Conservatives turn to headhunters to boost diversity

The Conservative party is to use headhunters to scour the country in an effort to find a new and more diverse generation of election candidates.

The Tories plan to search local business groups, women’s networks and community organisations for people who could represent the party in parliament, on local councils, and in other positions such as school governors…

One of the main issues Lord Feldman’s review has identified is diversity. Although there are more female Conservative MPs than ever before — with one in five of the party at Westminster being women — only a third of the party’s candidates in last year’s general election were female. Just 13 per cent were from black or minority ethnic backgrounds.

The new outreach programme will see senior politicians, including cabinet ministers and the prime minister, visiting trainee candidates as part of their countrywide campaign tours.

In a bid to attract more people to the party from low-income backgrounds, the Tories will also set up a bursary scheme to support low-earning candidates in target seats. The bursaries will be available in 2018, after the Boundary Commission has finished its work of redrawing constituency areas. [Financial Times]

Some of the proposed Conservative Party reforms – such as much greater central control over local parties – are very much not the Liberal Democrat way. Some of the reforms – such as the bursary scheme – show the advantage of having money to spend and hence are set to be significantly more generous than similar Liberal Democrat measures, such as the bursary scheme in the Scottish Lib Dems diversity package.

The headhunters idea touches on a long-running tension for all political parties. Party membership is still, despite recent growth, a minor interest amongst the wider population. The ranks of party members are often very different in many ways from the wider population.

So should a party seek out new and different talent from outside its ranks? The answer may appear obviously ‘yes’. Yet the history of bringing in newer people to politics is a very mixed one.

The ranks of political newbies with outside expertise ennobled so they could be government ministers, for example, are littered with those who then turned into political and ministerial failures.

However, headhunting outside sympathetic talent to join a party and run for office has been a significant part of the success for liberal parties in both Canada and Holland. The lesson is to do it well, not to avoid doing it at all.

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