All-women shortlists: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The use of all-women shortlists (AWS) is the political practice intended to increase the proportion of female Members of Parliament (MPs) in the United Kingdom by allowing only women to stand in particular constituencies.[1][2] Though the practice is available to all parties, only the Labour Party uses it.[3] Jacqui Smith, who served as Home Secretary, was one prominent politician elected on an all-women shortlist.[4][5]



Jacqui Smith, the first British female Home Secretary, was elected using an AWS.[4]

For the 1992 General Election the Labour Party had a policy of ensuring there was at least one statutory female candidate on each of its shortlists, however few of these women were successful in being selected in winnable seats.[6] Therefore, following polling that suggested women were less likely to vote Labour than men, the party introduced introduced All Women shortlists at its 1993 annual conference.[7]

The shortlists were to be used to select candidates in half of all winnable seats for the 1997 general election. The first candidate to be selected from an All Women Shortlist was Candy Atherton.[8]


In December 1995, after being prevented from standing on Labour shortlists solely on the basis of their gender, Dr Peter Jepson and Roger Dyas-Elliott challenged Labour's All Women shortlist policy in court.[9] Supported by the Equal Opportunities Commission, they claimed that they had been illegally barred from applying to be considered to represent the party and that the policy contradicted Labour's policy of aiming to promote equality of opportunity. [10]

In January 1996 the industrial tribunal found the Labour Party had broken the law, unanimously ruling that all-women shortlists were illegal under the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and stating the policy was a "clear case of sex discrimination".[11][12] The 34 candidates who had already been selected by all-women shortlists were not required to seek re-selection, but all 14 unfinished all-women shortlist selections were suspended.[11] Dr Jepson and Mr Dyas-Elliott did not seek compensation for their loss.[11]

Labour leader Tony Blair acknowledged that AWS were "not ideal at all" in 1995,[13] though all-women shortlists were later legalized under the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002.[3][14] They will remain legalized until the end of 2015, due to the "Sunset Clause".[15]

Political party usage

Labour is the only political party to use the practice to date. Thirty-five out of 38 Labour AWS candidates were successful at the 1997 general election, and 23 out of 30 at the 2005 general election.[16]

Prior to the legalization of AWS, the Liberal Democrats used a system called "zipping".[1] In 2001 The Liberal Democrats rejected a proposal to use AWS, suggesting such shortlists were illiberal and unnecessary. Party members argued that the main problem was not discrimination, but the lack of female candidates and instead the party set a target of having 40% female candidates in winnable seats.[17]

The Conservative Party also opposed gender quotas, preferring to persuade constituencies to select female candidates in winnable seats.[18] In 2006, when Conservative leader David Cameron tried to institute AWS, there was opposition from some female MPs, such as Nadine Dorries and Ann Widdecombe.[19]. However, more recently David Cameron indicated his willingness to consider AWS and in February 2010 he indicated that he would impose AWS because the pace of change had been too slow[20]


All Women Shortlists have helped to increase the number of female MPs in Parliament to 126, with the Labour Party having the highest number of female MPs[21] However, the shortlists haven't necessarily attracted more women into the party, for example the Liberal Democrats have a higher proportion of female councillors than Labour even though they refuse to use positive discrimination.[22]

Some suggest the resulting increase in women in politics has brought improvements to Parliament, particularly increased priority given to issues such as women's health and childcare. It is also suggested that the use of AWS also makes it easier for women to be selected in non discriminatory seats.[23] The shortlists also gave rise to the appointment of Britain's first female Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith in June 2007.

Sex discrimination debate

There was significant oppositions to AWS in constituencies where they were imposed. For example, in 1996 Labour party branches in Croydon Central, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney, Bishop Auckland and Slough all submitted hostile motions criticising the policy.[9] Concern about such sex discrimination was especially strong in Slough where the local party refused to even cooperate in selecting a candidate after having an AWS imposed.[24] Another concern was that AWS were being used as a device to keep out certain men who might have made trouble for Tony Blair, Prime Minister at the time.[1]

By the time the 1997 General Election came around, some Labour supporters stood as independent candidates in constituencies where an AWS had been used to protest against such sexism.[25]

In 2005, a Labour-controlled "safe seat" was lost because of a dispute over AWS. Independent candidate Peter Law won the Blaenau Gwent constituency in Wales beating Maggie Jones who lost almost 40% of the previous Labour vote because of voters rebelling against Labour's All-women shortlist policy.[26] The seat's former MP, Llew Smith who retired at that election, had held one of the largest majorities of any Labour MP in Britain.[26] Jones was soon nominated to become a life peer in 2005, something Law claims to have predicted after her election loss. Both Law and Smith condemed the award, with the later stating it was "insulting"[27]

In 2008 Widdecombe criticised the use of AWS stating that women in the past who fought for equality such as the Suffragettes "wanted equal opportunities not special privileges" and "they would have thrown themselves under the King's horse to protest against positive discrimination and all-women shortlists".[28] However, it could also be argued that suffragettes such as Norah Elam would be extremely disappointed at the pace of change after 100 years of the enfranchisement of women and might, like David Cameron, now be arguing that AWS are necessary (see McPherson 2010).

Virginia Blackburn was equally critical of sex discriminaiton in shortlists, suggesting that those who had pushed all women shortlists through had "inflicted on us some of the most supine, useless MPs this country has ever seen".[5]

Diane Abbott, one of the early supporters of all women shortlists criticised their failure to recruit ethnic minority women into politics, stating that they had in effect "been all white women shortlists" [29] As evidence of this she cited the 1997 Parliamentary intake, where none of the MPs selected using all women shortlists were black.[30]

Some also see AWS as a thin end of a wedge of more discrimination and worry as to exactly how many more similar types might be introduced, such as all homosexual or all Muslim shortlists.[31]

See also


  1. ^ a b c McSmith, Andy (23 August 2006). "The Big Question: Are all-women shortlists the best way to achieve equality in Parliament?". The Independent. Retrieved 31 December 2008. 
  2. ^;jsessionid=KvjZvj3bpG1J1RvJJ5c2LvvqPbMBzJ7LGtQ7hTYmDdG19z2Pm9QN!968782365!846852835?a=o&d=5023216669
  3. ^ a b Sarah Childs, Joni Lovenduski and Rosie Campbell (November 2005). "Women at the Top 2005: Changing Numbers, Changing Politics?". Hansard Society. Retrieved 31 December 2008. 
  4. ^ a b "Jacqui Smith: the rise and fall". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  5. ^ a b
  6. ^ Wynn Davies, Patricia (30 June 1993). "Labour to set quotas for women: Executive to vote on move that could ensure 80 female MPs after next election". The Independent. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  7. ^ Lovenduski, Joni (2005). "Feminizing Politics". Polity Press. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ a b Wynn Davies, Patricia (21 August 1995). "All-women lists face new legal challenge". The Independent. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  10. ^ "Red-faced Labour's short-list blow". Lancashire Evening Telegraph. 10 January 1996. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  11. ^ a b c Rentoul, John; Stephen Ward and Donald Macintyre (9 January 1996). "Labour blow as all-women lists outlawed". The Independent. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  12. ^ Strickland, Pat; Oonagh Gay, Julia Lourie and Richard Cracknell (22 October 2001), "The Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Bill", Research Paper 01/75 (House of Commons Library),, retrieved 2009-08-11 
  13. ^ Rentoul, John (11 December 1995). "Labour faces test over quotas for women MPs". The Independent. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  14. ^ "All-women shortlists clear new hurdle". BBC News. 21 December 2001. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  15. ^ King, Oliver (15 November 2005). "All-women shortlists a must, says report". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 December 2008. 
  16. ^ Richard Kelly and Isobel White (29 April 2009), All-women shortlists, House of Commons Library, SN/PC/05057,, retrieved 2009-06-23 
  17. ^ "Lib Dems reject women-only lists". BBC News. 27 September 2001. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  18. ^ Lena Krook, Mona; Joni Lovenduski and Judith Squires (2006). "Gender quotes in the context of citizenship models". Women, quotas and politics. Taylor & Francis. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  19. ^ Jones, George (22 Aug 2006). "Tories shy away from all-women shortlists". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 31 December 2008. 
  20. ^ The Telegraph 18/2/10
  21. ^
  22. ^
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  24. ^ Rentoul, John; Donald Macintyre (26 July 1995). "Blair prepares to drop all-women shortlists". The Independent. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  25. ^
  26. ^ a b Sparrow, Andrew (7 May 2005). "Safe seat lost after row over women shortlists". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 31 December 2008. 
  27. ^
  28. ^ Widdecombe, Ann (7 February 2008). "EDM 895A2 - 90th ANNIVERSARY OF THE REPRESENTATION OF THE PEOPLE ACT 1918". Early Day Motions. UK Parliament. Retrieved 11 August 2009. 
  29. ^
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