The proportion of Liberal Democrat local council candidates candidates and councillors elected in England who are female rose in the 2014 elections, up on both 2013 and on the previous time the seats were contested (2010). However, the longer-term context is that, once allowing for the fluctuations year by year depending on which seats are up for election*, the numbers have been flat for 25 years.
In 2014, 32.6% of Liberal Democrat candidates were female, up from 29.8% in 2013 and from 31.7% in 2010. The average this century has been 33.1%, however, as it also has been since 1990, so the increases still leave the figure a little below average and not on a rising trend.
In terms of councillors elected, 34.0% of Liberal Democrats were female, up from 30.4% in 2013 and from 32.1% in 2010. The average this century has been 32.7% and the average since 1990 has been 32.2%. That shows slight progress (unlike the candidate figures) but again there’s no clear current rising trend.
Female local election candidates in England
Female councillors elected in England
Four things strike me about these figures, and the similar long-term patterns in Scotland and Wales:
- It’s worth stressing the point: gender balance amongst the party’s local government base is going nowhere. Although wider society has seen continuing trends towards gender equality, for the party and its predecessors it’s been no progress for 20 years. Society shows no signs of fixing the problem for the party.
- Is it a problem? With a majority of the population and a majority of the electorate being female, the question really is ‘do you think that we’re get the best individuals for the jobs when women make up over half the potential pool but under a third of the number of candidates?’ (And anyway, talking about the best person for the job misses the fact that we’re selecting teams, not just individuals.)
- Whatever the cause, it isn’t the party’s overall membership balance that is the cause, for the party is about 48% female. Slightly less than the population overall, but way higher than the proportions of local councillors and candidates.
- It is possible to bring about big changes in a small number of years, as Labour has shown. That doesn’t mean Labour’s measures are ones Liberal Democrats should be comfortable with, but it does mean that leaving the numbers stalled isn’t inevitable; it’s a matter of choice.
For my previous posts on the topic, some of which include data from outside England, see:
(I thought I’d written similar posts in 2011 and 2012 but seem to have mislaid them somewhere on the internet. If you are better at locating my words than I am then do let me know.)
* I don’t think anyone has done detailed research into why some local government vacancies are more likely to result in female candidates than others, but most likely there are two explanations for this. First, if there is more than one vacancy in a ward at the same time – e.g. if all three seats in a multi-member ward are up for election in the same year – then local parties are more worried about standing three male candidates than if it is three separate vacancies in three different wards. Second, the working patterns of some councils – how far away the council offices are, when meetings are held, etc. – is likely to make it harder for people with greater family caring responsibilities, and that tends to hinder women more than men.
Thank you once to Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher of The Elections Centre at the University of Plymouth and authors of British Electoral Facts 1832-2012 for providing the data used in this post.