Tag Archives: local election candidates

Where are the women?

Earlier this week the Fawcett Society published a report on the gender balance on Councils across the UK. The headline story is that only 36% of elected councillors are women. In only 5% of Councils were at least half of the councillors female.

It gets worse. You might imagine that Lib Dems would be ahead of the other parties on this, but tucked away in the report is the embarrassing fact that only 35% of our councillors are women – a figure below that achieved by five other parties and only higher than the Conservatives and some Northern Ireland parties.

This is a subject dear to my heart, and I have provided training and mentoring across the party on candidate diversity with a particular interest in encouraging more women to stand. In my own local party I have co-ordinated the recruitment, approval and selection of Council candidates for over 10 years, only recently handing on to two other members. Kingston upon Thames is a London Borough so we have all-out elections every 4 years, and this is what we achieved on my watch:

  • In 2014, we lost control to the Conservatives and took 18 seats out of 48, of which 10 (55%) were held by women.
  • In 2018, we regained control with 39 seats, and 22 (56%) were held by women.
  • In 2022, we increased our majority by winning 44 seats, including 20 (45%) women.

Not surprisingly, I was called to account by our local party Executive for the drop in female representation last year. I explained that finding 48 electable candidates during a pandemic was challenging; in fact, the outcome demonstrated the effectiveness of the strategies that we had used in previous cycles but were unable to use during Covid lockdowns and restrictions.

So what needs to be done?

There are four stages in the election of a councillor – recruitment, approval, selection, election. It is easy to assume that discrimination must be at play at each of those stages; but whilst it is important to examine both conscious and unconscious biases we must be careful to avoid pointing the finger at the electorate or our members and instead should examine our own practices.

In fact, using the language of blame, discrimination and victimisation is not helpful. Rather we should be asking what we need to do to encourage women to participate. And we should be concentrating on our target seats, where the real battles lie.

So let’s see what we can learn about each stage, taking them in reverse order.

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