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Family connections in the Election

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


In the early years of women's membership of parliament a common political career path was succession of a male political relative: half of the first twenty women in the Commons had been preceded by a father or husband. This phenomenon is less pronounced today, but there are nonetheless a number of today's women MPs and candidates who come from political families. Four married couples are seeking re-election in this election: Virginia and Peter Bottomley, Julie Kirkbride and Andrew McKay, and Ann and Nicolas Winterton from the Conservatives; and Labour's Ann and Alan Keen. The Tories are hoping to add a fifth married couple to their ranks, Nicky Morgan and Jonathan Morgan, who are challenging Labour incumbents in Islington South and Camberwell and Peckham. Lorely and Richard Burt, both local government councillors, are running in Dudley South and Dudley North, and councillors Bridget and Paul Fox are carrying the Liberal Democrat colours in East Ham and West Ham. A final Liberal Democrat political couple are Jo Swinson, running against John Prescott in Hull East, and her partner Jon Neal, candidate for Haltemprice & Howden. As well her husband, Ann Keen also sits in the Commons with her sister and Labour colleague Sylvia Heal. Parliament's other sisters, twins Angela and Maria Eagle, are standing for re-election in their safe Labour seats.

Parents and Children

In addition to these political couples are some candidates with political parents. Ann Cryer, Labour MP for Keighley, and her son John (MP for Hornchurch), are seeking re-election. Mary and Jonathan Wallace of the Liberal Democrat hope to enter the Commons as mother and son in Stockton North and Tyne Bridge. Joanna Gardner, a Kensington and Chelsea borough councillor running for the Conservatives in South Shields, is the daughter of Baroness Gardner of Parkes, herself a former city councillor and Tory candidate for parliament. (Previously there have been two mother-daughter teams in the Lords and Commons, including MP Gwyneth Dunwoody, waging her tenth election campaign, and her mother Baroness Phillips.) Perhaps the most extensive female-dominated political dynasty are the Ewings. Annabelle Ewing, daughter of MSP Winnifred Ewing, the former MEP and MP for Hamilton South, is contesting Perth for the SNP. She was nearly elected in a 1999 byelection for her mother's old seat, reducing a Labour majority of almost 16,000 to less than 600. Annabelle's sister-in-law is retiring MP Margaret Ewing and her brother Fergus is an MSP and former Westminster candidate.

Northern Ireland

Finally, there are two women in Northern Ireland hoping to continue a family presence in parliament. Éilis Haughey, who in 1997 worked on her father Denis Haughey's campaign for Mid Ulster, is herself contesting the seat at this election, and Ciara Farren and her father Sean Farren, Minister for Learning and Employment, are contesting East Belfast and North Antrim. All four are SDLP candidates. The DUP's Iris Robinson, in Strangford, is the wife of party leader Peter Robinson. Both women, and Denis Haughey and Peter Robinson, belong to the Northern Ireland Assembly. Perhaps once women become more firmly established in politics we shall see more political dynasties founded by women, and men following their wives or mothers into parliament.


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