A comedian and a journalist have a drink in a pub and decide to set up a political party. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke but that’s exactly how the Women’s Equality Party originated: Sandi Toksvig and Catherine Mayer are its co-founders. This is a single-issue party with a core message and agenda at its heart: gender equality. It is based on the same model to which UKIP and the Greens initially subscribed. Their intention is certainly not to get into government. Rather, they intend to galvanise support and entice voters away from the larger political parties. The idea is that this would force the party in government to sit up and pay attention to gender inequality, much in the same way UKIP has forced the Conservatives to acknowledge the question of the UK’s EU membership, even promising a referendum next year.
There is a case to be made for this strategy. Should the Women’s Equality Party (WEP) manage to rouse even a handful of the fifteen million people who chose not to vote in the last general election to support this new party, then it would have a powerful effect on the Government’s willingness to really begin listening to the difficulties and inequality that comes with being a woman in Britain today.
It’s slightly depressing that such a party should even exist. The six key aims of the WEP include equal pay for men and women, equal representation in politics and an end to violence against women. The fact that currently achieving some of these goals in the near future seems nigh on impossible is argument enough to justify the existence of the Women’s Equality Party. As the party have pointed out, you need only to look at the ‘pink bus’ run by Labour’s Harriet Harman in an attempt to encourage women to vote last May to recognise how thoroughly removed so-called ‘women’s issues’ have become from mainstream politics. There is ‘real politics’ and there is the pink, fluffy ‘women’s politics’.
What has been made equally clear, however, is that this is not a party designed exclusively for women. While the vast majority of members it attracts, perhaps predictably, are female, it has been careful to emphasise the positive benefits of gender equality for both sexes. In a society where women are able to practise their full potential in all aspects of life, everyone wins. Be it in the workforce, the economy or politically, the WEP wants to emphasise that it is not just a party that wishes to make living conditions better for women, but for the whole of Britain. Yet sadly, and so very inevitably, vitriolic abuse has already started coming the way of the party’s leaders, and this only serves to underline and emphasise the fundamental need for women to be placed on a more level playing field.
It would be difficult to doubt the honourable intentions of the Women’s Equality Party, and their goals certainly resonate with a good deal of people. But there is one significant sacrifice that may be made, should it succeed in the ways in which its members hope. This is a party that is naturally inclined to attract the liberal components of the British public. It’s a liberal party with a liberal agenda. It won’t be the Conservative Party that finds itself losing votes to the WEP. It will, most likely, be Labour. Similar to the SNP’s astonishing triumph in Scotland this May, it is Labour that threatens to lose supporters to the WEP and their liberal agenda. Is the party willing to make this sacrifice in the name of gender equality, and is it sure that it can make a Conservative party so confident in its ability to hold onto its core voters really feel the pressure to make the changes needed to aid and promote gender equality?
The Women’s Equality Party hasn’t offered the perfect formula to finally achieving gender equality. But it’s a promising step in the right direction and, all else aside, it’s a refreshing addition to the consistently male-dominated backdrop of British politics. Far more than this, however, it is a necessity. Women are still so very far from experiencing true equality in our society and the attempts of this new party to change this ought to be applauded, not derided or dismissed as a waste of time.
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