More Women, Better Politics?

Overall, this election result, which punished the cynicism and hubris of the Conservative Party, reveals mixed results for women as politicians and voters. More women than ever before have been elected to Parliament, including here in Canterbury where our longstanding Conservative incumbent has been narrowly defeated by Rosie Duffield for Labour. While this is good news, especially in an election held on the anniversary of suffragette Emily Davidson’s death 104 years ago, there is still a long way to go. Women only account for one third of MPs and those who are newly elected must brace themselves for the vicious misogynistic attacks, to which more experienced women MPs have sadly become accustomed. Following the murder of Jo Cox last year, many more MPs revealed the burden they face in the onslaught of vile abuse via social media.

Often the mainstream media is little better as the now infamous Daily Mail “Brexit/legs-it” cover image of Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon’s meeting to discuss Brexit reminded us.  We might also consider the sometimes less than subtle sexism in the sustained attacks on May’s robotic approach or Diane Abbotts poor media performances. Boris Johnson’s blustering is rarely called out in the same way. Indeed, when it is, as by Michal Hussein on the Today Programme the day before the election, it is the female reporter who receives the flak.

The other point of concern for feminist politics is the announcement that the DUP have agreed to support a new Conservative government. The DUP do not get a lot of coverage in the UK media beyond the occasional flurry of concern about the functioning of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Arlene Foster’s party holds deeply regressive views on policies such as access to abortion and equal marriage which do not align with general British values. Citizens in Northern Ireland who have demanded that the rights of other UK citizens be extended to them must despair at the thought that the DUP will now hold such a position of influence in Westminster. Equally, women across the whole of the UK, who have been disproportionately affected by the austerity cuts of successive Tory governments, will not feel comforted by the thought of what is to come in this next parliamentary term.

We shall have to wait and see how this latest episode of British political upheaval plays out. However, it is worth remembering that while the increased number of women elected to parliament may be welcomed, it is their voting record which matters, not their gender, nor their fashion choices.

Dr Laura Cashman is Senior Lecturer and Programme Director in Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University. Her research focuses among others on minority politics, Romaphobia and populism in the EU, experiences of migrants to the UK. She tweets @lauracashman

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A Poisoned Chalice? The Short Unhappy Fate of UK Party Leaders

Image: Plaid Cymru CC BY-NC-ND

The recent Northern Irish Assembly Elections were significant in all sorts of ways, as this great piece explains. Northern Ireland may be to moving to a very different place politically. Unionism no longer has a majority, the Unionists may no longer hold a veto in the Assembly (via the petition of concern) and there is, on paper at least, an anti-Brexit majority in the new Assembly, that could govern the only part of the UK with a land border with the EU. The elections also led to the resignation of Mike Nesbitt, leader of the UUP, and severely destabilised ex-First Minister and leader of the DUP Arlene Foster who is hanging on but may not last the course of any negotiations.

What is equally fascinating is that Nesbitt, who became leader of the UUP on 31th March 2012, was until 2nd March the second longest current serving party leader in Britain. Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood pipped him to the post by a mere 16 days.

Looking across current UK party leaders in the table, there’s one rather surprising fact: more than 50% are women (and this may be related due to the glass cliff). Another surprise is that they are all either quite or very new. Five leaders have been in charge of their party less than a year (including the Prime Minister). Four have been in charge for less than 2 years. Nicola Sturgeon is now the second longest serving party leader in the UK, at a mere 2 years and 3 months.

Current UK Party Leaders and their time in power

Note: This table only covers parties that have representatives in devolved assemblies and Westminster and doesn’t include separate or semi-autonomous leaders of parties in other parts of the UK e.g. Scotland or Wales and so excludes all sorts of capable leaders like Ruth Davidson.

The combination of a General Election in 2015, other elections and Brexit seems to have taken a heavy toll on party leaders across the UK. What the table doesn’t tell us how many of them who are still there have rather shaky positions: Paul Nuttall of UKIP and Arlene Foster of the DUP have both recently lost elections they probably needed to win, and both currently have the ‘full confidence’ of their party- a sure sign of trouble. This brings us to Jeremy Corbyn, winner of two huge leadership mandates in 2015 and 2016 but who is behaving as if he is under siege and hanging on by a thread. Whether this is because of a crypto Tory plot between Blair, Mandelson and Ivanka Trump or because of a toxic combination of Brexit, Copeland and those polls rather depends on your viewpoint.

The sobering thought is that we are now embarking on the huge and complex task of Brexit with inexperienced party leaders, some of whom are unsafe or wobbly. These will be testing times for political parties as new divisions and politics de or re-align in a bewildering way.

Just to make things even less certain, the two most secure leaders, the Prime Minister and First Minister of Scotland, are on a collision course. Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s strengths can be seen in the fact that Scotland is a virtual one party state, though the SNP may have reached its high point in the Scottish Parliament. Theresa May’s strong position is less easily explained. Despite tension with number 11, she is far ahead of where we would expect as a takeover Prime Minister with no mandate and dealing with an issue that has split her party since the 1980s. Both Sturgeon and May came to power because ‘their’ side lost a referendum. Both seem to have now manoeuvred themselves into a corner to have another.

Ben Worthy is Lecturer in Politics at Birkbeck University of London. He tweets @BenWorthy1.
Mark Bennister is Reader in Politics at Canterbury Christ Church University. He tweets @MarkBennister.

This post first appeared on 10 March 2017 on Political Insight Plus, the digital arm of the members’ magazine of the Political Studies Association (PSA).

Centre for European Studies Director Dr Amelia Hadfield Named International EU Expert

Dr Amelia Hadfield, Jean Monnet Chair in European Foreign Affairs, and Director of the Centre for European Studies here at Canterbury Christ Church University has just been named one of the top 40 female academic experts on the European Union, according to the UK Political Studies Association (PSA). Dr Hadfield represents Canterbury Christ Church University in the list of competent and reliable women experts on the EU, a PSA initiative led by the Women and Politics Specialist Group .

Continue reading “Centre for European Studies Director Dr Amelia Hadfield Named International EU Expert”

Green Party Leader To Speak on ‘The Green Alternative – Economy, Society, Environment’

Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party will speak as part of the Making Politics Matter lecture series at Canterbury Christ Church University. Making Politics Matter is organised by staff and students of Politics and International Relations at Canterbury Christ Church University, and aims to exchange political knowledge between academics, politicians and the communities which those who they claim to represent.

Natalie Bennett will speak on the ‘green alternative’ exploring the relationship of this debate to wider economic and societal issues.

The session will take place at Canterbury Christ Church University at 6pm on Tuesday 28 January 2014. Location: Old Sessions House – Michael Berry Lecture Theatre (Og46).

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Natalie Bennett Profile (via http://greenparty.org.uk/people/natalie-bennett.html)

Natalie Bennett was elected the leader of The Green Party of England and Wales on September 3, 2012.

Born in Sydney, Australia, she has lived in London since 1999.

She started her career as a journalist in rural New South Wales and has worked for the Bangkok Post, the Telegraph, the Independent, The Times and, most recently, as editor of Guardian Weekly.

Natalie obtained a degree in agricultural science from the University of Sydney, making her the only political leader in the country with a scientific background.

She spent two years in Bangkok working with the National Commission on Women’s Affairs, on its report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women. She also worked as a consultant with the International Labor Organisation (ILO) on child labour issues and World Health Organization (WHO) on women’s health.

A trustee of the Fawcett Society, Britain’s pre-eminent women’s issues group, she was the founder of the blog Carnival of Feminists and is an active campaign on women’s issues.

Within the party she’s been an active worker on policy, on issues ranging from the abolition of the Corporation of the City of London to abortion rights, proportional liability on the roads to job-share MPs and a 40% quota for women on major company boards, the treatment of women offenders and the rights of asylum-seekers and sex workers.

Natalie served as the internal communications coordinator for the party from September 2007-2010 and was the founding chair of Green Party Women. Living in Somers Town, central London, she is a local community campaigner and is an active member of the People’s Supermarket Co-operative.