Voting in El Salvador. (Photo: Getty)
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Women are at risk of falling off the electoral register - and out of the political debate

Turnout was lower among women than men at the last election, and the problem could get worse.

As we take the time to recognise and celebrate the achievements of women today, it’s important to recognise the low turnout of women at the last general election. A study carried out by the ‘House of Commons Library at the request of Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, showed that 9.1 million women didn’t turn out to vote in the 2010 general election’.  The number of women turning up to vote has declined over the years. In 2005 and 2010 there were more male voters than female. Furthermore, 64 per cent of women voted in the last general election, compared to 67 per cent of men. The difference is even wider amongst younger voters with only 39 per cent of young women voting compared to 50 per cent of young men.

The general election on 7 May is going to be crucial and the number of women that turn up to vote will certainly make an impact on which political party gains power. It’s therefore really important that women turn out to vote. It is alarming to read that in 2015 that the turnout gap between sexes is getting wider, with women falling further behind when it comes to voting.

Gender inequality stills exists in the UK. The Equal Pay Act was passed 44 years ago and women still earn just 81p for every pound a man earns. Furthermore, the government’s own figures estimate that two-thirds (400,000) of those hit by the bedroom tax are women.

It is clear that there are many issues that affect women, but I believe that voting enables you to push for greater equality. It’s important that women are informed that the coalition has made changes to electoral law which means that registration must be completed individually, rather than by household. I know from speaking to many people in my role as a councillor that a lot of people are not aware of these changes, which potentially means they’ll miss out on being able to vote. I believe that it is important that people are informed of the changes, but unfortunately, the government reforms have failed to tackle this. Women not turning up to vote will be particularly bad for UK democracy because governments develop policy and party manifestos to appeal and reach out to voters and, largely, ignore those that don’t vote.

There are many factors that have affected the turnout of women going to vote. I come across many women on the doorstep, who are disengaged with the politics, parties and the voting process. Currently, men outnumber women 4 to 1 in Parliament, where women just make up just 22 per cent of MPs.  I am part of the Fabian Women’s Network Executive and we try to hold and attend events involving and encouraging women to participate in policy matters. We also offer a mentoring scheme to help women develop their political and public life skills.

All political parties need to come together to broaden the opportunities of the electoral process. A lot of women, like young people live on mobile phones, tablets and laptops and we should move towards online voting to tap in those that are already engaged in politics through various means such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs. On Tuesday 2 March, Areeq Chowdhury, Founder of WebRoots Democracy launched his report ‘Viral Voting’ in Parliament. The findings in the report show that online voting would encourage women, particularly young women, to vote than it would for men. Furthermore, that it could boost overall turnout in a general election by 9 million and boost youth voter turnout by 1.8 million, taking turnout to 70 per cent, up from 44 per cent in the 2010 general election. With these figures in mind, I urge you to read the report and join WebRoots Democracy’s campaign for online voting as it has the potential to help increase female voter turnout.

Abena Oppong-Asare is a Councillor in Bexley, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Group and on the Fabian Women’s Network Executive. She tweets @abenaopp.

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“It was like a religious ceremony”: What happened at Big Ben’s final bong?

Both inside and outside Parliament, people gathered to hear the clock’s final midday chime before undergoing repairs.

“It’s just hacks everywhere,” a photographer sighs, jamming his lens through a gap in Parliament’s railings to try and get a closer look.

New Palace Yard, Parliament’s courtyard directly below Big Ben, is filling with amused-looking journalists, waiting for the MPs who have promised to hold a “silent vigil”, heads bowed, to mark Big Ben’s final chime before four years of silence while the tower’s repaired.

About four of them turn up. Two by accident.

It’s five minutes to twelve. Tourists are gathering outside Westminster Tube, as tourists do best. A bigger crowd fills Parliament Square. More people than expected congregate outside, even if it’s the opposite within the Palace. The world and his phone are gazing up at the sad, resigned clock face.


“It’s quite controversial, isn’t it?” one elderly woman in an anorak asks her friend. They shrug and walk off. “Do you know what is this?” an Italian tourist politely asks the tiny press pack, gesturing to the courtyard. No one replies. It’s a good question.

“This is the last time,” says another tourist, elated, Instagram-poised.

“DING DONG DING DONG,” the old bell begins.

Heads down, phones up.


It finishes the on-the-hour tune for the last time, and then gives its much-anticipated resignation statement:

“BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG.”

Applause, cheers, and even some tears.


But while the silly-seasoned journalists snigger, the crowd is enthusiastic.

“It’s quite emotional,” says David Lear, a 52-year-old carer from Essex, who came up to London today with his work and waited 45 minutes beneath Big Ben to hear it chime.

He feels “very, very sad” that the bell is falling silent, and finds the MPs’ vigil respectful. “I think lots of people feel quite strongly about it. I don’t know why they’re doing it. During the war it carries on, and then they turn it off for a health and safety reason.”

“I don’t know why they can’t have some speakers half way down it and just play the chime,” he adds. “So many tourists come especially to listen to the chime, they gather round here, getting ready for it to go – and they’re going to switch it off. It’s crazy.”

Indeed, most of the surrounding crowd appears to be made up of tourists. “I think that it was gorgeous, because I’ve never heard him,” smiles Cora, an 18-year-old German tourist. “It was a great experience.”

An Australian couple in their sixties called Jane and Gary are visiting London for a week. “It was like a religious ceremony, everybody went quiet,” laughs Gary. “I hope they don’t forget where they put the keys to start it again in four years’ time.”

“When we first got here, the first thing we did was come to see it,” adds Jane, who is also positive about the MPs who turned up to watch. “I think it’s good they showed a bit of respect. Because they don’t usually show much respect, do they?”

And, as MPs mouthing off about Big Ben are challenged on their contrasting reactions to Grenfell, that is precisely the problem with an otherwise innocent show of sentimentality.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.