WE hail results of our first general election
Published 9 June 2017
The Women's Equality Party (WE) this morning hailed the results of its first ever Westminster elections as a stunning vindication of its founding principles of collaborative politics, progressive values and the need to fundamentally reimagine the democratic process.
“When we started the party, we said ‘voters don’t want politics as usual’,” said party co-founder and president Catherine Mayer. “We also pointed to a consensus for progressive values that traversed party boundaries yet was constantly stymied by old-style partisan politics. If this election has proved anything, it is the scale of the appetite for those values and for a new politics.”
“The outcome of this election—a hung Parliament—means any parties seeking to implement the mandate for those values will now have to follow our lead and focus on finding ways to work together.”
The Women’s Equality Party also celebrated the extraordinary achievements of its seven general election candidates, who changed the conversation and raised the game, forcing gender equality on to centre stage.
“These brilliant women, none of whom had any history of political involvement, show individually and collectively how much better politics would be if it drew on all the talent available, rather than remaining a white man’s club,” said Mayer. “During the campaign I saw Sophie Walker’s opponents complaining she was ‘too good’. I heard Harini Iyengar tipped as a future Prime Minister. Just yesterday a young Asian woman came up to tell me how thrilled she had been to vote for Nimco Ali. It was amazing, she said, to be able to vote with 100 per cent enthusiasm. All of our candidates have drawn many, many responses like this.”
WE party leader Sophie Walker led the charge nationally and in Shipley against Conservative Philip Davies, whose 10,000-vote majority had been deemed by Labour to be unassailable. WE’s ground campaign lit a fire under the Shipley contest, prompting a surge in progressive votes that came close to unseating Davies, a notorious anti-feminist.
"I entered this race because Shipley and the UK deserve so much better than Philip Davies," said Sophie Walker. “Our campaign galvanised the progressive response to Davies—and also showed the potential of progressive alliance. We are proud to have led the way with the Green Party, who stood down their candidate to campaign alongside us.”
The campaign showed how much WE can achieve, but it also highlighted the urgent need for electoral reform—and for the Women’s Equality Party. The first-past-the-post system has been proven globally to exclude women and minorities. It also encourages progressives to fight each other. It is also a system that demands huge resources and is unnecessarily expensive, issues that become even more acute for smaller parties in a snap election. For all of these reasons, WE advocates for a fairer proportional system.
The iniquities of the electoral system are compounded by broadcasting guidelines, meant to ensure impartiality during elections, that instead skews the system further by putting more weight on past electoral performance than the current level of membership. “This is why UKIP was splattered all over the nation’s TV screens, while the Women’s Equality Party and the Greens could barely get a look-in,” says Catherine Mayer. “Print media followed broadcast’s lead on this, and in misrepresenting the election as a contest between the two biggest parties instead of what it was, a contest between competing regressive and progressive values.”
Some media coverage did acknowledge the impact of the Women’s Equality Party and the importance of the WE manifesto. “Their prospectus did make me wonder how much more women could be valued in our society if all parties had the imagination to think this differently and comprehensively," wrote ITV economics editor Noreena Hertz. Zoe Williams in the Guardian praised the manifesto as “an extraordinary document” and the party for “doing the painstaking graft of reimagining all politics through the lens of equality”.
But the story about the Women’s Equality Party that made the biggest headlines, on the eve of election day, underscored the reason for the party’s existence. Female staff working at the party’s London headquarters in the evening received multiple abusive phone calls from a number of men, one of whom said he was coming to the office and that they should be scared. Nimco Ali, WE candidate for Hornsey & Wood Green, received a letter full of racial and Islamophobic abuse and signed “Jo Cox”, the name of the female MP brutally murdered in 2016.
“Two of the Women’s Equality Party’s core objectives are an end to violence against women and girls and equal representation. The fact that people tried to intimidate us and stop our campaign shows how urgent those objectives are,” said Catherine Mayer.
The Women’s Equality Party contested seven seats in the general election:
In Shipley Sophie Walker won 1.9% of vote share
In Tunbridge Wells Celine Thomas won 1.3% of vote share
In Vauxhall Harini Iyengar won 1% of vote share
In Hornsey & Wood Green Nimco Ali won 0.9% of vote share
In Stirling Kirstein Rummery 0.7% of vote share
In Manchester Withington Sally Carr won 0.4% of vote share
In Vale of Glamorgan Sharon Lovell won 0.3% of vote share