Women rise to the top in Brexit Britain

2016-07-09 18:41
(File, AP)

(File, AP)

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London - A wave of women are taking power in Britain: the country will soon have a female prime minister following the Brexit vote while Scotland and Northern Ireland already have women leaders.

"Is this all a happy coincidence? Has the glass ceiling finally been smashed?" the Guardian newspaper asked this week.

In the race to succeed David Cameron, who resigned as premier after last month's vote to leave the EU, one thing has been certain since Thursday - the next leader will be a woman for the first time since Margaret Thatcher resigned in 1990.

Conservative party members must now choose between interior minister Theresa May and energy minister Andrea Leadsom.

Current generation

In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has been first minister and leader of the pro-independence Scottish National Party since 2014, while Ruth Davidson leads the Conservatives and Kezia Dugdale heads up Labour.

In Northern Ireland, the first minister is Arlene Foster of the Democratic Unionists while one of Wales' main parties, Plaid Cymru, is also led by a woman, Leanne Wood.

"That suggests that what might have been barriers to high office have completely evaporated," said Professor Iain Begg of the London School of Economics.

It was Thatcher, who became Conservative leader in 1975 and prime minister in 1979, who opened the door for the current generation. Her rise to power came nearly 60 years after the first woman took her seat in the House of Commons - Conservative Nancy Astor in 1919.

"She (Thatcher) was the one who broke the mould and made it possible in future for other women to become leaders," Begg added.

The Conservatives have been slower than the main opposition Labour to recruit large numbers of women MPs, though.

In 1997 they only had 13, including May. By 2005, the figure stood at 17 and today the figure is 68 out of 330.

Cameron has pushed for more women MPs while groups such as Women2Win, founded by May and Anne Jenkin, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, have helped the push, supporting figures like Leadsom.

Leading contender

"We're getting there. We are still miles behind Labour (who have 99 female MPs out of 230), even though we will have produced two female prime ministers before they've had one woman as permanent leader," Jenkin said.

The battle between May and Leadsom turned personal earlier after the energy minister appeared to suggest that May is less well placed to become leader because she is not a mother.

Leadsom said she was "disgusted" after her comments in an interview were published on the front page of The Times newspaper, claiming she was misrepresented, though she did not question the accuracy of the quotes.

Labour could soon get its first permanent female leader too.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is facing a huge rebellion by his MPs and the leading contender to replace him if he falls is Angela Eagle, an MP since 1992. She finally announced that she would stand in a leadership battle with Corbyn.

"In parallel we've got that societal evolution which says that being gay, being a woman is no longer an obstacle," added Begg. Eagle, Davidson and Dugdale all have female partners.

Evening Standard journalist Rosamund Urwin drew a parallel with the current situation in Britain and the success of Hillary Clinton in the US and Angela Merkel in Germany.

Time of turmoil

"Merkel, May, Clinton and Eagle seem to come from a similar mould. They're authoritative, tough, have far more impressive CVs than their rivals... the kind of person you want at the tiller of the boat during a perfect storm," she wrote.

Facing the political turmoil that followed the Brexit vote, Jenkin suggested that "there is a feeling of 'Yes, Nanny, please come and tell us what to do.'"

"I think they feel that at a time of turmoil that a woman will be more practical and a bit less testosterone (driven) in their approach," she added.

Business minister Anna Soubry told BBC radio: "Perhaps we've had enough of these boys messing about".

Read more on:    uk  |  brexit

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