With over six weeks to go until the general election, we shouldn’t read too much into the polls. That said, unless something significantly changes between now and June 8, a Conservative victory is looking increasingly likely.
Progressives need to be strategic about choosing the right battles. I can think of no better challenge then, than that of the Shipley constituency race; pitting Tory MP Philip Davies, against Women’s Equality Party leader, Sophie Walker.
It’s fair to say that Davies is not from the liberal wing of his party. His voting record on equality & human rights reads like a Breibart comment piece, yet this battle isn’t just personal. The House of Commons would be a better place with the Women’s Equality Party represented, especially if Theresa May continues to give way to the Tory right.
What are Walker’s chances of winning in Shipley?
The constituency voted to leave the European Union, which could favour Brexiter Davis over Remainer Walker. The estimated result however, was in line with how the country voted (52% leave, 48% remain). Given the kind of voters she is looking to attract, the relatively small margin is unlikely to hamper Walker’s chances.
As this will be the first parliamentary seat the Women’s Equality have contested, there is no comparative data to help us predict how they might fare. However, the party were represented in last year’s London Mayoral, London Assembly, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly elections. As would be expected, they fared best in London; finishing in sixth place in both the Mayoral race and London-wide list, and ahead of George Galloway’s Respect Party. An impressive showing for a young political party then, but a long way to go if they are to achieve electoral success.
In the 2015 General Election, Davies won Shipely with 50% of the vote. Labour came in a fairly distant second with a 31% share, and the combined progressive vote (Labour, Lib Dems, Greens and Yorkshire First) totalled just shy of 21,000, and almost 4,000 short of the Conservative total. If Walker is to have any chance of winning this year, those aforementioned parties, or at the very least Labour, would need to step aside to allow her a clear run.
Whilst all progressive parties hold a strong and positive position on gender equality, debate around Women’s Equality’s very specific objectives, can only enrich the work those parties have done and continue to do in parliament. Across the country, the merits of a broader Progressive Alliance are already being discussed, with decisions to cooperate between parties rightly being made at a local level. In this extraordinary instance though, and with the opportunity to put the issue of gender equality before party politics, shouldn’t Labour and the Lib Dems follow the Greens lead and do the right thing? Stepping aside for Sophie Walker in 2017, could very well make history for the Women’s Equality Party and indeed parliamentary democracy. There will not be another opportunity like this until 2022.