me to be candidate."