In May 2010 143 women were elected to sit in the House of Commons, making up 22% of the total. There was considerable variation in the representation of women among the political parties. The parliamentary Labour party had the largest proportion of women members (31%), followed by the Conservatives (16%) and the Liberal Democrats (12%). In 2010 the Labour party used all women shortlists (AWS), first employed before the 1997 election, to ensure a high proportion of women were selected to stand in their retirement seats. The Conservative party dallied with a compulsory A-list made up of 50% men and 50% women for their top 100 target seats, but the policy was watered down in the face of a backlash from the party’s grassroots. Nonetheless the policy was in place long enough to see the proportion of women Conservative MPs improve from 9% in 2005 to 16% in 2010. In contrast the number of women Liberal Democrat MPs fell from 10 to 7.
What is likely to happen in 2015? There are some predictions about 2015 that are more difficult to make than others. That the Labour party, through its continued use of AWS, will elect the highest proportion of women MPs to the House of Commons is a pretty safe bet.
Of 196 candidates selected so far by the seven largest parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green) in the 100 most marginal seats 129 are men (66%) and 67 are women (34%). In total 58 of the candidates declared so far are MPs who will stand again. Among new candidates the Labour party has selected 25 women out of 49 candidates (51%), The Liberal Democrats have selected 10 women out of 22 (46%), The Conservatives 5 women out of 24 (21%) and UKIP trail behind with 2 women candidates out of 12 (17%). The differences are slightly starker when we consider seats where the parties came second in 2010 (i.e. marginal seats they might hope to win in the event of a positive swing). In the seats where the parties came second in 2010 the Labour party has selected 22 women out of 38 new candidates (58%), the Liberal Democrats have selected 6 women out of 14 (43%) and the Conservatives have selected 4 women out of 20 (20%).
Turning to seats identified by the parties themselves- or in the case of the Liberal Democrats by LibDem Voice- the Conservatives have selected 9 men (82%) and 2 women (18%), Labour 14 men (47%) and 16 women (53%) and the Liberal Democrats 21 men (66%) and 11 women (34%)
In retirement seats where the incumbent MP has stepped down and the party who won in 2010 has selected a new candidate the Conservatives have selected 6 men (67%) and 3 women (33%), Labour 4 men (24%) and 13 women (76%) and the Liberal Democrats 2 men (29%) and 5 women (71%).
Taken together these selections suggest that the Labour party remains well ahead of the Conservatives in terms of the selection of women candidates. The Liberal Democrats however are catching up, but given their poor showing in current opinion polls it may well be that it will be extremely difficult for them to turn women candidates selected in contested seats into women MPs.
Figures are correct as of 20 May.