‘Labour women are front and centre this election, and history is about to be made’

Claire Reynolds
© Yau Ming Low/Shutterstock.com

The scores on the doors are in. Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) has now ratified almost all of the party’s general election candidates (at the time of writing, no candidate has been ratified in Gosport).

18 months after Labour Women’s Network (LWN) launched its weekly selection tracker charting the proportion of women getting selected, the job is complete. LWN can reveal that 296 of Labour’s 632 candidates are women. An imperfect, but nonetheless impressive 47%.

Without the use of all-women shortlists, I’d call that an achievement. We don’t yet know how this compares to the Conservatives, who are still filling their seats, but my best guess is we end up at least 15 and possibly 20% ahead of them on women candidates. I feel a bar chart coming on.

Labour’s selected candidates show LWN’s training works

At LWN, we are especially proud that 133 of the women standing (45%) are graduates of LWN training programmes. Of the 204 new women candidates (discounting those who were already MPs until parliament dissolved), a whopping 51% have been through LWN’s best-in-the-movement training.

41 women candidates are graduates of the Jo Cox women in leadership scheme, a strong return on the party’s investment, alongside the council leaders, trade unionists, business leaders, charity leaders and change-making campaigners that attribute their success to that programme.

LWN’s training works, as this week’s scores on the doors evidence, and it works for three reasons.

Firstly, we mindfully create one of the safest and most sisterly spaces in the Labour movement; this is essential for developmental training to be effective. There is no looking over your shoulder to see if fellow participants are responding critically; no fearing your contribution will be leaked to the grapevine.

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We’re not here to replicate an old boys network, but as it happens, trainees tend to form helpful contacts, allies through any political turbulence ahead, maybe even friends for life. One of our graduates met both her agent and her campaign manager on our training.

Secondly, we deliver training fiercely grounded in the political reality. We prepare women to survive and thrive in the Labour Party as we find it, not as it is in theory. LWN campaigns to improve Labour’s cultures and processes, while training women to navigate them effectively just as they are.

Thirdly, our training team is second to none. It encompasses the expertise of former regional directors, council leaders, special advisers and much more. Our trainers aren’t there to boost “confidence”; after all, it is the system that needs fixing, not the women. But they are there to ditch your comfort zone, shove you forward, carve out space for you to reflect on why you’re doing this, call time on unnecessary apologising and leave you walking taller as a leader and a winner.

We may see more Labour women MPs than ever before

Our training team is led by Nan Sloane, who is also responsible for the eagle eye on the data that meant our selection tracker helped to prevent the significant backwards regression in women’s representation that some predicted and many feared.

Thanks to Nan’s projections, differentiated by different possible swings to Labour, LWN remains confident that any iteration of a Labour government would mean more Labour women to the House of Commons than at any other moment in history and quite possibly, as a result, the highest number of women parliamentarians ever.

In addition to a sustainable mass training effort, a shorter selection process doubtless reduced barriers to women winning selections.

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Of course, there remain areas to work on. Regional success rates vary. In London, 55% of all Labour candidates are women.

In Scotland, it’s 40%, despite the Scottish executive committee attempting to twin seats for selection so a man and woman are selected at once.

In the North East, the figure’s 44%, but if you take out those able to call themselves sitting MPs until a few days ago, only 21% of new candidates in the region are women, not helped by a rather blokey set of NEC impositions there last week.

The last-minute impositions prompted a flurry of internal commentary on gender balance, but to be fair to the NEC, as I write, nine out of 20 last-minute selections went to women. At 45%, this lags slightly behind the rate from Constituency Labour Party selections, but not significantly.

The wider diversity of the women selected is encouraging

The wider diversity of the women selected is encouraging too. A prison officer. A stand-up comic. Our first female veteran prospective parliamentary candidate. From teachers to tech pros and economists to environmentalists. Disabled women, LGBT+ women, working class women, mothers, grandmothers, single women.

We don’t have access to the full ethnicity breakdown, but we might be heading towards record numbers of women candidates of colour, including in retirement and notionally Labour seats.

There is much still to learn from women’s experiences of the selection process. LWN will issue a call for evidence once the general election is over, and the results of that will feed into recommended improvements going forward. We’re proud of our contribution to GE24, but we won’t take our foot off the pedal.

But for today, the scores on the doors speak for themselves. Labour women are front and centre in this election, and history is about to be made.

Read more of our 2024 general election coverage here.

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