The latter half of last week we saw the TV debate take two, minus two of the main players, Cameron and Clegg. The Conservative and Liberal Democrat leaders’ decision to miss a vital part of television coverage left the debate to the rest of the line-up, which for once was marginally more female.
This year has seemingly been a ‘milestone’ for the representation of women in not only the election campaign but also in government. We’ve seen an almost equal division of the male-female leader ratio between the seven major parties. But in all the hype churned out from the major parties we are being dragged away from the reality of it all – there is still an ongoing battle for equality.
We can see that Labour’s pink bus is still trawling the school gates and shopping centres of the country with its female-friendly message. David Cameron has stated he is committed to “lead the charge on women’s equality.” UKIP has even had a go at attracting women with its stance on tampon tax. But when we dip into the real world of politics, what do we see?
Since Tony Blair hit the scene with his ‘Blair Babes’ back in 1997, the rate of increase in the number of female MPs has slowed greatly. More than half the Labour candidates are women – but only a small proportion of those are in winnable seats – and it’s a similar situation for the Conservatives. This has been the case in previous elections too, where there is a trend of female party candidates that only exist in constituencies that are harder to win, according to research from LSE. So almost a century on from the first year of the women’s vote in 1918, we are still subject to the ‘glass ceiling’ that exists in politics.
Then we are faced with the smaller parties. The SNP, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru are the only parties with female leaders that are participating in the General Election. But is this a representation of equality?
Whilst I’m aware that banding these three parties together doesn’t make entire sense in terms of policy, it does make entire sense in terms of gender representation.
I believe that the triad of Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett are the fighting force for women in this election campaign. And not just because of what they’re wearing, or who they’re currently linked with, or even because of their new hairdo. They represent a lot more than your daily scroll of that dreaded right hand sidebar of the Daily Mail online. These are women who are committed to the real issues at hand.
I’m a particular fan of Nicola Sturgeon. Her sharp and studied approach offers her as the ideal role model for an aspiring female politician – and it seems that the general public may agree with me here. On the evening of the first TV debate, Sturgeon’s name was the most popular Google search term in the UK. And unsurprisingly, the sixth most popular was the question, ‘Can I vote for the SNP?’
This was followed by last week’s TV debate. What I would count as a real milestone in politics. It was refreshing to see a line-up in which women outnumbered men. It was also refreshing to see a line-up that wasn’t dominated by ex-public-schoolboys and Oxbridge alumni. A step in the right direction for diversity.
And the message that captured the whole night? The embrace between Sturgeon, Wood and Bennett. Is this a new era of politics; a message of solidarity?
We are taking another step in the right direction. The glass ceiling may still be lingering but the cracks are getting bigger. Keep pushing, ladies.