Where are all the women?

Just 55 of 171 council seats in Northants were won by women

By Natalie Bloomer

The elections are over and a quick glance at the names of the new unitary councillors shows that men clearly outnumber women by quite some way. NN Journal has dug into the figures a bit deeper and is asking why when women make up more than 50 per cent of the population they are still in the minority when it comes to politics.

Just 32 per cent of all council seats across Northamptonshire (55 of 171) were won by women. The figures were better in the West than the North but still not great. Women make up 35 per cent of West Northamptonshire councillors and just 28 per cent in the North. 

Of the 31 wards in the West, eight elected all male councillors. Just one did the same with women. In the North, ten of 26 wards saw all male candidates elected with none opting for all women.

‘It’s looking like an old boys club’

When the figures are broken down further, it is clear that the problem is a Conservative one. 

In both the North and West, Labour has an exact 50/50 split. Ten of their 20 councillors in the West are women as are seven of their 14 in the North. It’s a very different picture for the Tories - 27 per cent of their 66 councillors in the West are women with just 21 per cent in the North.

“It’s looking like an old boys club to people, the Tories definitely need to modernise when it comes to this issue,” Leanne Buckingham, a newly elected Labour councillor for Oakley ward in Corby says.

“The way we do it is with all-women shortlists and we also have a very active women’s branch. I was selected from an all-women shortlist myself. These figures are disappointing, we need that diversity of thought, not just in gender but in background, age and life experiences. If we can’t even get the gender issue right how on earth will we get it right on race or other issues?”.

The figures in Northamptonshire are similar to that of parliament where 51 per cent of Labour MPs and 24 per cent of Conservative MPs are women. The overall figure is 34 per cent. 

The Conservatives nationally have long argued against all-women shortlists believing instead that candidates should be selected on merit alone. They also point to Labour’s failure to elect a woman leader of the party compared to their two who also became prime ministers -  Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.

‘It’s not good enough’

Councillor Danielle Stone, former leader of the Northampton Labour group, says this type of thinking shows a lack of understanding of how power works.

“They don’t understand how power and discrimination work. People are more likely to talk to people who look and sound like them and they are more likely to promote people who look and sound like them. It’s a buddies network and it’s not good enough. 

“Labour has made a huge effort in the North and West to have equal and fair representation when it comes to women but also when it comes to BAME communities. We work really hard - we train and mentor people and consistently make that argument for equality. Both people from BAME communities and women have been impacted the most by austerity, loss of services and Covid and it isn't good enough for men to continue thinking they can go on making decisions for people who are not in the room.”

Suresh Patel, a Conservative councillor and prominent member of the party in Northampton, says they are working hard to get more women involved.

“We are always looking for new female talent and we will be working hard to recruit more women. Unfortunately some of the good women candidates we had didn’t get through this time. The party as a whole is looking at the selection process and once things have calmed down from the elections we will be looking to feed into that.”

Victoria Perry is one of the Conservative candidates who failed to be elected last week. The former cabinet member at NCC is outspoken about the need for more women in the party and in politics in general. She has often argued for the need for council meeting times to be more family friendly and for there to be a better understanding of caring responsibilities which often fall to women. In a statement about the election result she said:

“It’s just a shame that we are another outspoken woman down and some of the old guard still linger. I will keep up the fight.”

At the time of writing the two frontrunners to be leader of West Northamptonshire council are both men - Ian McCord and Jonathan Nunn (although Lizzy Bowen is hoping she might be in with a chance) and Jason Smithers has been elected as leader in the North with Martin Griffiths as deputy. Yesterday, Stephen Mold beat two women to be re-elected as Northamptonshire’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner and six of the county’s seven MPs are also men.