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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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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