This weekend marks the centenary celebrations of women being allowed to stand for Parliament. 100 years later and we have had 450 women MPs, 42 women cabinet members and 2 women Prime Ministers. Not enough, but numbers that 100 years ago would have been unthinkable.
Our current batch of Parliamentarians features four incredible women MPs – each of whom is an inspiration to what Liberal MPs should be doing. Christine Jardine, a passionate unionist, who as our Spokesperson for Scotland is leading the charge against Scottish Nationalists both in Westminster and north of Hadrian's Wall.
Wera Hobhouse – our nearest MP in Bath – has already made a huge impact with her Upskirting Bill, getting support from across the house to end this injustice. As our Local Government Spokesperson, she is also putting pressure on the government to build the millions of homes young families need.
Layla Moran was only elected in 2017, but already she has proven herself as one of the finest parliamentarians around. Her passion for education policy is infectious and she is making the most powerful and radical case for real change in our schools’ system. Layla works incredibly hard locally and has been a fantastic spokesperson for the People’s Vote campaign.
Jo Swinson, our Deputy Leader and Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, entered the House at just 25 years old and already has such an incredible record of delivery. As a Minister for Business and for Women & Equalities, Jo introduced incredible measures like shared parental leave, extended flexible working rights, clamped down on unscrupulous payday lenders and won government support to bring in gender pay gap reporting. Her passion for gender equality is best articulated in her great book Equal Power – a call to arms for all of us and a guide for what we can do to bring about a more equal society.
I am proud to be in a party that carries the values of Liberalism and Feminism so closely and passionately. We still have a long way to go. Whilst women make up a third of our parliamentary party, they are still disproportionately underrepresented at candidate, council and activist level. During the coalition government, we had the opportunity to add to the diversity of the cabinet, but we failed to do so. That was wrong, that cannot happen again.
I am not too disheartened though. As a party, we are making active efforts to ensure women have equal opportunities. Our policy of all-women shortlists has helped some amazing candidates into seats that mean they are just one general election away from being MPs. Whether its Laura Gordon in Sheffield Hallam or Daisy Cooper in St Albans, we are ready to be a party that represents the type of country we want to lead.
Politics, especially at a local level, can be a boys club, but we can change that and change it now. Meetings cannot be all male, target seats should take into account gender representation, committees and decision-making bodies should be actively recruiting women. We have, too many of us, got used to a culture that subtly and insidiously undermines what women can offer our parties. This has to change and we all need to be a part of that change.
The future of our party is feminism. The values of equality of opportunity and empowerment of individuals are in our blood as liberals, and the talent and ideas of the future will, in my mind, undoubtedly be led by those values. We have a lot of work to do, we have a lot of prejudices and comfortable cultural norms to dispel, but we have the opportunity to lead the way as we have done in the past. The future of Britain is Liberal; the future is feminist.