Are more women to join the green benches of the House of Commons after next year's general election? Photo: Flickr
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Two thirds of parliamentary candidates in party-held seats are women

Given that only 23 per cent of MPs are women at present, the high number of female parliamentary candidates selected for party-incumbent seats is a small, but important triumph.

Finally some good news for gender parity in Westminster. Almost two thirds of parliamentary candidates selected so far in seats held by their party are women.

To date 53 MPs have announced their intention to step down at next year's general election, of which 72 per cent are men and 28 per cent women. Futhermore, two male MPs and one female MP have been deselected.

Of the 37 seats in which the candidate for the incumbent party has been selected, 65 per cent are women, according to new research by PR company Insight.

The boost towards gender parity has been driven by both Labour, which has selected 15 women and four men to fight its incumbent seats, and the Lib Dems, who have chosen five women and three men. The Conservatives have selected six men and three women.

There is certainly a long way to go towards reaching equal gender representation in SW1. At present only 23 per cent of MPs are women, putting the UK 65th in the world - beaten by Afghanistan and more than 20 African nations.

And despite promising in 2009 that he would appoint women to a third of ministerial posts, David Cameron has yet to reach his target. The number of women in the cabinet - three out of 22 with full voting rights - is the lowest in more than 15 years.

While the Labour Party has successfully used all-women shortlists in candidate selection processes to attain an equal gender split, the Conservatives have demurred from introducing them so far. Appetite is growing, however, which was most clearly indicated when former Conservative Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman joined the call for them earlier this year.

Last week speculation about the Conservatives adopting all-women shortlists was rife after Nicky Morgan, the Tory minister for women, said that "no option is off the table" with regard to the party recruiting more female MPs in a webchat on Mumsnet. Senior Tory sources were quick to categorically rule out such a move, however.

The Conservative party has faced increasing pressure to select female candidates and promote women MPs. Five female MPs elected in 2010 will not be standing for re-election next May. One of them, Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh was deselected - the polyglot former lawyer dismissed as a "silly girl" by some local Conservatives in her rural Yorkshire seat.

Even the Speaker John Bercow felt compelled to speak out last February that the Commons is losing "far too many outstanding members and far too many outstanding female members".

In a boost for racial equality as well as gender, the report by Insight revealed that 14 per cent of candidates in incumbent party seats identify as black, Asian or ethnic minority, roughly reflecting UK demographics; the 2011 census recorded the BME population as 12.1 per cent. 

Lucy Fisher writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2013. She tweets @LOS_Fisher.

 

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Should London leave the UK?

Almost 60 per cent of Londoners voted to stay in the EU. Is it time for the city to say good by to Brexit Britain and go it alone?

Amid the shocked dismay of Brexit on Friday morning, there was some small, vindictive consolation to be had from the discomfort of Boris Johnson as he left his handsome home in EU-loving Islington to cat-calls from inflamed north London europhiles. They weren’t alone in their displeasure at the result. Soon, a petition calling for “Londependence” had gathered tens of thousands of names and Sadiq Khan, Johnson’s successor as London mayor, was being urged to declare the capital a separate city-state that would defiantly remain in the EU.

Well, he did have a mandate of a kind: almost 60 per cent of Londoners thought the UK would be Stronger In. It was the largest Remain margin in England – even larger than the hefty one of 14 per cent by which Khan defeated Tory eurosceptic Zac Goldsmith to become mayor in May – and not much smaller than Scotland’s. Khan’s response was to stress the importance of retaining access to the single market and to describe as “crucial” London having an input into the renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with the EU, alongside Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It’s possible to take a dim view of all this. Why should London have a special say in the terms on which the UK withdraws from the EU when it ended up on the wrong side of the people’s will? Calling for London to formally uncouple from the rest of the UK, even as a joke to cheer gloomy Inners up, might be seen as vindicating small-town Outer resentment of the metropolis and its smug elites. In any case, it isn’t going to happen. No, really. There will be no sovereign Greater London nation with its own passport, flag and wraparound border with Home Counties England any time soon.

Imagine the practicalities. Currency wouldn’t be a problem, as the newborn city-state would convert to the euro in a trice, but there would be immediate secessionist agitation in the five London boroughs of 32 that wanted Out: Cheam would assert its historic links with Surrey; stallholders in Romford market would raise the flag of Essex County Council. Then there is the Queen to think about. Plainly, Buckingham Palace could no longer be the HQ of a foreign head of state, but given the monarch’s age would it be fair to turf her out?

Step away from the fun-filled fantasy though, and see that Brexit has underlined just how dependent the UK is on London’s economic power and the case for that power to be protected and even enhanced. Greater London contains 13 per cent of the UK’s population, yet generates 23 per cent of its economic output. Much of the tax raised in London is spent on the rest of the country – 20 per cent by some calculations – largely because it contains more business and higher earners. The capital has long subsidised the rest the UK, just as the EU has funded attempts to regenerate its poorer regions.

Like it or not, foreign capital and foreign labour have been integral to the burgeoning of the “world city” from which even the most europhobic corners of the island nation benefit in terms of public spending. If Leaver mentality outside the capital was partly about resentment of “rich London”, with its bankers and big businesses – handy targets for Nigel Farage – and fuelled by a fear of an alien internationalism London might symbolise, then it may prove to have been sadly self-defeating.

Ensuring that London maintains the economic resilience it has shown since the mid-Nineties must now be a priority for national government, (once it decides to reappear). Pessimists predict a loss of jobs, disinvestment and a decrease in cultural energy. Some have mooted a special post-Brexit deal for the capital that might suit the interests of EU member states too – London’s economy is, after all, larger than that of Denmark, not to mention larger than that of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined – though what that might be and how that could happen remain obscure.

There is, though, no real barrier to greater devolution of powers to London other than the political will of central government. Allowing more decisions about how taxes raised in the capital are spent in the capital, both at mayoral and borough level, would strengthen the city in terms of managing its own growth, addressing its (often forgotten) poverty and enhancing the skills of its workforce.

Handing down control over the spending of property taxes, as set out in an influential 2013 report by the London Finance Commission set up by Mayor Johnson, would be a logical place to start. Mayor Khan’s manifesto pledged to campaign for strategic powers over further education and health service co-ordination, so that these can be better tailored to London’s needs. Since Brexit, he has underlined the value of London securing greater command of its own destiny.

This isn’t just a London thing, and neither should it be. Plans are already in place for other English cities and city regions to enjoy more autonomy under the auspices of directly elected “metro mayors”, notably for Greater Manchester and Liverpool and its environs. One of the lessons of Brexit for the UK is that many people have felt that decisions about their futures have been taken at too great a distance from them and with too little regard for what they want and how they feel.

That lesson holds for London too – 40 per cent is a large minority. Boris Johnson was an advocate of devolution to London when he was its mayor and secured some, thanks to the more progressive side of Tory localism. If he becomes prime minister, it would be good for London and for the country as a whole if he remembered that.  

Dave Hill writes the Guardian’s On London column. Find him on Twitter as @DaveHill.