THE late author and journalist Rebecca West said this: “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat”.

I doubt any of the female contenders for the Tory crown need lose sleep over being called a feminist. Meanwhile, they present a dismal sight for those of us who are out loud and proud as long-standing supporters of women’s rights.

It’s dispiriting to think of all those ­occasions when we argued that for politics to become more civilised, all it would take was for more women to get elected. The ­arrival of Maggie Thatcher as the UK’s first female premier did little to reinforce that happy theory.

She wasn’t much of an advert for a united sisterhood.

The right-wing media made much of there being no fewer than five women ­initially in the chasing pack to grab the keys to ­Downing Street. Unfortunately, the females in question never seemed likely to be ­invited to join Mensa. One of them has already departed the scene.

Liz Truss is one of the contenders to replace Boris Johnson at the head of the Tory party

Suella Braverman (above) was appointed ­England’s Attorney General despite a raft of senior legal figures describing her as ­patently ill qualified for the job. Then again, she wasn’t appointed because of a sharp legal brain, rather because of her previous role as chair of the European Research Group, a body noted not for research but for stolidly pushing their party towards Brexit.

What are we to make of a senior law ­officer who actively encouraged breaking international treaties, who wanted to bin membership of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, and most recently, ­advised us that many welfare recipients of working age were choosing benefits over ­going to work.

Perhaps she hasn’t clocked that many poverty-stricken families are already in work.

It’s striking how many senior Tories whose families came to Britain as ­migrants now take a hardline stance on ­immigration. The kind of stance which these days might have found similar ­aspirational folk like the parents of Priti Patel, Rishi Sunak, Kemi Badenoch and Braverman waking up one morning in Rwanda.

Anyway, she’s gone. You will be ­unsurprised, perhaps, to learn that she’s now given her endorsement to Liz Truss, that mobile advert for the Peter ­Principle – which argues that people can get ­promoted to their level of incompetence. Except to say that Ms Truss seems to have turned an event into a bit of a sequence.

She’s being promoted by fans as a ­woman of considerable ­ministerial ­experience. Doubtless because she’s ­managed to screw up so many posts en route to the fanciest office ­accommodation in ­Whitehall. As international trade secretary, she brought us that now infamous deal with Australia, which would allow their inferior animal welfare standards to undercut our own farmers. What a star, eh?

She was famously a Remainer, ­until ­famously, she wasn’t. When Brexit ­became flavour of the Tory month, Ms Truss quickly found her bread should have been buttered on the other side. It tells you much about her ­intellectual ­rigour that the first two Cabinet ­colleagues to rush to her support were Jacob ­Rees-Mogg and Nadine Dorries – who seem to share her core belief that you can convince ­anyone two and two make five so long as you ­repeat it often enough.

Liz Truss’s campaign launch is ­already a viral video not because of her ­eloquence – she gives barn doors a good run for their money in the wooden stakes – but because in a room with one exit, she couldn’t recall where the door was. A sandwich or two short of the full picnic is our Liz. Sorry, Liz.

READ MORE: Liz Truss 'gets lost' trying to leave her own leadership bid launch - watch the video

She has now also garnered the backing of Ian Duncan Smith, another Tory leader who got his jotters early from his own party.

Which brings us to Penny Mordaunt (below), another woman still standing. As is the way of these party contests, much of the “friendly” fire from her own side – truly blue-on-blue sort of stuff – has got quite intense, as she proved more popular with the Tory membership than had hitherto been suspected.

Liz Truss is one of the contenders to replace Boris Johnson at the head of the Tory party

It is more than a little galling for the ­other 99.9% of the electorate to know that in early September, they will be in ­possession of a new Prime Minister in whose selection they had absolutely no say. The final two will have been picked by Conservative MPs alone, before the ­baton is passed to that tiniest of ­electorates, the mostly white, mostly elderly, mostly ­reactionary paid-up members of the Tory party. This qualifies as the polar opposite of representative democracy.

Then again, Scotland is well used to ­having Tory leaders for whom they have never voted in enough numbers to form a governing party. Truth to tell, the ­Conservative members of the ­Holyrood parliament are made up of people who ­violently opposed the ­devolution ­settlement from which they have ­benefitted. Most did not garner enough votes to become a constituency MSP.

However, back to the lovely Penelope who has boasted that she has the ammo to demolish the “yellow wall” of the SNP in Scotland, what with her having been a naval reservist and once, memorably, the first ever female defence secretary. Mind you, she did replace Gavin Williamson, a chap so suited to the role that he once told Vlad the Bad to go away and shut up. That went well.

PM4PM, as her snazzy campaign slogan has it, may not have noticed as yet that there are only half a dozen blue bricks in that same wall, most of whom were not supporters of the latish Prime ­Minister.

More pertinently, her party pals are currently alleging that not only did she take dosh from a climate change ­denying organisation, but that she’s in the ­climate change denial business on her own ­account. This may be a tricky ­proposition to uphold, if true, whilst southern ­Britain hides from 40-degree heatwaves, and half of Sydney and Bangladesh are ­underwater.

Like ditzy Lizzie, Penny has also taken account of the fact that the final electorate in this small and imperfectly formed contest is not exactly woke, or even, sometimes, fully awake. Thus, she too has been known to do some quick change routines in the belief department. Most memorably, she dotted about ideologically on the gender-critical spectrum, presumably in the hope that a moving target is more difficult to pin down.

READ MORE: 'Record low' number of people think Brexit was a good idea, John Curtice says

However, if you seek a serious war on woke, look no further than the candidate you didn’t know existed before last week. No tiptoeing around delicate territory for Ms Kemi Badenoch, who had “ladies” and “gents” labels taped over gender neutral loos at her launch. Because her parents were Nigerian, she spent much of her childhood in Lagos and later in America before returning to the UK, where she was born, at 16.

She startled some by getting some high-profile endorsements, not least Michael Gove, minister for everything until BJ knifed him in the front – presumably a tit for tat political assassination, Mikey having once done the same to Boris. Then again, Kemi worked for Gove in his own ill-fated bid for the top job, so maybe it was a favour long in need of returning.

The Lord Frost – that negotiating giant who brought us the unworkable Brexit deal – says that Kemi should pack it all in and support the Trussles. If I was ­desperately short of shrewd advice, I doubt David Frost’s door would be the first one chapped.

However, sister feminists, remember these are but Tories. Labour has Cooper and Thornberry; the SNP have Sturgeon and Cherry. Admittedly, the latter duo doesn’t come under the heading of bosom buddies. At least they prove feminism and brain power are not mutually ­exclusive assets.