New feature: The case for all-women shortlists

Whatever the verdict of the General Election, women’s representation in the Commons will inch forward at best. Ros Ball argues that all parties must adopt all-women shortlists

Who would have thought in the 21st century that having a pleasant wife in tow would be the most identifiable policy of party leaders at an election? In a recent vox pops on television a member of the public, when asked if it was OK for the party leaders’ wives to be out canvassing and meeting people, said “it’s good to get a woman’s perspective”, as though this is something that is entirely absent elsewhere. The parties may argue that this is not the case, but sadly this member of the public at least had got this impression.

And who can blame her? In the election coverage so far the number of female politicians, not wives, seen representing their parties has been woefully small. And the figures below tell you why. The Centre for Women & Democracy is monitoring the candidate selections of parties during the election. At the time of writing the percentage of women candidates for each of the main parties is as follows:

Labour 30.3% 

Conservatives 24.1% 

LibDem 20.8% 

Even though I work in Westminster, I was still utterly shocked at these paltry figures. It’s an outrage in 2010 that there isn’t an even split between men and women. I’m sick of it and am here to say that it’s time for all-women shortlists as a matter of urgency.

Over the years we’ve seen individual women take prominent positions. From the great early strides of Margaret Bondfield, the first woman in the Cabinet and a Labour minister back in 1929, to Commons stalwarts like Barbara Castle, at the forefront of politics for decades. Diane Abbott, the first black woman to be elected in 1987, Betty Boothroyd as first woman Speaker in 1992, and of course Margaret Thatcher, the first woman to hold the highest public office in the land. But these women still seem to be the exception rather than the rule. And even during an election in 2010 there is no gear change. In many constituencies in the UK a woman has never been elected.

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