Election 2015: Why Won't The Conservatives Talk To Yahoo?

Nine million women didn't vote in the 2010 General Election.

This fact, publicised by Labour and their pink bus back in February, struck a chord with me as a journalist, a woman and someone who is passionate about politics.

Five years ago, politics was overwhelmingly male. From the three main party leaders to the male journalists chairing the televised debates, it's not a leap to assume many women felt detached and disengaged from the testosterone-filled halls of Westminster.

David Cameron is in for the fight of his life at the polls tomorrow [Rex]
David Cameron is in for the fight of his life at the polls tomorrow [Rex]


In March, I decided to set myself the task of finding out not just why these British women didn't vote but what each of the leading parties were doing to engage female voters.

Along the way, we had discussions about 'women's issues' such as childcare and the NHS, whether or not it was actually destructive to think of these things as uniquely of interest to women while we left the tough stuff like the economy and defence spending to the men.

As you can imagine, it's not easy to nail down interviews with prominent female candidates from each of the parties in the run up to a General Election but I wouldn't be a very good journalist if I didn't try.

To keep track of how far I had got with each of my prospective interviews, I created a timeline to take note of each time I had made contact with the parties and how much progress was made.

Here is the story of my attempt to interview Conservative candidate for Witham, Priti Patel.

I chose Priti as my ideal Tory interviewee as she was an MP with strong opinions she wasn't afraid to voice in very public forums - she called for the return of the death penalty on Newsnight in 2011 - and her seat in the Treasury put her in a unique position to talk about running the country's finances first hand.

When I first tried to contact my prospective interviewees on March 17, I used their specific constituency emails as per their websites. This had varying degrees of success. Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the Green Party, responded to a direct message on Twitter within 24 hours while the Conservative and Labour candidates sent automated responses telling me that unless I was actually a member of their constituency, they probably wouldn't be able to reply to my email.

My first email to Priti Patel
My first email to Priti Patel


On March 23, I picked up the phone and spoke to a member of Priti's Westminster staff who wasn't sure if she was the right person to speak to but would pass my name along. Sure enough, that afternoon I was called back by another member of Priti's staff who explained that due to purdah - the pre-election period - there was little they could do but she would be sure to pass on my details to the right person.

Easter and that lovely four-day weekend happened, so there was an understandable wait on my part for any kind of correspondence vis-a-vis my interview.

On April 15, I decided to contact the Conservative press office directly and it was here that I first spoke to George*, a politcal press advisor. He listened attentively as I repeated my spiel for what felt like the umpteenth time before asking me to "put it all in an email" to him. No problem.

My email to George* at the Conservative press office
My email to George* at the Conservative press office


A week passed, we're at April 22 now, with no reply from George so I did what any good journalist would do and chased it up. I got through to George who had obviously forgotten who I was and what I wanted, which is understandable - we were just over two weeks away from a General Election, he is no doubt a busy man. However I would be remiss in my role as a member of the fourth estate not to try and provide you the reader with a rounded view of the election and this meant getting interviews with candidates from all the parties. I mentioned this to George to which his response was not to agree and make any steps towards at least contacting Patel to see if she was available but to ask "Who have the others put forward?"

There is no strict set of rules about what you can and cannot talk about with journalists but there are simple manners. I politely informed George that I was not going to give him that information but did tell him that my Green Party interview had gone live so he could look up my interviewee. In the end I told him my interview was with Amelia Womack, to which he replied 'Who's she?" When I told him she was the deputy leader he brushed this off as if he already knew this. The conversation ended with George telling me he would "chase up" my request.

Another week passed and still no word from George. On April 29, I called him again with the intention of repeating what I had said in my initial email - if Patel was not available then Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) or Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon) would also be great potential interviewees. Our conversation was brief, punctuated by long pauses (his) and repeated questions (mine). As George attempted to pass off the "chase it up" line again, I began to ask him if I could get an ETA on this chasing. Just as I was asking, George put the phone down on me.

Reader, I'm sure you can imagine how frustrated I was. After over a month of trying to nail down an interview, repeatedly chasing anyone who would talk to me, I had made little to no progress and now this. I decided to tweet George as I knew he was reluctant to respond to my emails.

My tweet to George*
My tweet to George*

A day passed, I continued with the rest of my interviews but still no reply from George. I had a look at his Twitter account that afternoon (May 1) and was greeted with this message.

This is what it looks like when someone blocks you on Twitter
This is what it looks like when someone blocks you on Twitter

I had been blocked. My first Twitter blocking I might add, to the best of my knowledge.

It is not for me to say what this means about how the Conservatives have handled the press in the run up to this election. My interviews with the Green, Labour and Lib Dem candidates were engaging and informative experiences for myself and hopefully interesting reads for Yahoo UK's eight million daily users. It's a shame that due to members of their press team, the incumbent government and specifically Ms Patel were unable to have their say.

The only other party who were unable to facilitate an interview with a female candidate were UKIP.

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