On Sunday night at the Conservative Party Conference, Women2Win celebrated the election of a record number of female MPs at our annual drinks reception, kindly supported by the Association of British Insurers. The event was as popular as ever, full of supporters new and old - we were delighted with the turnout and to see so many familiar faces from over the years. The reception was a particularly special one this year as Women2Win celebrates its 10th anniversary, in the same year as a spectacular Conservative victory and the welcoming of many deserved new women MPs. On the evening we were delighted to have a host of speakers. Guy Opperman of Women2Win introduced the evening, thanking supporters, campaigners, candidates and organisations for their invaluable help and efforts. Baroness Jenkin of Kennington, Co-Chair and founder of Women2Win, began by outlining how the cause has advanced: "when we launched ten years ago we had seventeen female MPs; now we have sixty eight. What an achievement of everybody in this room."
Lord Feldman of Elstree, Chairman of the Conservative Party, opened with words: “the work of Women2Win is very important to the party, and doing this without it being compulsory is a Tory way to do it. I was particularly proud of our achievement as we did it without a list or targets, but by having great quality women to choose from." A development Women2Win is particularly excited about is the new bursary being offered to candidates, which we believe will widen the field and ease the financial burden that comes with standing. Lord Feldman said that he hopes “our new bursary will make a difference to help more women to apply and succeed. CCHQ will support you.”
We also heard from Baroness Stowell of Beeston, Leader of the House of Lords and long-time Women2Win supporter, who pointed out that the Conservatives elected the first female Prime Minister and, of course, the first female Leader of the House of Lords. She said “when I worked for John Major, there were only two female cabinet members. Things have really changed. We’ve got lots of great women in the Lords, such as Baroness Jenkin, and we Conservatives really want women to get on in politics. Contrast that with recent events in Labour! Congratulations to all the women who were elected and thank you to all of you who had the courage to stand!”
Theresa May, Home Secretary and co-founder of Women2Win, joined the reception and emphasised the need to keep going and get more women coming forward - “We've got great women in Parliament but we have many more in this room, so keep at it and keep trying. We want you to succeed and those of you who haven't quite made it, you will make it one day. Thank you for supporting Women2Win - it's really important.”
Dr Tania Mathias, elected this year after defeating Vince Cable, said that she “"would not have done it without Women2Win. The great thing about them was almost everyone came to help. It was perfect, practical training." Justine Greening, Secretary of State for International Development, praised Mathias saying she “knew you were in with a shot when I campaigned for you." She then thanked Women2Win: “you've taken a challenge to the party and done something really positive. I’m seeing this new crop of female MPs that are part of the Women2Win pipeline. It’s great! The Commons is a place for everyone – that’s why Women2Win is important; we need many more women. The work of Women2Win has changed the party, and we will support you all.”
Amber Rudd, Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, remarked “this is the biggest Women2Win event I’ve been to – it grows every year! I want to thank Women2Win for all the help they gave me when I started and all the help they gave all of you. The important bit is to generate self-confidence. The morning of my selection, I got a call to boost me and it helped. Women2Win are so important for giving us that confidence – to women thinking about it, don’t be put off, you can do it! Don’t compare it to any job, compare it to a senior position – lots of hours, but so worth it. “
Mark Garnier MP and newly appointed Co-Chair of Women2Win, talked about the future of women in senior jobs: “Parliament is just the start. This is about changing attitudes; women need to get into more senior roles everywhere.” Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, told the room of the importance of believing in the cause, and being ambitious. She said “this is the first time in nearly two decades we can gather as a majority government. And we have sixty eight female MPs…these things don’t happen by accident, it was a lot of hard work by Women2Win and others. We have amazing women in Parliament and women with lots of influence, but we still want more. We are the party of women – the first woman MP, the first woman Prime Minister, and an unparalleled level of support for prospective candidates. Do not let Labour claim they are the party for women. We've achieved a huge amount for women, whether in terms of FGM or Parliament or FTSE boards. We are working hard and will keep going. Thank you Women2Win for everything you're doing. If you're thinking of standing, talk to us - we can never have too many women.”
Penny Mordaunt, Minister of State for the Armed Forces, shared her experience and hopes for the future to the lively crowd. She said “Women2Win has helped lots of women and helped the party agenda move forward. I’m so proud that our party have announced a bursary to help those from lower income backgrounds to stand. Women2Win even has an impact on women's aspirations around the world - I meet women in other countries who want to stand for office. You, as women with aspirations, are being watched by women across the world, and as a consequence you raise their aspirations."
We were delighted to see so many women MPs at the reception, and a few men, including Jeremy Hunt MP and Chris Grayling. We also heard Maria Caulfield and Andrea Jenkyns – both elected this year – recount the process, the support, and a call for more women to come forward and join them. A common theme throughout the night was that the Conservative party is the party for women. There are several Conservative Women’s groups and the party is doing everything it can to encourage more women and minorities to join the party. The room was full of successful, ambitious woman, and we have all the tools at our disposal to bring more fantastic high achieving women into the party, into the Commons and into the Cabinet.
Women2Win would like to thank the ABI for their generous support. The evening could not have happened without them and we are grateful for their continued backing. Baroness Jenkin also thanked our financial donors on the night - thanks to them we were able to give financial support to each female candidate. Every donation keeps us going and we are always thankful for contributions made by our generous supporters. If you have given money, time or help – thank you.