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How many female candidates are standing for election this time compared to 1997

00:00 Thu 24th May 2001 |

asks Su Smith:
A.
Fewer than last time. And there will certainly won't be as many winning seats - 121 women MPs were elected in 1997. Less than a fifth of the current candidates of the five main parties are women - a total of 397 out of around 3,000 candidates.

Q. It's not much, is it How does that break down per party
A.
Well, Labour has the most female candidates - a total of 149 women standing. Next are the Liberal Democrats with 132. The Conservatives have only 94, and the Scottish and Welsh Nationalists have 22 between them.

Q. Are many of them likely to win their seats
A.
Erm... Well, the Conservatives have not selected a female for any seat where the sitting MP was retiring, and only 13 women are standing in the party's top 100 target seats.

Q. What about Labour's all-women shortlists
A.
A thing of the past. In the 1997 election, these shortlists helped to elect 101 female MPs.

Q. What's the reaction to the decrease in female candidates
A.
Not much. There have been some grumbles about women finding it difficult to get chosen as candidates, yet the defector Shaun Woodward is standing as the candidate for St Helens South, Merseyside, without too much trouble. Tony Blair insists that his selection was by a shortlist process and had not been imposed on the constituency. He claims that Labour is trying to get more female candidates all the time, saying that the presence of more women MPs had made a huge difference to Parliament.


The gender equality pressure group, the Fawcett Society, claimed that the selection of women by the main parties was 'more than a disappointment, it's an embarrassment.'

Q. Is it a case of returning to old habits
A.
Yes, according to Mary-Ann Stephenson, director of the Fawcett Society: 'Left to their own devices, a lot of constituency parties go back to their old habits of assuming that the best man for the job is a white male.' She added that there is no shortage of well-qualified women.

Q. How can things change
A.
Labour has pledged in its manifesto to change the law to allow parties to discriminate in favour of women when selecting candidates. But if this doesn't get included in the first Queen's speech, according to Mary-Ann Stephenson, it won't have time to come into effect for the next selection process. And if there isn't some serious pressure, it will be postponed time after time... To find out more, visit the Fawcett Society website.

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By Sheena Miller

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