When it comes to striving for equal representation for women, Labour has been way ahead – at least for the past decade.
Gordon Brown © World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org) Photo by Andy Mettler/flickr
Historically, women were more likely to vote Conservative. Then came the 1997 election. Having made a conscious decision that it wanted more women in office, the Labour Party used an all-women short list for the first time. They were (and remain) the only national party to do so.
And it worked: Labour won the election, and as a consequence, the number of women MPs doubled overnight, from 60 to 120. While that meant women still made up less than 20 percent of Parliament, it was a dramatic improvement. It also marked the end of the Conservatives’ advantage among women voters.
They didn’t stop there. Since taking power, the Labour Party has also focused its attention on a number of women’s issues, particularly increasing maternity and paternity leave, improving support to victims of sexual violence, and giving parents the right to request flexible working.
Now, “the Conservative party is massively behind,” says Sarah Childs, a senior lecturer in politics at the University of Bristol.
Under the leadership of David Cameron, though, that appears to be changing. In the lead-up to this election, the Conservative Party has been making a concerted effort to address women’s issues and appeal to women voters. It is a survival strategy, at least in part; appealing to women is a signal that a party is in step with the times.
“Women’s bodies symbolize modernization,” says Childs.