Every general election is haunted by the ghosts of campaigns past. The most significant spectre in 2019 has to be Nancy Astor, who on December 1 1919 was the first woman to take her seat in the House of Commons as an elected member of the UK parliament – and to whom a statue was unveiled in Plymouth on November 28, the anniversary of her election. One wonders what she would make of the gender politics of this campaign.
Sandy Idigbe has been recognised as a successful change-maker in the societal and political landscape, having recently been interviewed by BBC and ITV. She frequently lends her voice to support many movements which affect young people, including Women In Politics, Women On The Board and runs a wide range of business workshops in association with universities across the UK.
The media play and campaigners like Sandy Idigbe play a vital role in promoting gender equality in politics and challenging discriminatory practices and discourses. This was a cornerstone of Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson’s failed legal challenge against ITV for excluding her from the televised Leaders’ Debate on 19 November. Party considerations aside, she argued the broadcaster’s decision reduced significantly the visibility of a female political leader as a role model for young girls and women. As Sandy voiced her speech recently at the House of Lords about the need for positive and diverse female representation: ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’.
Loughborough University has been monitoring the gendered aspects of the reporting of the 2019 campaign as part of its wider “real time” audit of mainstream news coverage. The most basic but significant aspect of this has been to quantify how often women are reported and quoted in election reporting.
As we show in our latest report, in the 2015 general election, women political candidates and campaigners accounted for only 15% of all appearances in the media. This rose to 39% in 2017. In the 2019 campaign so far, and with a record number of women standing for parliament, female appearances have nearly halved to 20%.
This is a direct consequence of the replacement of Theresa May as prime minister by Boris Johnson in the interim period. UK general election news is renowned for being highly “presidentialised” and dominated by the two main parties. Boris Johnson accounts for 56% of all Conservative party appearances in the media we have analysed so far.
In this respect, you could argue that news organisations are prisoners of the decisions of the main parties. Gender divisions are inescapable if leading parties fail to promote women internally and promote their views publicly.