What does the 2015 General Election mean for women? : Louise Gibbard
A paper originally prepared for discussion at the May meeting of Swansea West CLP Women’s Forum.
First the good news, there are now record numbers of women in the House of Commons with a total of 191 female MPs on the green benches, that’s 29%. Of course, that still puts us 28th in the world rankings so nothing to shout about really.[i] This is why groups like this are so essential, so that we can encourage and support women to take on roles at all levels in the party and to make sure our voices are heard just as loudly as men’s. Labour leads the way with 43% women MPs (not counting the Greens’ 100% with just Caroline Lucas in the Commons), followed by the SNP on 36% and the Conservatives on 20% (the Lib Dems and UKIP are “all man”!). Regionally, the North East followed by London has returned the most women to Parliament with Wales languishing fourth from bottom.[ii] During the election campaign women in politics got greater coverage than ever before thanks to the leadership debates with Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and to a lesser extent Natalie Bennett doing well and making a real impact. And afterwards, with Harriet Harman taking over from Ed, for a brief moment, before Nigel Farage “unresigned”, women were leading all but 2 of the main British political parties!
Cameron’s new cabinet has, I think, the most women members serving ever with 11 out of 26 positions. However none of them, as far I as I know, come from the cuddlier more centrist side of the party with Education Minister Nicky Morgan and Equality Minister Caroline Dineage being vocal opponents of gay marriage and Priti Patel expressing a wish to bring back hanging[iii]. Junior Justice Minister Dominic Raab complained that the UK has the toughest anti-discrimination laws in the world but is “blind to some of the most flagrant discrimination- against men” as a result of feminist obnoxious bigots, nice![iv]
The Tories talk a good talk, with a raft of specific pledges towards women in their manifesto[v] but that is at odds with the leaked documents which reveal possible plans to abolish statutory maternity pay, limit welfare payments by family size and force single parents on income support to seek work when their youngest child reaches the age of three all of which will have a massive impact on women in particular.[vi] But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, this was a DWP document which might have been thought up by a civil servant getting carried away. Let’s judge them on their record instead. 1 in 4 households affected by the Bedroom Tax were single parent families, predominantly women and in fact 60% of all people affected are women, losing around £800 a year in benefit.[vii] Universal Credit was been blasted by domestic violence charities concerned that it leaves women at risk of abuse completely financially dependent on their partners.[viii] 65% of public sector workers are women with the Con Dem’s ideologically motivated shrinking of the state putting many of these out of work.[ix] Sure start centres, women’s aid services, rape crisis centres and refuges have been closed outright or are struggling to cope on reduced budgets. I could go on. And on. And on.
So where does this leave us? How as Labour women do we fight back?
[i] Sedghi, Ami “International women’s day 2012: women’s representation in politics” The Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/mar/07/women-representation-in-politics-worldwide accessed 12/05/15
[iii] Withnall, Adam “David Cameron appoints second anti-gay marriage MP Caroline Dinenage as equalities minister” The Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/generalelection/david-cameron-appoints-second-antigay-marriage-mp-caroline-dinenage-as-equalities-minister-10244478.html accessed 12/05/15 and Stone, Jon “The Tories’ new DWP minister wants to bring back capital punishment” The Independent http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/the-tories-new-dwp-minister-wants-to-bring-back-capital-punishment-10240777.html accessed 12/05/15
[iv] Stockham, Ruby “He thinks feminists are ‘obnoxious bigots’: meet the new justice minister” Left Foot Forward http://leftfootforward.org/2015/05/he-thinks-feminists-are-obnoxious-bigots-meet-your-new-justice-minister/ accessed 12/05/15
[v] Specific pledges on women include:
- Ensure women have access to mental health support during and after pregnancy and strengthen the health visitor programme for new mothers.
- Work with local authorities, the NHS and Police and Crime Commissioners to ensure a secure future for specialist female genital mutilation and forced marriage units, refuges and rape crisis centres.
- Improve treatment of women offenders, exploring how new technology may enable more women with young children to serve their sentence in the community.
- Lift the number of women on national sports governing bodies to at least 25% by 2017, and seek to increase participation in sport by women and girls
- Globally, continue promotion and protection of women’s rights overseas, driving forward the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative, promote girls’ education, encourage equal access to property rights and work to achieve access to family planning for ‘everyone who wants it’, tackle violence against women and girls, end FGM and combat early and forced marriage, at home and abroad, promote girls’ education, encourage equal access to property rights and work to achieve access to family planning for ‘everyone who wants it’, tackle violence against women and girls, end FGM and combat early and forced marriage, at home and abroad.
Source: “What’s in store for women under the new government?” The Fawcett Societyhttp://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/2015/05/whats-in-store-for-women-under-the-new-government/
[vii] Foster, Dawn “There’s nothing left”- women’s future under the Conservatives in the UK Open Democracy https://opendemocracy.net/5050/dawn-foster/there%E2%80%99s-nothing-left-women%E2%80%99s-future-under-conservatives-in-uk accessed 12/05/2015
[ix] UNISON factsheet “Women and Public Spending Cuts”