Monday, 17 May 2010

Lack of Women at Westminster, by Pippa Norris


This post was republished to Pippa Norris's Weblog at 3:02:51 PM 5/17/2010


Now that the dust has settled after the May 2010 general election, and the outcome for women is clear, there are many reasons for disappointment.

Four women sit in the new cabinet (14%), led by Theresa May as Home Secretary, while Caroline Spelman is the new environment secretary, Cheryl Gillan is the Welsh secretary, and Baroness Warsi is minister without portfolio. The British cabinet lags far behind many European countries; Spain has 53% women in its Cabinet, while Germany has 37% and France 33%.

Overall 139 female MPs were elected to Westminster (21.5%) – more than one in five of the total members in the House of Commons. This was another steady increase, up from 128 or 19.8% of all members in 2005 – but only a modest gain. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union figures, after the election Britain ranks 55th worldwide in the proportion of women in the lower house of parliament, lagging far behind the familiar litany of global leaders such as Sweden, Norway and Finland, as well as European democracies such as Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands. Despite the gains in numbers at Westminster, in fact Britain’s international ranking slipped 10 places since 2005, because other countries – including many newer democracies – are advancing at a faster pace.

Labour continues to have the best record of the major parties, now with 81 women MPs (almost one third or 31%). The Conservatives made substantial seat gains, including those contested by women candidates, but still elected only 48 women MPs (15.7%). Meanwhile, despite all the egalitarian rhetoric, the Liberal Democrats actually managed to fall back to just 7 female MPs (12%), and they haven’t nominated any for their five Cabinet posts.

Conservative

Labour

Liberal Democrat

Total in all parties

PPC

MPs

PPC

MPs

PPC

MPs

N. of all MPs

% of all MPs

1979

31

13

52

11

52

0

19

3.0

1983

40

13

78

10

75

0

23

3.5

1987

46

17

92

21

106

2

41

6.3

1992

63

20

138

37

143

2

60

9.2

1997

69

13

157

101

140

3

120

18.2

2001

92

14

146

94

135

5

118

17.9

2005

118

17

166

97

142

10

128

19.8

2010

150

48

191

81

133

7

139

21.5

In a sense, this is all water under the bridge. But there are still important issues which need to be addressed.

In particular, right now only two candidates have declared themselves for the Labour party leadership contest – the bros David and Ed Miliband. Both have considerable potential as the next generation of rising Labour leaders. But where are the women? Harriet Harman, the Deputy leader of the Labour party, would have been an obvious contender, but she has quite firmly refused to stand. Other names which have been mooted in this context include Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood), Barbara Follett (Stevenage), Emily Thornberry (Islington South & Finsbury) and Julie Morgan (Cardiff North).

Ed Miliband, who is a personable candidate but without deep experience of high office, stood in part due to a grassroots web campaign among supporters.

If you could encourage any of the Labour women MPs to stand in the leadership contest, who would this be??

1 comment:

  1. I agree that these incremental gains are far too slow.
    I would like to encourage Tessa Jowell to throw her hat into the ring!
    ~ Rainbow Murray

    ReplyDelete