So, what do you make of this graph about gender and politics?

This is an update of the post I did earlier in the year, this time including the data for 2010.

Here’s the proportion of local election candidates of the three main parties who were female over the last twenty-five years . As you can see, proportions for all three parties grew in the late ’80s and since then have stalled (Lib Dems, Conservatives) or only crept up (Labour), with all of them remaining well under 40%.

The dips every four years are due to county council elections having a much lower proportion of female candidates than other local elections.

Graph showing proportion of local election candidates who are female

So, what do you make of this? Does it matter? Should the flat trend for the Liberal Democrats over the last twenty years be a cause for concern, especially as it has plateaued at a level well below the c.47% figure for the proportion of party membership which is female? And why has no party seen its proportion get close to the proportion in the UK electorate?

Thanks to Michael Thrasher of the University of Plymouth for supplying the data and graph. They are primarily based on an analysis of the names of all of the candidates standing each year.

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This entry was posted in Local government.


  • The four-yearly dip is very marked. Is there any particular reason why female candidates do not feature so much in county council elections?

  • Of course, the more useful analysis might to be to study ‘winnable seats’.

    Taking what you have though, Mark, and speaking as someone who has, long-term, been closer to female candidates (in four political parties) than most, might I suggest that women are, by and large, far too sensible and balanced to become involved long-term in the nasty and egocentric activities of electoral politics as it is today? This is even more so in parliamentary politics.

  • Tony, maybe politics is seen as nasty and egocentric because of the lack of women councillors?

    The Lib Dems spend a lot of time on encouraging women to stand as PPC but in my view we really need to spend even more time to get women to stand in target council seats.

    As the kids from a local democracy event in my areas said – councillors in their view were generally old men with time on their hands and they think more mums should be councillors because they would be good at it.

  • Dinti Batstone 25th Oct '10 - 7:26pm

    MatGB’s comment is consistent with the fact that we do much better at electing women in list elections, e.g. European Parliament and London Assembly… and also with the idea that allowing MPs to job-share could attract more women into politics.

  • The pattern was different when Councilors were unpaid – then councils were largely composed of pensioners, housewives and trade union officials (trade unions and a few enlightened employers, such as ICI in my home town, gave time off with pay for council & council committee meetings). I remember women comprising more than one-third of our under-65 councillors. Since pay for councillors was introduced more working men have felt able to stand for election.
    “And why has no party seen its proportion get close to the proportion in the UK electorate?” Simply because not enough women volunteer – why else? All the attempts to change the balance have failed because they are planned by professional politicians who have no idea how ordinary people live.

  • Interesting. Maybe it’s something to do with a phenomenon I have observed personally: that men tend to ask other men to stand, and women tend to ask women? Not scientifically proven….
    Speaking of my own (unitary) council group: 11 councillors, 6 women, 5 men, female group leader.

  • Slightly worrying also is that the trend for the 4 yearly all up District elections across England – the biggest groups of Councillors elected in each 4 year cycle – appears to have declined from an almost joint “peak” in 1999 and 2003, to fall almost past 1995 and previous such years in 2007. It will be very interesting to see the figures for next year’s elections.

    Incidentally, off thread somewhat, does Mark or anyone else know the reason(s ) why a 5 year fixed term period has been chosen for the planned Parliamentary elections, when it woud have seemed logical to have set it at 4 years to integrate with the existing local govt cycles? The rumour at the time of announcement was that LDs had suggested 4 years but were overruled by Tory wish to have 5.

  • Mark W – how about we rephrase lloyd’s post to say something like “maybe it’s because one gender dominates” rather than reference either to women or men. I think it’s fairly well established that there can be a lot of competition between members of the same sex, which might reasonably be thought to generate the behaviour lloyd refers to? Whereas often relationships between members of opposite sexes can be a lot more cooperative?

  • David Wright 26th Oct '10 - 4:13pm

    Speaking as our local Candidates’ Committee Chair, I ask any member who even hints at an interest in standing, regardless of gender etc.. I’m not allowed to discriminate, but if I did I’d prefer female candidates because local stats suggest that on average, they get a slightly higher vote for us.

    At one time it happened that *all* our local Councillors were female; now only one is, though two more lost narrowly last May.

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