Diversity deserts: 7.5m people can’t vote for a woman this election

Katie Ghose, former Chief Executive

Posted on the 26th May 2017

There’s good news and bad news when it comes to women’s representation this election.

The good news is this: analysis by the Press Association suggests a record number of women could be elected on June 8th, meaning (nearly) a third of MPs will be women.

The bad news? The progress is glacial – and in some cases we’re going backwards.

While any rise in women MPs is welcome, the projected result would mark just a one or two percentage point rise overall from 2015 – from 29.4% to 31.8%.

Further digging by the BBC has revealed other worrying signs: there are 104 constituencies in the UK where you can’t vote for a woman to represent you in Parliament: there simply isn’t one on the ballot (there is only one constituency in the UK where you can’t vote for a man: Glasgow Central). That’s 7.5 million people who don’t have the option of voting for a female MP in a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile research by the Constitution Unit shows that 84% of newly selected Conservative, 87% of Labour and 96% of Liberal Democrat female candidates are standing in ‘unwinnable’ seats this election. Parties have totally dropped the ball on diversity in their scramble to select people for June 8th.

All this shows there is much more to be done to achieve gender equality in politics and public life. Parties seem to be treading water when it comes to female representation. There is a worrying complacency that is spreading.

It matters a great deal that Parliament reflects the range of backgrounds and experiences we have in this country. We all lose out if our politics is limited to one demographic rather than the diverse talents of the UK.

And while the spotlight is on Westminster, this follows a shocking result for women’s voices in politics in this month’s metro-mayor elections. Not a single one of the new mayors is a woman, after parties totally failed to select female candidates – and not one of the newly appointed deputies is either. This means that well over 90% of the most powerful positions in English devolution have gone to men. Just today we found out that more than one council has picked an all-male cabinet after this month’s local elections.

Whatever the result on June 8th – and it looks like there will be a tiny rise in the proportion of women elected – parties need to up their game, not just for the next Parliamentary elections but for our local councils, metro mayor roles and institutions across the UK.

We cannot settle for incremental change – it’s time for real momentum on women’s representation in politics.

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