Meryl Kenny, Lecturer in Politics, University of Edinburgh
Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender, University of Bristol
The new Labour leader, deputy leader, and both candidates standing for Mayor in London and Bristol: all male. And this from a party whose parliamentary benches are more than 43 percent female and, in Bristol, where all its MPs are women. The newspapers and social media, not unexpectedly, were quick to question the party’s commitment to gender equality. Whatever you think of revaluing the education and health brief (and there’s a lot to be said for it), the absence of not one woman from the traditional top offices of state invited criticism. Some of this was no doubt right-wing commentators finding yet another reason to be critical of Labour’s new leader.
But the feminist criticism was more substantive: a longstanding worry that leftist politics often has too little room for gender equality in policy and personnel terms. Against such criticism, the counter argument: given the number of women candidates standing, party members had ample opportunity to vote for a woman. In short, Corbyn was the preferred candidate, his sex notwithstanding.
Tessa Coombes – Social Policy PhD student
At last, the long drawn out Labour leadership election has come to its conclusion and we now know that Jeremy Corbyn has indeed been elected as leader of the Labour Party. After what has been a challenging process, involving intrigue, sub plots and horror stories, we will now see what this new kind of politics is all about. The mandate for change is clear with the scale of the victory born out of a truly democratic process embracing the notion of a real alternative to the status quo.
But what does this mean in practice when you have a leader who will undoubtedly have to fight many internal battles to gain support for his own policies?
The local elections in Spain on Sunday have attracted international attention with the Guardian saying that‘Spain’s indignados could rule Barcelona and Madrid after local election success’ and the New York Times that ‘Spain’s local election results reshape political landscape’. What these reports capture is that Spain has gone from a two-party to a multi-party system in the four years since the last general elections and that this fast political change started with the occupation of public squares by the Indignados, known as 15M, on 15 May 2011. In this blog post I seek to go beyond the headlines and explain some of the political transformations that are at play in the Eurozone’s fourth largest economy.
Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
On a cold and wet November evening some 40 women gathered to discuss the forthcoming UK general election. The panel of speakers – hosted by the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS)’ Gender Research Centre as part of the 2014 ESRC ‘Thinking Futures’ festival of social science, undertook a gendered reading of the forthcoming election.
Gender and voting behaviour
The sociologist Paula Surridge offered new analysis of the British Panel study (BES) data, a panel study of the British population with around 30,000 respondents to each wave. She found:
- a gender gap in identification of the ‘most important political issue’, with
- women more concerned about immigration than men, and
- men more concerned about the economy.
Perhaps surprisingly for the audience, education and health – often cited as issues women are more concerned about – did not feature highly when the question looked at the single most important issue.
Dr Ana Juncos, Lecturer in European Politics, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
The next election to the European Parliament, the eighth contest since direct voting began in 1979, will take place over 22-25 May. This will be an important event in the history of the European Union. Many national elections in the past few years have witnessed governments ousted because of their handling of the economy and their support for austerity policies (namely in Greece and Cyprus, but also in France and Italy). However, this is the first time that citizens will have an opportunity to voice their opinions in a ballot on the handling of the Eurozone debt crisis at the European as opposed to the national level.
Michelle Cini, Professor of European Politics, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Moreover, for the first time in its history, more than 400 million European citizens will have a chance to decide not only on the composition of the European Parliament, but also about who might become the chief of the European executive, the President of the European Commission. Even if the Commission’s role is said to be weaker than it was in the past, the incoming President will nonetheless play a key role in deciding the future direction of political and economic integration in the EU. With the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty in late 2009, the European Council composed of the Heads of State and Government of the 28 member states now proposes a President of the Commission to the European Parliament, ‘taking into account the elections to the European Parliament’. For many this represents the first opportunity for a truly pan-European election.
Sylvia Bashevkin is a professor of political science at the University of Toronto. She visited Bristol University’s School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies (SPAIS) last week as the Benjamin Meaker Visiting Professor.
Scholars in the UK and elsewhere have spent lots of time studying women’s contributions to legislative politics. Whether they focus on attention to child care and anti-violence policy or the better tone of debate that often follows from electing more women, researchers generally conclude that larger numbers do matter.
One angle that deserves closer attention involves women’s clout in the political executive. The growing concentration of power in the hands of prime ministers and senior members of cabinet means legislators are less and less influential. Even when backbenchers had more power than they now command, the political executive’s ability to shape decisions in areas such as international relations far exceeded that of parliament. For one thing, foreign ministers and the prime ministers who appoint them have long enjoyed access to all kinds of confidential intelligence reports and military briefings that never reach average MPs – let alone members of the general public.
Once trade unionists are asked to contract in to Labour, the current means of electing the party leader has to be abolished.
Mark Wickham-Jones, Professor of Political Science, School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Labour’s special conference meets in early March to discuss a series of reforms to the party’s structure, including the relationship with its affiliated trade unions. It has become clear recently that the proposals will include the end of the electoral college by which the party leader is elected. To understand why its abolition is the inescapable result of the reform process, we need to look at the measures mapped out by Labour leader Ed Miliband last summer and assess how the electoral college has developed over the last couple of decades.
From the very start of this review, Ed Miliband has emphasised the importance of individual trade unionists ‘contracting in’ to the political levy and to affiliated membership of the party. Since 1946 most trade unionists who have affiliated to Labour have been signed up automatically. If they objected to this decision, taken on their behalf, they needed specifically to opt out of the arrangement. Miliband’s argument was straightforward: this procedure might have made sense in the 1940s and 1950s when a large proportion of the workforce was organised in trade unions and when political identities were frequently defined by corporate memberships. Now, however, more emphasis should be placed on individual choice than on group affiliations en bloc. Moreover, such affiliated membership undermined, Miliband hinted, Labour’s development of an actively engaged party membership.
Sarah Childs, Professor of Politics and Gender, University of Bristol
Men’s over-representation and women’s under-representation in the UK Parliament is pretty well known, even if the public sometimes over-estimates just how many women MPs there are, bedazzled by their bright clothing in the Chamber. In fact, men outnumber women by more than 4:1.
Some people may not find this particularly troublesome. Lord Hurd has recently been cited saying that there is a “ludicrous” obsession with ensuring there is equal representation of men and woman in parliament and other areas of public life. We believe very strongly that a diversity of background and experience does matter. And there’s another serious flaw with the Hurd line of reasoning. He says that if voters didn’t want a “good looking chap from a public school” as prime minister they wouldn’t keep choosing them. But the reason feminists have campaigned for All Women Short-lists as a means to get more women at Westminster is precisely because it’s political parties not voters who choose our candidates and party leaders. We the voters don’t get to choose our parliamentary candidates, and therefore who our MPs, are. The reasons there are too few women in politics stems from both a lack of demand for and supply of women candidates: voters don’t punish women candidates. But in the absence of equality measures such as Labour’s All Women’s Shortlists, parties are much less likely to select women in winnable seats, even if fewer women seek selection as parliamentary candidates overall.
Dr Sarah Ayres, Senior Lecturer in Policy Studies, School for Policy Studies and co-editor of Policy & Politics Journal
Editorial by Sarah Ayres, co-editor of Policy & Politics. The full version of this blog was published this month in Policy & Politics volume 41, number 4, available free until the end of November 2013.
This special issue is based on a selection of papers presented at the 40th anniversary Policy & Politics conference, held in Bristol in 2012. Policy & Politics published its first issue in 1972 and has since become one of the leading international journals in the field of public and social policy. In that time the nature of policy and politics has undergone significant transformations. Recent changes include the increasing importance of global governance, a reframing of the state in delivering public services and the global economic downturn and associated austerity measures. These have been combined with rising public expectations about choice and quality of public services and the transition from government to governance, epitomised by the inclusion of non-state actors in the policy process.
Dr Sarah Ayres, Senior Lecturer in Policy Studies, School for Policy Studies
Policy & Politics held its 2013 Conference in Bristol last month. This year’s theme was ‘Transforming Policy and Politics: the Future of the State in the 21st Century’.
160 scholars from eighteen countries discussed different aspects of public and social policy in relation to recent and future changes to the state, politics and public services. Discussions were focussed at a global and local level across a range of sectors, including health, housing, welfare and economic development.
The conference hosted four fantastic plenary speakers: Professors Liesbet Hooghe (University of North Carolina), Bob Jessop (Lancaster University), John Keane (University of Sydney) and Eva Sorensen (Roskilde University). The plenary speakers drew on examples from around the globe to illustrate recent transformations to the state and their implications for policy and politics. Panel sessions included world leading scholars in their fields with many discussions leading to plans for future work, including joint or group publications.