100 years after the first British women gained the vote, 100 women came together at Newnham College for #AskHerToStand, the movement to inspire women to stand as MPs.
Turning the standard question on its head, women were asked “Why aren’t you standing for Parliament?” “Democracy is yours,” said Heidi Allen MP.
As 50:50 Parliament, the organisation behind #AskHerToStand, argues, “Parliament is meant to be representative. It should draw upon the widest possible pools of talent and experience. Men continue to outnumber women by more than 2:1 in the corridors of power. Women merit fair representation and inclusion in the most important decision-making institution in our country. Our vision is a Parliament where men and women legislate the laws of the land together in equal numbers.”
Attendees spanned the age range, from those not yet old enough to vote to those who have seen many governments come and go.
Inspired by Newnham College’s seminars on the fight for women’s suffrage, A-level students from local sixth-form colleges joined us to learn about their possible future in politics. District Councillor Pippa Heylings described the event as “inspiring” and said “I was so impressed by the strong and passionate A Level students I met at the 50:50 Parliament #AskHerToStand event
Rosie Duffield MP gave a frank account of her unexpected journey to Parliament, and how fulfilling she finds the role. “Being an MP is a great job” she said, “If you throw socks at the TV when Question Time is on, you should be there in Parliament where you can make a difference!” Rosie was the first MP to be elected with the support of 50:50 Parliament, and was determined to convince other women they could make the same move.
The camaraderie around the table was obvious, with women who had stood against each other in elections laughing and joking together. Women MPs can find they get support from across the party boundaries. As Christine Jardine MP commented, “women find each other and talk cross-party to get things done together. Men also talk to each other but it’s to gather intelligence and report back.”
The event was organised by Director of 50:50 Parliament, and Newnham PhD student, Dolly Theis. Dolly herself stood for Parliament in the 2017 elections.
For those holding back, Harini Iyengar of the Women’s Equality Party argued strongly that “You don’t need a mentor or a sponsor. You just have to imagine what’s possible and do it.”
Newnham PhD student Kate Howlett said “Never have I seen a discussion of politics amongst MPs where there was such a sense of hope and collaboration. This is the politics of the future: cross-party, issue-driven, diverse, female and collaborative.”
As Dolly Theis said “If we inspired them, that’s our first job done. Next step is helping them into Parliament!”
If you’ve considered a role in politics, or know a woman who has, visit the 50:50 Parliament website and find out how to get elected.