LGC’s essential daily briefing today looks at gender equality in council chambers
Today’s top story: China’s import bans ‘to cost councils millions’
Today’s top health integration development: Revealed: Four new ‘integrated care systems’
Today’s top column: Clive Betts: We’re seeing little ministerial progress on devolution
“The average councillor is white, male and more than 20 years older than the typical citizen.” It has now been four years since one of journalism’s most erudite and perceptive of writers (incidentally my LGC line-manager) crafted that line.
And, in the space of one council term, how much has changed in the world of local government? In a sense, quite a lot. But not everything everywhere.
When Islington LBC convened on Thursday it was with a female majority in its chamber for the first time in its history. In total, 56% of councillors in the north London cosmopolitan bubble are female. This stat was attributed by one councillor to the “long-term policies” on diversity of Labour, which won all but one of the seats in the borough in this month’s elections.
Alice Perry (Lab), who is one of the two councillor members on the party’s national executive committee, said in a blog on Friday that this “landmark achievement” was due to all-women shortlists and local efforts to “identify, train and support talented people”.
Slightly to the north in Enfield LBC on the previous evening, Nesil Caliskan (Lab) was elected as quite possibly the country’s youngest female council leader, at the age of 29. Cllr Caliskan, who told LGC of her “passion and commitment” just 12 hours after she ousted long-standing incumbent Doug Taylor, only became a councillor three years ago.
“We’ve got to be ambitious – if you reach for the stars you’ll get something just below,” Cllr Caliskan said.
Yet one need not reach far to find that the majority of councils in England can appear slightly less… diverse.
Last year the Institute for Public Policy Research reported that the number of top female councillors was “unacceptable”, while the Fawcett Society reported that in April 2017 just one-third of members overall and 35% of local cabinet members are female.
The latter organisation said in its report: “What is striking is that the experiences of women councillors are very similar, regardless of the political party they represent.”
LGC has this week seen for itself at a political meeting an irate party member getting physical – in a finger jabbing show of strength, emphasising physical superiority – with one council’s female cabinet member for housing.
And, of course, Haringey LBC’s then leader Claire Kober (Lab) in February said bullying had contributed to her decision to stand down. She told London’s Evening Standard: ”The sexism, bullying, undemocratic behaviour and outright personal attacks on me as the most senior woman in Labour local government have left me disappointed and disillusioned.”
Similarly, Brighton & Hove Council former leader Warren Morgan (Lab) said in March: ”I’ve had some personal abuse, yes, but it is nothing compared to the mysogynistic abuse and personal harrassment some of my women councillor colleagues have had to deal with over the past five years.”
The Fawcett Society said in its report: “Our survey data found that when standing as a councillor, there is a gender difference between councillors identifying ‘fear of violence’ (13% of women; 8% of men), or ‘harassment or abuse from the electorate’ (46% of women; 35% of men) as barriers to engagement.”
The benefits for greater diversity in local government are clearest when it is best able to represent the community which it serves. Everyone must act now, tomorrow and always to ensure that every member of society is emboldened to step forward and help better their communities.
Robert Cusack, reporter, LGC