Calls for action over stark gender imbalance of election candidates

Campaigners believe it is extremely unlikely a local authority being established to shape and run North Yorkshire’s public services in the 21st century will reflect its population as less than a third of those running to represent communities are women.

An analysis of the 310 candidates running to serve a five-year term on North Yorkshire Council from next month has found just 90 are women.

All the main parties contesting the election are fielding significantly fewer women candidates than men, a situation which is also replicated by the independent candidates as a group.

Of its 90 candidates the Conservatives are fielding 20 women. The Liberal Democrats have 13 female candidates out of 48, while the Green Party has 18 women out of 50 candidates. The Labour Party has selected 19 women out of the 67 candidates it has put forward.

In some areas of the county the gender imbalance is more pronounced than others. Of the 33 candidates in the Craven area just six, or 18 per cent, are women.

While the gender imbalance of the candidates roughly reflects the 26 per cent of female councillors currently elected to North Yorkshire County Council, some other nearby local authorities have significantly higher proportions of women. More than 50 per cent of Leeds City councillors are women.

Frances Scott, founder of the 50:50 Parliament, a group dedicated to enabling women to progress in politics, said with a low proportion of female candidates across all the parties for the North Yorkshire poll “it seems well nigh on impossible that the elected body will be truly reflective of the population”.

She said society needed to question why people from a group of half of North Yorkshire’s population were unable or not choosing to participate in the election.

She said: “It’s partly about the selection committees not choosing women. We tend to choose in our own image and what we have seen before as the image of a politician. All these things are changing, but not quickly enough.”

Supporters of former Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh have claimed she was de-selected by North Yorkshire Tories in 2014 after 17 years in the House of Commons partly due to sexism.

After North Yorkshire Police commissioner Julia Mulligan was not re-selected to stand for the Tories for the role in 2019 she said: “I don’t think North Yorkshire’s Conservative Party has got a terribly good record in terms of female politicians.”

Ms Scott added while some women were not prepared to put up with “having stones thrown”, legislation was needed to enable parents to support each other. She said: “If we are going to engage the brightest and the best to run the country we need to make sure the institutions are ones that will attract the brightest and best.

“In order to succeed in politics you need to have the support of your family and we need men to be supportive of women going into these roles.”

Many party officials privately admit changing what has traditionally been seen as a “boys’ club” at County Hall could take years as it would mean changing voters’ perception of the type of person that would be a suitable community representative.

However, all political groups said the main reason for a low proportion of female candidates in the election was a lack of women coming forward.

A spokesman for the Conservative Whitby and Scarborough group said its selection policy was “absolutely gender neutral” and out of the women who had come forward to be candidates in its area only one had not been selected.

He said: “We can only put forward female candidates if female candidates apply.”

A Liberal Democrat spokeswoman said the Richmond constituency party had noted women were facing more practical and emotional barriers to becoming councillors than men, with many already juggling family and work commitments.

A Labour Party spokesman for the area added the gender imbalance was partly being perpetuated because established councillors, most of whom are men, were more likely to be selected due to their experience. He said the party was in favour of policies which boosted candidates from under-represented groups.

A Richmond constituency Green Party spokeswoman added: “We have a policy of pushing women forward, but as a small party it’s more a matter of finding who is willing to stand.”