Conservatives slap down women's minister over all-female shortlists

The Conservatives have dismissed a suggestion from Nicky Morgan, their women's minister, that the party could consider all-female shortlists after the next election.

Senior sources said it was "categorically not going to happen" after Morgan said all options would be on the table if the party is still struggling to recruit women to run as MPs after 2015.

Just three months after Morgan was appointed the party's spokesman on women, Conservative officials slapped down the idea, saying there was no appetite in the party for such a reform. Only 16% of Conservative MPs are women, compared with 33% of Labour MPs, while the Liberal Democrats, with 13%, have the worst ratio. Three out of 27 Conservative and Lib Dem members of David Cameron's cabinet are women.

Despite strong resistance at the top of the party, Morgan's position is known to be supported by a number of her female colleagues, including Margot James, MP for Stourbridge, a No 10 policy unit adviser and a former party vice-chairman for women.

However, few are willing to speak publicly about the subject, especially before a reshuffle in which Cameron is expected to promote more women and because of a feeling that the party HQ regards the topic as a distraction that antagonises the grassroots.

One senior female MP said she thought all-female shortlists are the "right direction". Another told the Guardian that she believes the vast majority of women in the parliamentary party back Morgan's argument that all options should be on the table if the ratio does not improve in 2015, although some will never be reconciled to any form of positive discrimination.

Caroline Spelman, one of Cameron's few former female cabinet ministers, has previously said that all-female shortlists were "one of the measures on a spectrum of positive discrimination" and the party "shouldn't rule it out", although she would favour 50:50 lists.

The controversy broke out after Morgan gave her views on all-female shortlists to Mumsnet, the parenting website. Asked whether she is in favour of such shortlists to improve representation, Morgan said: " I do think the big issue is we just aren't getting enough women coming forward (which is an issue for all parties) – we are seeing more women selected now in our seats. I think we need to see where we end up in 2015 and, if we are still struggling to get more women MPs, then no option is off the table."

Gloria De Piero MP, Labour's shadow minister for women and equalities, said the reaction of the Conservative party was typical.

"Everyone knows David Cameron's Conservatives have a women problem – the women's minister admits it, and even one of his own backbenchers has revealed that under this prime minister, there's little room at the top table for women," she said.

Powered by article was written by Rowena Mason, political correspondent, for The Guardian on Friday 27th June 2014 18.05 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010