The slow, slow march for gender equality in local politics

Back in 2015 I wrote an article shortly before the local elections of that year on how well the parties were doing on a quest for gender equality. The results were, to put it mildly, not happy reading. Women were a minority on the candidate lists from most parties, and made up little more than a quarter of councillors in the chamber. So four years on, are we doing any better?

To begin, here is an infographic showing the current composition of the council by gender:

Which is actual a small step backwards from 2015. Back then we had 16 women in the chamber, whereas we now have 15, with 34 men.

Of course, councillors are elected by their voters, and as such, it’s impossible to guarantee equality in the chamber. One place where things could better is in the number of candidates putting themselves forward. In 2019 we have 199 candidates for Medway Council on our ballot papers. So how many of them are women?

This many:

Oh boy.

Depressingly, this does mark a slight improvement over 2015. Back then, 57 out of 200 candidates were women. This time we’ve managed 61 out of 199. The fact remains that less than one third of candidates putting themselves forward for council are women.

As with last time, this isn’t to assign blame to anyone in particular. All parties struggle to find enough candidates to fight council seats (indeed, only Labour and the Conservatives found 55 in Medway), and if women aren’t putting themselves forward, there isn’t a great deal an individual local party can do about it. That said, let us take a look at how each party has done:

The Conservatives have 18 female candidates out of a full slate of 55, or 33%. This is an increase from 24% last time.

Labour have done slightly better, managing 20 candidates out of 55, which represents 36% of their candidates. This is up from 29% in 2015.

UKIP are only fielding 23 candidates this time out, of which 4 are women, or 17% of their candidates. Grimly, this is a decrease on the 19% they had last time.

The Lib Dems have 22 candidates, of which 8 are female, of 36% of candidates. This is a slight decrease on 39% in 2015.

In an impressive turnaround, the Greens have gone from having the lowest rate of female candidates in 2015 to the highest now. Following a dismal 15% in 2015, they have made it to 56% in 2019, albeit with a small, 16 candidate slate.

Of the remaining 28 candidates – 25 independents, 2 from the Christian People’s Alliance, and 1 from the Animal Welfare Party – only 7 are female, giving us a rate of 25%.

So where does all this leave you as a voter on the ground in Medway? Only two wards – Cuxton & Halling and Twydall – have more women on the ballot paper than men. Three others – Chatham Central, Rochester South & Horsted and Rochester West – have equal numbers of candidates. The other 17 wards in Medway are all a bit of a sausage party. Walderslade only has men on the ballot paper, and a worrying number of wards only have one female candidate, despite most wards elected multiple councillors.

Of course, equality in candidates is pretty redundant unless more female selections take place in winnable wards. Using our own projections, we calculated how many women are likely to be sitting on Medway council following the election. In the “best case scenario”, we estimate 23 women could be on the council, which is an increase on the current figure. At the lowest end, we estimate only 12 could take seats. In reality, it’s likely be somewhere in the middle, meaning the next council will likely be slightly more equal than it is currently, but there’s still a long way to go.

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