Recent elections brought mixed fortunes for women in UK democratic institutions. In Scotland, 45 women were elected to the Parliament, and women now constitute 35.6% of MSPs – up from the lowpoint of 33.3% in 2007 but down on the highpoint of 39.5% in 2003. In Wales, the results were more disappointing, with the number of women AMs falling to 25, at 41.7% the lowest level of women in the Assembly since its inception. Although both Scotland and Wales still have a higher percentage of women in them than most other bodies, and certainly higher than the Westminster Parliament, the current position is disappointing, particularly since at one stage Wales had 50% women members and led the world.
Mayoral elections continue to produce poor results for women. In Torbay, where an Independent Mayor was on the defensive, all three of the main parties stood male candidates, with the Conservatives winning. In Bedford the Liberal Democrat mayor successfully defended his tenure, and here only the Labour candidate was female. In Middlesbrough there were no women on the ballot paper, and the Independent Mayor retained his position. In Leicester former Labour leader and MP Sir Peter Soulsby was elected from a list of 11 candidates, only 2 of whom – 1 of the independents and the UKIP candidate – were women.
In January 2012 the government is likely to convert the leaders of 11 major cities into shadow executive mayors pending affirmative referendums and elections. At present, just 2 of these leaders (Bristol and Sheffield) is female, and all CFWD’s research on mayoral candidates suggests that women are less likely to stand for this than for any other elected post. We shall continue to monitor what happens in this area, but we think that the general absence of women from mayoral elections is of concern, and will be developing proposals for addressing it.
CFWD is currently working on an analysis of the local government elections, and our interim report will be out next week.