Women's Equality Party Is a Wake-Up Call for Westminster; the Co-Founder of the UK's Newest Political Force Wants an End to Old Politics and Better Representation for Women

The Evening Standard (London, England), January 15, 2016 | Go to article overview

Women's Equality Party Is a Wake-Up Call for Westminster; the Co-Founder of the UK's Newest Political Force Wants an End to Old Politics and Better Representation for Women


Byline: Catherine Mayer

IMAGINE a couple of armchair footballers suddenly managing a Premier League team. Sandi Toksvig and I spent decades writing and broadcasting about politics and in my case, at least, shouting at politicians on the telly on a regular basis before we co-founded the Women's Equality Party. Then, in a split-second decision, we embarked on a mission to transform politics. How hard could that be? You could be forgiven for thinking not at all, because our brainchild has blossomed from conception to contender in 10 months.

I remember an email from a supporter who hoped to set up a local group in Battersea. She'd put a notice on Facebook and imagined a few people might turn up to a corner table in a pub. Sixty responded and eventually the whole pub joined in the discussion.

It was a similar story and an even bigger turnout in Hackney. Our first fundraiser in June at Conway Hall sold out within an hour. We now have 45,000 members and supporters, has more than 70 branches and is gearing up to run in May's elections.

Any Londoner who is a Women's Equality Party member can vote in our candidate selection for London Mayor and the Greater London Assembly from January 21. The ballot closes on January 28 and we'll announce our candidates at the start of February.

All this enthusiasm masks the real lesson for armchair politicians everywhere: there's nothing like doing things for real to understand how tough it is to do them right. Every day reveals the scale of the challenge we have set ourselves. The journalist part of my brain is fascinated by the nature of that challenge because it helps to answer a question that has long troubled me. Why are women still the second sex? Dinosaurs still roam but their numbers are few. As new research from the Fawcett Society reveals, the argument for gender equality has, in theory, been won. Most men understand that a more equal world is better for them too. Countries that are good for women are good for everyone, nicer places to live, with lower rates of depression and divorce and a more enveloping sense of wellbeing. Nations, businesses and organisations only thrive if they tap into all the available talent. There's a windfall waiting to be harvested for the economy if the women who want to join the workforce are enabled to do so PS180 billion by 2030 on one estimate.

What kind of government passes up on that opportunity? The answer is every one the Westminster system produces, whether Conservative, Labour or coalition, and the picture is similar at every level of politics certainly in London. The old parties can't fix wider gender imbalances until they fix their own.

The London Mayor is a man. So was his predecessor. The two front-runners for London Mayor are men. Sixty-eight per cent of Greater London Assembly members are men. In Westminster men hold more seats than there have ever been female MPs. The backrooms of political parties are filled with smoke and mirrors and men. More than two-thirds of local councillors are men and 87 per cent of council leaders are men.

Last March I spontaneously proposed founding WE at the Women of the World Festival, during a debate between Tory Margot James, Lib-Dem Jo Swinson and Labour's Stella Creasy. …

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