New book by Sussex academic examines sex, gender and Cameron’s Conservatives

The Conservatives may have produced Britain's only female Prime Minister, but the Tory establishment has still to resolve policy difficulties around the role of women in the party, says a new book out this month (November 2011).

Sex, Gender and the Conservative Party, which is co-authored by University of Sussex Professor of Politics Paul Webb and Professor Sarah Childs (University of Bristol) provides, for the first time, an academic, gendered analysis of the contemporary UK Conservative Party.

According to the authors, party leader David Cameron inherited a multi-faceted gender problem when took over from Michael Howard: only 17 women MPs; an unhappy women's organisation; electorally uncompetitive policies 'for women'; and a party which was seemingly unattractive to women voters.

The book assesses Cameron's attempts to increase the numbers of women MPs within the party, which to date stop short of introducing all-women shortlists, as adopted by the Labour Party.

It examines how the party sought to increase the number of Conservative women MPs and looks at the nature and role of the women's organisations. It also analyses how the party 'acted for women' in the 2005 Parliament, the nature of its electoral offer to women in 2010 and how party members and voters responded to the party's feminisation efforts.

Professor Webb says: "The 'feminisation' of the Conservative party was part and parcel of David Cameron's attempt to develop an image of compassionate conservatism that would contrast sharply with the 'nasty party' label so associated with the Tories prior to his ascension to the leadership.

"In our new book, we examine his battle to get more Conservative women into Parliament and to adopt policies that would have greater appeal for women. On the whole, he has enjoyed only partial success in pursuing these objectives, although he could reasonably claim to have made some progress by the time of the 2010 general election. However, the present context of economic austerity is proving to have a particularly significant impact on the Party's ability to deliver a women-friendly agenda."

Notes for Editors

Sex, Gender and the Conservative Party: From Iron Lady to Kitten Heels (Palgrave MacMillan) is published on 18 November 2011.

Paul Webb is Professor of Politics at the Department of Politics and Contemporary European Studies, University of Sussex, UK and has held a number of previous and visiting positions in Britain and abroad, most recently at the Australian National University. He is author or editor of numerous publications, including The Modern British Party System (2000), Political Parties in Advanced Industrial Societies (2002) and The Presidentialisation of Politics: A Comparative Study of Modern Democracies (2005). He is currently co-editor of the journal Party Politics.

Sarah Childs is Professor of Politics and Gender at the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies, University of Bristol, UK. She has published widely on women's political representation.  Her books include New Labour's Women MPs (2004), Women and British Party Politics (2008) and with Mona Lena Krook, Women, Gender and Politics: A Reader (2010).

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune and Jacqui Bealing. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email:

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Last updated: Wednesday, 16 November 2011