I have a confession to make. God, for my sins forgive me, but on May 5th last year, huddled in the corner of a darkened room in South East London… I voted for the Women’s Equality Party.
Faced with the double-barrelled doom of Conservative Zak Goldsmith or Labour’s Sadiq Khan to become London Mayor, in a moment of madness – aided by several pints of Young’s Best Bitter, a long-standing Election Day tradition of mine – I went WEP.
Like all WEP voters, I felt virtuous. Holy, almost. But it didn’t change a thing. My vote was futile. And today, the Women’s Equality Party is teetering on the verge of obsolescence.
Official figures show that at this year’s General Election, the WEP chalked fewer votes than the original protest party, the Monster Raving Loony Party.
The WEP achieved a meagre 5380 votes, despite hearty donations of at least £152,960 – meaning every vote cost £42.73.
As well as bulging coffers, WEP’s campaign was buttressed by a hugely supportive, often fawning, liberal media and a rich supply of PR oxygen, including a billboard campaign that included a vagina purse.
In Shipley, WEP leader Sophie Walker had been further aided by an act of unparalleled political generosity, as the Green Party had stood aside to give her an additional boost.
Despite this tailwind, Walker scored a mere 1.9% of the vote, the Party’s highest in Britain.
Elsewhere, WEP candidates faired even worse, with candidates in Hornsey and Wood Green (0.9%), Manchester Withington (0.4%), Stirling (0.7%), Tunbridge Wells (1.3%), Vale of Glamorgan (0.3%) and Vauxhall (1%).
Everywhere they stood, they lost their deposit.
By all metrics, it was a WEP-ic fail.
So why did the Women’s Equality Party so spectacularly fail to make any real impact?
Allow me to mansplain.
First – and, yes, cue much eye-rolling – we must address their name. There’s no getting away from it: the prefix “Women’s” means the party does not feel gender inclusive.
“The Equality Party” might have had a broader appeal. But the Women’s Equality Party seemed oxymoronic: it advocated equality while only focussing on one gender.
Did the British public reject WEP not because they don’t care about genuine equality for all, but because they felt the “them and us” WEP didn’t?
Let’s be honest: this is a party for feminists, by feminists. There’s nothing wrong with that, but with even feminist lobby group The Fawcett Society claiming only 7% of Britons identify as feminists, the WEP was always fishing in a small pond.
Next we must look at WEP’s treatment of men – half the electorate, remember. Perhaps because of their name, the Party was continually forced to pay lip service to men and boy’s issues, which I campaign about in Parliament as co-founder of the Men & Boys Coalition.
Granted, there was an excellent (if utopian) Swedish-style proposition in WEP’s Manifesto to give nine months’ shared parental leave to mums and dads, on 90% of pay.
Yet the Party’s promotional video for the London Mayoral campaign included one white man, and he was a clenched-fisted child abuser. On this point, YouTube comments became so hostile, they were disabled.
Mostly, for a protest party to become a serious contender, they need a USP.
UKIP had immigration controls and latterly Brexit. The Green Party were early adopters of the environment ticket and the “ban the bomb” sentiment.
In 2017, equality has reached political ubiquity. A Conservative chairs the Women & Equalities Committee, one of government’s most active working groups that yesterday was granted permanent standing (and incidentally has also faced criticism for its “Women” prefix).
The House of Commons has just agreed to re-establish the Women and Equalities Committee on a permanent basis! pic.twitter.com/QrW5eNWmoq
— Women&EqualitiesCtte (@Commonswomequ) July 4, 2017
A myriad of Labour MPs are also fierce advocates for women’s equality. In the main parties, the women’s corner is already being fought.
Also, in this General Election knocking politics backfired across the board.
The media’s attacks on Jeremy Corbyn only made him stronger, as had previously happened with Nigel Farage and Donald Trump.
WEP leader Walker fought a highly-personal campaign against Conservative Philip Davies, a men’s issues advocate she smeared as a “misogynist”. That approach backfired, too, and Davies actually put on 1.4% vote share (ironically, the Greens’ abstinence helped him, too).
But the final bitter irony is that the Women’s Equality Party’s existential crisis has been caused by a middle-aged, highly privileged white male, who also happens to be a millionaire socialist who campaigns for equality.
His name is Jeremy Corbyn.
In an election where every vote counted, a protest vote became a wasted vote, and the same will surely hold true for the next General Election.
University-educated, metropolitan liberals and millennials – WEP’s core demographic – will be hoovered up by Corbyn’s revitalised Labour Party.
Last year, even my vote couldn’t save them. Now, is the party over for the Women’s Equality Party?