Despite the failure to guarantee 40% of shadow cabinet positions for women MPs, good organisation and the proportional increase of women in the PLP at the general election could still see 50% of seats go to women candidates.
The Labour Party has 81 women MPs and 177 male MPs. In order to cast a valid ballot in the shadow cabinet election at least 6 women and 6 men must be selected. There are 19 shadow cabinet places. If every woman votes for a slate of 9 woman candidates then each woman candidate would secure a core 81 votes.
But every man must also vote for at least 6 women candidates to validate their ballot. If we assume an even distribution of the 177 male voters’ minimum 1062 votes across the 9 women candidates then each woman gets an additional 118 votes giving women candidates 199 votes each.
More likely is an uneven distribution. This reduces women’s chances of obtaining the full nine seats, but the result is still overwhelming. Even where perhaps 4 superwomen were to obtain a vote from all 177 male voters giving them a maximum 258 out of 258 then the rules dictate that the other 5 women candidates would still pick up at least 70 additional votes (on an even distribution of the remaining male votes). This gives them a very impressive 151 votes in total.
Everything therefore depends upon the number of male candidates. Let us assume that 30 men stand. 81 women must vote for at least 6 of them. An even distribution of women’s votes would give every male candidate just 16 votes.
More likely is an uneven distribution. Let us suppose 10 of the 30 male candidates received the majority of women’s votes, but that no woman casts more than the 6 votes for men, necessary to validate her ballot paper. In this case each of the 10 alpha male candidates might secure two thirds of the available women’s votes, giving each alpha male 32 votes. The remaining 20 non-alpha male candidates would pick up only 8 votes a piece (assuming an even distribution of the balance).
Even if 6 super males picked up every single woman’s vote they would only bank a core of 81 votes each, leaving no extra votes for their male colleagues (provided no woman votes for more men than necessary to validate her ballot).
This leaves 177 male voters’ votes to be distributed amongst the 30 male candidates. To maximise men’s chances of success, each man must cast 13 votes for men and only the required 6 for women. On an even distribution of male votes this would provide 77 votes for each man. This means non-alpha males would secure a mere 85 votes. Alpha males would secure 109 votes and super males would secure 158 votes. On this distribution all 9 women would secure election.
An even distribution of male votes is also unlikely. Let us assume a non-even distribution of male votes where all males still cast all 13 of their possible votes for men. If 10 alpha males secure two thirds of all male votes then each alpha male will get 153 male votes. Non-alpha male candidates by contrast will receive only 38 male votes (assuming an even distribution of the balance).
This would give alpha males a total of 185 votes assuming that the 10 candidates women thought were alpha males, were the same 10 as those deemed alpha males by men. Non-alpha males would get a total of only 46 votes assuming an even distribution of the balance of men’s and women’s votes. In this scenario all 9 women would get elected: (either 9 women get 199 votes each, beating both alpha and non-alpha males; or 4 superwomen get 258 votes and 5 women get 151 votes, comfortably beating any non-alpha male).
What if there are super males as well as super women? Let us assume 6 super males picked up a vote from every single male voter. If these super males were also regarded as super males by women voters and received the maximum 258 votes, then assuming an even split of the balancing 1239 votes across the balancing 24 male candidates each non-super male only gets 52 votes in total. Again all 9 women get elected.
The above are only worked examples, but they demonstrate some very clear principles which could secure women half of all the places in the shadow cabinet.
1. Women’s chances increase as the number of male candidates increase.
2. Women’s chances increase as long as women vote only for the 6 men required to validate their ballot paper.
3. Women’s chances increase if they have an agreed slate of candidates: 8 candidates would give 42% of shadow cabinet, 9 candidates would give 47% of shadow cabinet, 10 would give 53% of shadow cabinet.
4. But women’s chances decrease as the number of women on the slate increases.
Of course it is important for everyone in the party that we elect the right shadow cabinet looking to the skills that each candidate possesses and getting a strong and competent team. But many of us believe that it is also important to send a very strong message to the country about the sort of representative party we are. That message can only be clearer as the balance of men and women increases.
Many of us were disappointed by the vote last week to have a minimum quota of only 31.5%. The fact that the default position for most senior men in the party is “Well I ought to consider putting myself forward”, whilst the default for senior women in the party is often the opposite, gives perhaps the precise combination of numbers that can ensure women working in solidarity and with rigour can still deliver that message.