02 July 2024

This general election, women make up 40% of candidates in winnable seats

Whilst we see an exciting opportunity for a more gender-equal parliament than ever before, all political parties must take action to ensure continued and lasting progress.

More than a century since the Qualification of Women Act enabled the first woman to stand as an MP, we still do not have gender parity in Parliament. Before Parliament was dissolved on 30th May just over a third - 35% - of MPs were women, although Thursday’s general election brings with it an opportunity for greater female representation than we have ever seen before.

Figure 1. Number of women MPs elected in the UK, 1918 – 2019.

Source: House of Commons Library. UK Election Statistics 1918-2023. 

The presence of women MPs in the rooms of power has gradually transformed public policy, but continued progress toward a 50:50 Parliament is essential if our concerns are to be truly addressed with equal weight.

However, it is not just the electorate with a role in who becomes an MP - political parties must shortlist and vote for their preferred candidates before we all take to the ballot box. When the Prime Minister called a snap election on 22nd May, each party rushed to make their selections through a combination (and variation) of local and centralised party processes.

Biases in these selection processes can perpetuate unequal Parliamentary representation, through the selection of fewer women, Black and minoritised people, LGBTQ+ people and disabled people as candidates, and particularly as candidates for winnable seats. Research from Butler, Miori and Ford indicates that despite recent progress in the numbers of women and Black and minoritised MPs elected, bias persisted within selection processes for the 2019 general election.[i]

Clearly, if there is a lack of diversity among the candidates standing in winnable seats, this will translate to a lack of diversity among the MPs who represent us all. This undermines our democratic system.

What is the picture for women selected this election?

Data from Democracy Club indicates that 30% of the 4515 candidates standing across 650 UK constituency seats in 2024 are women.[ii] This is lower than the 33.8% of women candidates who stood in the 2019 general election.[iii]

However, this election, there is an opportunity for a large increase in the number of women MPs. When looking at candidates in winnable seats for their respective parties, data from the Sutton Trust shows that this time, a larger proportion - 40% - are women.[iv] (We defined winnable seats as those where candidates have a 30% or more chance of being elected). 

Figure 2 below illustrates the proportion of 2024 general election candidates who are women, by political party. The bold bars show the total proportion of women candidates standing for each party, whilst the faded bars indicate the proportion of women standing in their respective party’s winnable seats only.

No party has gender parity (i.e. 50% women) among the candidates they have selected overall, nor among those selected for winnable seats. The Labour party has the greatest proportion of women candidates standing (46%) compared with the other parties, and a similar proportion of women standing in its winnable seats (47%).

The SNP and the Conservative Party follow, but with fewer women candidates in winnable seats compared with the proportion of women candidates the parties have standing overall. In contrast, the Lib Dems have a small proportion of women candidates overall, but more women standing in winnable seats.

Figure 2. Proportion of women candidates, 2024 general election.

Source: Winnable seat figures (faded bars) shared with Fawcett by the Sutton Trust. N = 1040. Total candidate figures (bold bars) provided by Democracy Club. N = 4515.

Note that this figure does not provide a prediction of the general election results. The four parties with the largest number of candidates in winnable seats are shown on the graph. Sample sizes vary for each bar due to different party sizes.

This gives a mixed, but hopeful picture. The opportunity for a more gender equal parliament on 4th July is largely driven by a predicted increase in Labour MPs, whose party has greater numbers of female candidates (associated with its former policy of all-women shortlists). However, we need every party to take steps to address equal representation among their candidates, so that progress is not stalled or reversed at future elections.

We call on all parties to ensure women, especially disabled women and women from Black and minoritised backgrounds, are being selected in winnable seats. This should include the introduction of quotas, accompanied by detailed reviews of candidate selection processes and action plans to eliminate bias and barriers to participation.

Understanding and acknowledging the issue is the first step toward addressing it, and so it should not be the responsibility of charities to collect and analyse diversity data. Post-election, we call for the new Government to commence Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010, which requires political parties to collect and report candidate monitoring data.

Of course, selection processes are not the only barrier to diverse and equal representation in Parliament. Barriers to standing in the first place are often financial or practical, and Fawcett’s A House for Everyone research published last year showed that inequalities do not stop once women MPs take up office. Instead they continue on, impacting retention and progression to leadership. MPs with caring responsibilities feel more negatively about their roles than those without, but most Parliamentarians – 63% - are in favour of introducing greater support.

We call for:

·       Parliamentary reform to remove barriers to women’s participation, including introducing proper parental leave policies for MPs

·       Parties to commit to 50% female representation in their post-election frontbench and wider ministerial teams

When women are excluded, our democracy suffers. However, model predictions from Survation indicate that this election, we may see a Parliament in which as many as 42% of MPs are women.[v] Whilst this is not yet parity, more than 100 years since some women were first able to vote and since the first woman set foot in Parliament as an MP, this 4th July presents an opportunity for the most gender-equal parliament ever. 

For more detail of Fawcett’s campaign work and calls around the general election, please follow this link.

[i] Butler C, Miori M, & Ford R. Inside the ‘secret garden’: candidate selection at the 2019 UK general election. 2024. British Journal of Politics and International Relations.

[ii] The candidate data is drawn from Democracy Club's candidate database. There are 4515 candidates standing in the 2024 UK general election. Some candidates have been gendered by a Democracy Club volunteer or the candidate or their agent. The remaining candidates were gendered by machine using a list of pre-gendered names. After this process, 225 names remained ambiguous and were excluded from the analysis.

[iii] House of Commons Library. House of Commons trends: How many women candidates become MPs? 2020. https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/house-of-commons-trends-how-many-women-candidates-become-mps/ 

[iv] Candidates in ‘winnable’ seats included all sitting MPs who are re-running and all candidates whose estimated chance of winning is 30% or more, according to the Electoral Calculus website. Additional candidates who did not meet these criteria were included if they were within Labour’s top 150 target seats or the Liberal Democrats’ top 60 target seats, were Conservative target seats with majorities less than 1100, or were other candidates deemed high profile due to media attention.

[v] Fowler C & Hanretty C. The 2024 parliament is likely to have a record-breaking number of women MPs. Survation. 2024. https://www.survation.com/the-2024-parliament-is-likely-to-have-a-record-breaking-number-of-women-mps/