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Gender Politics and Conservatism: The View from the British Conservative Party Grassroots


  • Paul Webb,

  • Sarah Childs


Can conservatives be feminists? This article examines the issue by exploring the case of the British Conservative Party, drawing on a new survey of party members. Under David Cameron's leadership, reforms have been made to the party's parliamentary selection procedures and distinct women's policies developed, thus addressing both the descriptive and substantive representation of women. We examine party members' attitudes towards three types of gender issue: basic orientations towards gender roles and relations; specific policy measures relevant to the substantive representation of women; and the descriptive representation of women. Detailed empirical analysis reveals that there is significant support for progressive liberal feminist positions on each of these dimensions in the party, and that sex, age and basic ideological dispositions drive such attitudes to varying degrees. Even so, support for a liberal feminist position on the descriptive representation of women – that is, the aspect of gender politics where the leadership has been most active – remains on the whole quite limited.