Sadiq Khan wins London mayoral election, but is 2% still a small victory for the Women’s Equality Party?

As many predicted, Labour candidate Sadiq Khan has won the London Mayoral election with 44.2% of the vote. As usual, it was touted early on as a two-party race, in what turned to be a rather ugly contest full of accusations and name-calling.

Whilst it can be frustrating to feel locked in a two-party system, what has been interesting about this election is to see the emergence of the Women’s Equality Party. Whilst party leader and Mayoral candidate Sophie Walker may have only picked up around 2% of the vote, it’s positive not only to see the party run, but also that it has gained national media coverage.  (And, it’s worth noting, is a higher percentage than all the other smaller parties that the Lab/Con/Lib Dem/Green/UKIP regulars). Actress Emma Thompson has publicly backed the party, telling the Guardian that “she feels issues that are important to women, including equal pay, are sidelined from mainstream politics”. And it’s easy to see where she’s coming from – flicking through the mini-manifesto guide sent by the government, the pages seemed to mirror each other – either in the hateful rhetoric of the BNP and Britain First, or in the generic city-wide policies of the major parties. Yes, transport and housing are undeniably important, but it would be nice to feel approached on a level more personal than expensive infrastructure. That’s not to say that the candidates don’t acknowledge these issues – Khan’s manifesto includes prioritising “closing the gender pay gap and breaking the glass ceiling as key aims”, whilst both Khan and Goldsmith vowed to work on tackling violence against women and girls. Whilst it’s positive for candidates to be including these topics, to have a party project these issues at the forefront is encouraging as a woman, regardless of their electoral success.

The party itself has grown at impressive speed – it was only in March 2015 that author and journalist Catherine Meyer proposed founding the party, with membership opening in July that year. It is interesting to see the online presence of the party – the party holds 26.1k Twitter followers – which is more than double the amount held by running mates including George Galloway’s Respect party (6,240 followers) and the (far less desirable) BNP (11.1k followers). Whilst these parties might be worlds apart in values and manifestoes, it is still interesting to see comparatively the volume of people engaging with those battling it out to have their voices heard above the Labour/Conservative tussle.

It’s not only the winning parties we make assumptions on, though – Green Mayoral candidate Sian Berry has spoken out this election that it is damaging to hypothetically refer to the next Mayor of London as a ‘he’ from the outset, arguing that this means that “all the good ideas female candidates are bringing to the campaign don’t get properly discussed or get dismissed in advance as unlikely to happen”. Berry makes a good point, but what pleases me is that it’s a point brought to attention by national media. Has the election broken beyond the two-party race? No – but what there has appeared to be is a greater discourse on women – both in policy and as candidates – and that is a snowball we can keep on pushing to the next race.

by Lizzie Scourfield

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