Two-thirds of Labour’s new candidates in the party’s 40 safest (empty) seats are women, suggesting an imminent influx of female MPs into the House of Commons, according to research by the FT. The news comes amid expectations that the new Parliament could have a record number of female MPs whatever the result.
Even if Labour suffers terrible losses during the general election there are a number of very safe seats – with majorities of up to 58 per cent – where the incumbent is stepping down. It would take phenomenal swings for Labour to lose vacant seats such as Airdrie & Shotts, previously held by John Reid with a 42 per cent majority, or Makerfield, occupied by Ian McCartney with a 49 per cent advantage.
Many of these departures have been hastened by last summer’s expenses scandal while others are Blairites seeking new opportunities away from Westminster. With widespread expectations of a Tory victory, the incoming Labour MPs have until now largely avoided much scrutiny.
However, my analysis shows that 25 of these candidates are female, in contrast to only seven of the 40 who they are replacing.
This will not necessarily change the balance of the entire Parliamentary Labour Party, as many of those likely to lose their seats are women; including various “Blair’s Babes” (pictured) who entered the Commons in 1997 and are now sitting on slender majorities.
However, it shows that positive discrimination – about one in 10 of Labour’s 646 candidates were picked through all-women shortlists – has had a significant impact on selections. Only 35 per cent of Labour candidates across the UK are women; meaning that they are much more concentrated in the safest seats.
The last Parliament had 128 female members most of which – 98 – were in Labour. Of the Lib Dem target seats, 15 out of 48 are female – a greater proportion than the current 9 out of 63 Lib Dem MPs – according to the Madano Consultancy, a communications consultancy. ConservativeHome has estimated that there could be 50 to 60 female Tory MPs after May 6, even if the Tories do not form a majority government. That would indicate a record number of female MPs.
“Before the expenses scandal, the total number of female MPs was set to remain virtually the same regardless of the result,” said Tim Carr, an analyst at Madano. “However, given the number of female candidates recently selected for safe Labour seats, a record number of likely Conserative female MPs and the potential increase in the number of female Lib Dem MPs, it is looking likely that there will be more women MPs than ever before.”
The Labour candidates in winnable constituencies have been portrayed in some newspapers as primarily union officials, which is not entirely the case. Seven do indeed hold jobs at unions, including Ian Lavery, head of the National Union of Miners; John Cryer, a Unite official, and Jack Dromey, a senior figure at Unite.
The unions do have significant power within Labour, holding many of the posts on Labour’s national executive committee and acting as its biggest donors. Far more candidates, however, come from a background within politics, either as councillors, researchers or special advisers. No fewer than 15 of the 40 fit this category – which is likely to prompt criticism of Labour failing to pick candidates with much experience outside politics. Another six of the 40 currently work at a charity.
A mere four have business experience, including Chi Onwurah, a telecoms expert who works at regulator Ofcom, and Rachel Reeves (pictured), an analyst at Lloyds Banking Group. A recent survey by the Industry and Parliamentary Trust, a charity, showed that 21 per cent of Tory candidates had 15 or more years’ experience in business management or financial services. For Labour the figure was just 1 per cent.