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Last Updated: Thursday, 17 November 2005, 16:48 GMT
South: Women in politics
Ian Paul
Ian Paul
Politics Show South

Lady Astor
Lady Astor: First female MP to take her seat

When Nancy Astor took her seat in the House of Commons in 1919 as the first woman MP she was one amongst 706 men.

Eighty-six years later, there are 127 women in a House of Commons of 646 MPs.

That is the highest number ever - more even than the "Blair's Babes" Parliament of 1997 - but the question has to be, why is it not higher still?

Women are 52.15% of the electorate, but only 19.8% of those who get elected.

Local councils are not much better either. Politics Show South has canvassed all the county councils and unitary authorities in the region and discovered some alarming statistics.

Women elected to Local Councils
Council M F Total Cllrs Fem % Male %
Brighton & Hove 30 24 54 44% 56%
Wiltshire 30 19 49 39% 61%
Isle of Wight 30 18 48 38% 63%
Surrey 51 29 80 36% 64%
Oxfordshire 49 25 74 34% 66%
Windsor & Maidenhead 38 19 57 33% 67%
Wokingham 37 16 53 30% 70%
Bournemouth 37 16 53 30% 70%
Hampshire 55 23 78 29% 71%
Southampton 34 14 48 29% 71%
Reading 34 13 47 28% 72%
Poole 31 11 42 26% 74%
West Berkshire 39 13 52 25% 75%
Portsmouth 32 10 42 24% 76%
Swindon 45 14 59 24% 76%
Dorset 35 10 45 22% 78%
Bracknell Forest 33 9 42 21% 79%
West Sussex 56 14 70 20% 80%
East Sussex 40 9 49 18% 82%
Totals for region 736 306 1042 29% 71%

Top of the league table is Brighton and Hove, where 44% of the councillors are women.

At the bottom is East Sussex County Council where just 18% of the councillors are women.

One plan that Labour certainly has toyed with to boost female representation is the all-women shortlist.

But both David Davis and David Cameron have ruled that out for the Conservatives, whilst the Liberal Democrats describe the idea as "illiberal".

Though both parties are keen to get more women MPs and to get more of "the female vote".

But maybe women are less interested in the traditional confrontational male politics, and are finding other ways to change the world.

There is a women's organisation that has been around longer than there have been women MPs.

The Women's Institute is celebrating its 90th birthday this year.

People are realising we do talk common sense
Janet Colley
Hampshire WI

It is the largest women's organisation in the country with 215,000 members, and their activities are far from the Jam and Jerusalem of legend. (In fact, they no longer do the jam at all).

Janet Colley
Janet Colley: WI members are making an impact

You are now more likely to find them campaigning against the trafficking of women and children or, as several were this week, demonstrating about the REACH chemicals law outside the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

For Janet Colley, a Hampshire WI member, the organisation's strength is in its numbers: "The more members we have - the more voice we have. We can achieve more.

"Gradually people are realising we do talk common sense."

And then there was the famous (or infamous) WI conference in 2000 at which Tony Blair was heckled and slow-handclapped.

Ros Cooper
Ros Cooper: Politicians are recognising WI power

Ros Cooper, also a Hampshire WI member, reckons: "It made them realise the power they had.

"Often they have been told before. But that made them think 'Oh - yes - perhaps we have got more power than we think'."

This week the Hansard Society organised a conference "Women at the Top" bringing together women from politics, business and the media - and Politics Show South was there too.

You can find out what solutions they proposed by watching on Sunday 20 November.

So what do you think? Should there be more women in politics, or is it just a boys' game that they are not interested in playing?

Do women have issues that are best represented by women, or are we all just citizens with the same issues regardless of gender?

Politics Show

Let us know what you think. Send us an email and we will put your points to our all-women shortlist.

Join Peter Henley live from Jane Austen's house near Alton on Sunday 27 November 2005 at Noon on BBC One.

Send us your comments:

Your E-mail address:

Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all emails will be published.


Politics from around the UK...

Tory rivals pitch for female vote
09 Nov 05 |  UK Politics
Call for all-women MP shortlists
16 Nov 05 |  UK Politics
11 Sep 05 |  England

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