The Women’s Equality Party has today announced further candidates for the 2017 General Election. We are fielding a diverse list of candidates in constituencies selected for a variety of different strategic reasons but with one overarching aim: to ensure that women’s equality is at the very top of the political agenda. Some people have been surprised by our selections, and we wanted to explain our rationale.
In this election, as with every other, the interests and perspectives of women barely feature in the platforms of the old parties. That means everyone risks losing out. Women’s representation in Parliament is set to decline, and big ticket issues such as Brexit and the economy are being cast as though they have nothing to do with women’s equality. Indeed, there’s a narrative that sees these as big, important issues (which they are) and dismisses questions of gender equality as a frivolous distraction. But women are not a niche group — women are poor and rich, white and BAME, young and old, able bodied and disabled — and it matters enormously to the future of our country the priority that politicians and political parties attach to breaking down the structural inequalities that half our population faces.
A failure to do this will mean that women pay the price for a hard Brexit, just as they did with austerity. It will mean that women’s rights under secondary legislation can be rolled back with the flick of a pen. It will mean that all of our freedoms are limited by the ongoing scourge of violence against women and girls.
But it will also mean that we miss out on the opportunities to fundamentally restructure our economy and society for the benefit of all. Affordable childcare would change our workforce and economy overnight, reduce out of work benefits and increase the tax base. Equalizing pension tax relief would incentivize saving for 90 per cent of working people and pull women out of pension poverty. Investing in social infrastructure would create more jobs, and derived jobs, than the same investment in physical infrastructure. Prioritizing carers would lift the strain on the NHS and closing the pay gap would free up money to invest in local economies.
We set up this party because unless these issues are brought into the political space, mainstream parties will continue to pay lip service to women whilst squandering opportunities to build a fairer and more prosperous society. By showing women’s equality to be a vote winner, we can give the other parties a reason to make it a priority. And we can magnify the voices of the hard working activists and politicians who are pushing their own parties to take it seriously.
We know that this works. Our success in the 2016 elections, where we won more than 350,000 votes, forced the other candidates to adopt our policies and think about the impact of their own policies on women. Sadiq Khan took on our equal pay audit, and just last night candidates for the Liverpool Metro Mayor elections committed to implementing a strategy to end violence against women and girls. The simplest way for political parties to beat us is to adopt our policies, and in that way our running in these elections is a chance for the mainstream parties to be better.
We are standing in this election against Tories, Labour and the SNP. We are able to do that because no party is yet committed to the UK being the first gender equal country in the world. Individual candidates may have better voting records than others, but this is a national election and we need to deal with the fact that the barriers that women face are institutional and structural and require a whole-party approach to bring them down. Notions that certain seats or parties should be protected overlooks the fact that there are progressive politicians on both the left and right, and regressives across the spectrum.
We have targeted a regressive, Philip Davies. Some people have asked us only to stand against the Philip Davies of this world. Though that seems an appealing idea, it is worth noting that even in the case of Shipley, the Labour Party and Lib Dems have no intention of standing aside or helping us form an alliance against him. This tells you a lot about the priority attached to women’s equality. Labour has not yet selected a candidate in that seat and yet it insists on selecting one and splitting the progressive vote.
Since the moment of our founding, we have worked towards collaborative politics and have sought in this and other elections to find ways to build alliances for better political outcomes. The Green Party has agreed to endorse Sophie Walker in Shipley; we will be supporting Caroline Lucas in Brighton Kemptown.
We were certainly tempted to stand there. The sclerosis of our first-past-the-post system means that we have to target at least some of the seats where our biggest vote share exists. In Hornsey and Wood Green we polled more than 8 per cent of the votes in 2016 and we have a huge activist base there. Critics say we should not stand against a female Labour incumbent, but this is about the wider, national picture — and, as in every seat we are fighting (and there will be more announcements), it is about the strength of our candidates.
Parliament needs the extraordinary campaigner Nimco Ali, it needs the marvelous Sophie Walker. In Vauxhall, Harini Iyengar, a barrister specializing in discrimination cases, is determined to ensure that women don’t pay the price for a hard Brexit and that there is a fair deal for all. In Manchester Sally Carr, awarded an MBE for her services to young people, will insist that the Northern Powerhouse is built with inclusivity and diversity at its heart.
We know our candidates are outsiders, but politics needs outsiders. At the moment it is a club that excludes too many vital views and perspectives and we are in this election to create real change.