Women Lack a Say in Choosing the Next Prime Minister

Blog for 50:50 by Jenna Norman – Public Affairs Officer at the Women’s Budget Group & Campaign Coordinator at Women for a People’s Vote.

MPs are now in the process of choosing our next Prime Minister. The first round of voting saw Esther McVey, Andrea Leadsom and Mark Harper knocked out of the race leaving an all-male list of candidates in their wake.

This is the Prime Minister who will try to lead us out of the Brexit chaos and towards a more harmonious time for British politics but statistics show women will scarcely get a say in the decision of a generation.

That’s because 79% of Conservative MPs who have the job of whittling down the final 8 to 2, are men. Then, the decision between the two front-runners goes to the Conservative membership.

Research from Queen Mary University in 2018 show that the Conservative membership is 71% male, 97% white and 44% aged 65 or more. On average 3 in 4 of the people choosing our next Prime Minister are men despite women making up 51% of the electorate. This hardly seems democratic, especially at such a pivotal political time with Brexit looming.

If only this was just a question of democracy. With candidates espousing dangerous policies for women, it’s also a grave question of justice and safety.

Jeremy Hunt suggests halving the number of weeks into a pregnancy a woman can have an abortion; Dominic Raab suggests closing the Government Equalities Office and shelving equal-pay audits; Michael Gove jokes about sexual assault; and Boris Johnson stands by his Islamophobic sexist comments towards Muslim women. So it’s even more significant that women won’t get a vote.

The candidates’ collective plans for tax cuts for the wealthy are also a feminist issue: women earn less, are underrepresented in the wealthiest 1% and rely on public services most. This means that when taxes are cut, women pay the price.  

So, how do we stop these men turning back the clock on gender equality? Our first concern ought to be Brexit: women – particularly young women – are statistically more likely to be anti leaving the European Union, especially without a deal.

A 2019 poll shows men’s support for no deal outweighs women’s support by 25% to 16%. This comes as no surprise given the disproportionate impact a no-deal Brexit would have on women’s jobs, the NHS and public services.

Given these exceptional circumstances the new Prime Minister needs to turn to the country for a Brexit mandate via another referendum at the very least, if not a General Election. We cannot allow this group of unrepresentative men to decide to throw the country over the cliff without even consulting women.

Beyond Brexit, how do we make sure this doesn’t happen again? We need more young women, BAME women, and, working class women at all levels of political representation in every party. The other main parties have marginally more diverse memberships but every card-holding contingent in the country remains dominated by – as the saying goes – the male, pale and stale.

From party membership to local councillors to MPs and Ministers it’s more important than ever that we break down the barriers to entry into public office so that women play an equal role in the decisions that matter most.

This means paid shared parental leave and childcare for all candidates. It means finding ways to ease the cost of running a campaign and joining a party. It means serious commitments to 40% quotas in all elections and ending abuse against elected officials. It means equal pay at every level of employment and it means changing the face of politics so that it looks like a place women want to be.

This is no mean feat. Looking at the state of the battle for the keys to Number 10, you could be swayed into thinking we had turned back the clock to the twentieth century.

With our hard-won rights under siege around the world, this is hardly the time to shut down women’s right to a democratic say, especially in the Mother of all Parliaments. In many ways, however, it’s unsurprising that these men are showing their true colours on gender equality, they will never be held to account by women. If this Conservative Party contest has shown us anything it’s that there is a long way to go and change is drastically needed.

Inspiring, supporting and encouraging women on the path to Parliament with our #AskHerToStand and #SignUpToStand programmes. If you know a woman who would make a good MP or you might consider standing yourself go to www.5050Parliament.co.uk. Our mentors will help you take the next step along the way to Westminster.