What do the Conservatives, Green Party, LibDems, UKIP and five other smaller political parties have in common in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election today?
The answer is that they are all fielding male candidates; so these comprise 90% of the choice with which local electors are presented.
Only the Labour Party has chosen a woman candidate, Debbie Abrahams.
We shall not know the outcome of the election for a few hours yet, but it would be good to hear that Debbie Abrahams has been elected in this tightly fought contest. She is an experienced politician with it seems a good grasp of the issues to hand, and as such would / will be a valuable addition to the shamefully small number of women MPs in Westminster. And there are many more equally eligible women who should be standing for parliamentary seats, if only they were perceived for the value which they offer.
Even Davos (the annual World Economic Forum meeting to be held this year on 26-30 January) is now requiring that 20% of business attendees are women…. approximately the percentage also of women Westminster MPs.
Despite a record number of female candidates, just 13 additional female MPs were voted into Westminster at the 2010 General Election, and, to the fury of many, only four were appointed to the Cabinet. The total number of women MPs elected was 139, up from 126, representing a modest 21.4 % of the new Parliament.
Distribution by party for the 2010 elections shows 48 Conservative women (36 newly elected), 78 Labour women (31 newly elected), 7 Liberal Democrat women (1 new) and 6 women from other parties (4 newly elected).
The Fawcett Society estimates that, at the current rate of change, it will take Labour around 20 years to get to 50-50 women and men, the Lib Dems around 40 years and the Conservatives around 400!
So when, oh when, will British political parties actually begin to feel embarrassed if they don’t sport, not just 20%, but fully 50% women candidates, and, critically, also ensure (by the gender distribution in safe seats for each party) that 50% of people elected are women?
And, perhaps just as importantly, when will the electorate start to push or even punish political parties at the polling stations, if they don’t just (sometimes) talk the talk, but also actually walk the walk on gender and other aspects of inclusion, diversity and equal representation?
Inclusion does matter when decisions are being taken. Even the hard-headed folk at Davos think so now.
PS Friday 14 January: And the result? Debbie Abrahams won, handsomely.