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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.

Are more women to join the green benches of the House of Commons after next year's general election?
Are more women to join the green benches of the House of Commons after next year's general election? Photo: Flickr

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.