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All Women Contests

Duncan Sutherland
Centre for Advancement of Women in Politics, Queen's University Belfast

There are five constituencies throughout the UK in which the three major parties are all fielding women candidates, though in only one is there much uncertainty as to the contest's outcome. Freshman MP Judy Mallaber is defending her seat of Amber Valley against Gillian Shaw of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrat Kate Smith. Mallaber took this seat with a 21per cent margin of victory so she should remain safe. Another Labour MP likely to win a second term is Maria Eagle in Liverpool Garston. This had been a marginal seat in the past but Eagle's 42 per cent majority will prove a formidable obstacle to Tory Helen Sutton and Lib Dem Paula Keaveney.

Gillian Merron seems equally secure in Lincoln, which she won by 23 per cent for the first time in 1997 after selection from one of Labour's all-women shortlists. Conservative Christine Talbot and Liberal Democrat Lisa Gabriel, who contested this seat in 1997, are her challengers. The final Labour incumbent seeking re-election is Diane Abbott in Hackney North and Stoke Newtington. Hackney borough councillor Meral Ece of the Lib Dems and Tory Pauline Dye are seeking to deny Abbot a fourth term in parliament, though Abbott's 1997 margin of 48 per cent means this seat is unlikely to change. It is perhaps worth noting that these four seats are unusual only in that all three candidates are women; the fact that women have been nominated for a hopeless seat is unfortunately very typical.

The only constituency which may see a real contest, and where there is no incumbent defending her seat, is Perth, won by Roseanna Cunningham for the SNP in 1995. Annabella Ewing hopes to retain the seat for the Nationalists and will face Labour's Dr Marion Dingwall, Lib Dem Vicki Harris, and Tory standard-bearer Elizabeth Smith. This is largely a two-way race between the SNP and the Conservatives, who held the seat for many years until 1995.

At the elections of 1992 and 1997 there were only three all-women contests, and 1997 also saw two Labour women defeat women incumbents. Lorna Fitzsimmons defeated Liberal Democrat Liz Lynne (now an MEP) in Rochdale; and Siobhan McDonough captured Mitcham and Morden from Dame Angela Rumbold. Historically, Dame Irene Ward holds the unique distinction of being the only woman to unseat two women MPs: Margaret Bondfield in Wallsend in 1931, and Grace Colman in Tynemouth in 1950.

In addition to these constituencies, there are 298 constituencies in which none of the major parties (including the SNP in Scotland and Plaid Cymru in Wales) have nominated a woman; this represents nearly half of all the seats being contested. There are 264 such seats in England, 23 in Scotland, seven in Wales, and four in Northern Ireland.


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