Women Achieve Big In the UK Elections 2016
The 2016 UK Elections were remarkable in many ways. As well as the huge gain for Labour in London with Sadiq Khan sweeping into victory as London’s Mayor, the Conservatives held an impressive number of seats so soon after a general election. But the UK is so much more than two parties, because women party leaders, along with assembly, council and mayoral candidates, did better than ever before in all sorts of ways.
At the crux of the elections was a focus on the rivalry between Khan and Zac Goldsmith, but as well as showing their desire for political diversity by voting in their first Muslim mayor, Londoners began to show signs of - shock, horror! - voting for gender parity.
Women candidates helped bring their respective parties new successes. The Liberal Democrats’ Caroline Pidgeon, noted as the Greater London Authority (GLA) member to most incisively hold outgoing (in every way) Mayor Boris Johnson to account in meetings, gained an impressive 120,005 votes. It may seem small, but from where the Lib Dems were post-Coalition, it sure looks like a comeback.
And Sian Berry the Green Party candidate who beat her into fourth place, achieved two major firsts in the mayoral election. Not only are the Greens now London’s third biggest party (taking that title from the Lib Dems), but when it came to second preference votes, Berry received 468,318 votes, 80,288 more than Sadiq Khan’s second preference votes, and he’s the one who won the race.
The Green Party hasn’t only helped bring green issues into the manifesto of every major party, but it has also encouraged women to rise up within its ranks. With its sole MP Caroline Lucas a woman, its leader Natalie Bennett a woman too, and a woman to thank for pushing the party into third place in the capital, this party means, and does, ecofeminism.
And of course, there is the performance of The Women’s Equality Party, co-founded by MAKER Sandi Toksvig and Catherine Mayer. Their mayoral hopeful, newcomer Sophie Walker, garnered 53,055 first preference votes, 16,000 more than George Galloway, who, amongst other things, was once called a ‘rape apologist’ by Labour MP Jess Phillips.
Elsewhere, the party did not gain any seats, but, it did receive 350,000 votes scattered across the country. Considering it took UKIP 8 years to win more than 350,000 votes, and WE has only existed for a year, the WE party is the UK’s fastest-growing. Oh, and for the record, it has 47,000 members, that’s as many as UKIP had in 2015, 22 years after it was formed!
The WE party prides itself on creating policy ideas to be pinched by the major parties, as Sandi recently told Vice: “We’re the only party that hopes one day to not need to exist. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? And then we can all take up weaving!”
However, by receiving votes from one in 20 Londoners (either first or second preference) and pushing issues like stalking, the gender pay gap, inaccessible childcare and sexual violence onto the agenda, WE has proven it’s not just a pressure group, nor is it just dealing with one specialist issue. Just like the Greens and UKIP have, in their own very separate ways, made so much impact on the mainstream parties’ attitudes to green issues and EU membership, time will only tell what the Women’s Equality Party could do for Britain’s women.
In the Welsh Assembly, the big surprise was Plaid Cymru creeping in on Labour heartland, with Leanne Wood proving that a female leader can hold sway in traditionally macho ex-mining towns, and over in Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster is now First Minister again, heading up the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Sadly, the DUP isn’t exactly as woman-friendly as most would like a woman-led party to be, but still, here is a woman breaking a glass ceiling, let’s hope she lets a ladder down behind her sometime soon.
In the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon led the Scottish National Party to its third consecutive win, forming a minority government in Holyrood, firmly set in her goals for a new independence referendum. Her official opposition is now led by Ruth Davidson, who achieved the unimaginable and got the Scots to vote Conservative. This success is so freakish that political commentators are hesitant to put their finger on its precise cause(s). It might not be because Ruth’s a woman. It might not be because she’s an out lesbian. What’s for sure, though, is that simply as a woman of any sexuality existing in a gender imbalanced political system, like all of the politicians mentioned above, she is helping change perceptions of who a British politician can be in 2016.