Breakdown by Party
An analysis of the 5 main parties’ constituency candidates by gender reveals Labour considerably ahead of its competitors in terms of women’s candidacy (indeed running more women candidates than men in 2003 & 2007 races). By contrast the Liberal Democrats flatline around 30% whilst within Plaid and the Conservatives’ men outnumber women 4:1.
UKIP takes the wooden spoon, however, having stood 0 women candidates in 2007 – though some consideration must be given to the fact that they didn’t stand in constituency races in 1999 or 2011, reducing their total cohort of candidates.
By analysing candidacy at regional list level we can gain a closer understanding of what function proportional representation plays in ‘topping up’ a gender deficit. Graph D shows Plaid make considerable improvements through party lists, whilst Labour are again close to gender parity. The Conservatives and UKIP fare particularly badly again, revealing a more profound lack of female candidates. All parties still fall short of 50:50 – suggesting a ‘pipeline problem’ in the movement of women candidates through party structures to selection.
By taking a look at elected Assembly Members, we are able to compare party candidacy across Wales with their ability to secure women’s representation through an effective selection process.
At first glance the Lib Dems display seemingly impressive results across constituency races, but in reality this is more of a reflection of their consistent struggle to win constituency seats (they have only ever elected two women AMs, Kirsty Williams and Jenny Randerson). Similarly, Trish Law single-handedly boosts women’s representation in independent candidacies by winning a by-election and re-election in Blaenau Gwent. However, more generally, just 17.5% of Independent and Minor party candidates are women, suggesting that Trish Law’s accomplishments are outliers from the general trend. Labour are, again, the only party to hit and exceed the 50:50 standard, having elected more women through both constituency and list seats.
The numbers show that Wales’ progress on gender representation relies heavily on one factor: the enduring success of Welsh Labour. Although other parties have made use of proportional representation at the Assembly to effectively ‘top-up’ on women candidates through regional lists, this is not a sustainable means of ensuring balanced representation. Plaid Cymru demonstrate this pattern most strongly, with a low representation at the constituency level that is counterbalanced by progress on the list.
Labour’s achievement too must be cautioned, in that it is reliant on Labour continuing to return a steady number of AMs, despite facing a 7.6% drop in constituency vote share in 2016. Although their continued dominance of the Assembly has enabled the party to enjoy a greater candidate pool and a greater selection of seats to elect women, ERS Cymru’s 2016 report reveals the fragility of even Labour’s progress. If the trend of Labour’s ‘safe’ seats returning male candidates continues in tandem with women incumbents defending battleground constituencies, Labour too may see their progressed dashed by a creeping ‘incumbency overhang.’ The continued dominance of male candidates through every other party – through both constituency and list candidacy – reveals a fragile picture behind the women with a seat in the Senedd.
For Wales to ensure it maintains progress on gender parity – and its reputation as a more representative body than Westminster – it will require every major party to correct for gender imbalance where it exists. Whether this be through through all-women shortlists, twinned constituencies, zipping or another proven method, it’s clear that without a gear-shift women’s representation in the Senedd will be increasingly fragile.
This blog was co-written with Rachel Statham. Rachel is Political Campaigns Coordinator at the Women’s Equality Party and tweets at @rachelstatham_