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Veteran Campaigners

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

Historically most women MPs have not been elected on their first attempt to enter parliament, and a number of the women candidates at this election are hoping that their persistence may finally be rewarded. Among the Conservatives, only eight of their ninety-four candidates have run in previous elections, though two candidates are former MPs seeking to win back their old seats: Lady Olga Maitland in Sutton and Cheam, and Elizabeth Peacock in Batley and Spen. Given that most of Labour's female candidates are incumbents, it has the smallest number of repeat challengers - only six, from the information available. However over a third of the Liberal Democrats' women candidates - fifty-two out of 140 - have run before. Twenty-one of these women are running for the same seats they contested previously. Dundee West candidate Elizabeth Dick merits particular mention, having run in every campaign since 1983 (three times in Dundee West).

One of the Liberal Democrats' standard-bearers from 1992, Rhona Kemp, is now running for the SNP in Gordon. The party's only other woman candidate with experience of past parliamentary elections is Annabelle Ewing. Aside from having run for the House of Commons, a number of candidates in Scotland and the other devolved regions contested the 1999 elections for the devolved bodies or subsequent by-elections. There are twenty-nine such women in Scotland (from all four main parties and the Scottish Socialists), eight in Wales, and four in Northern Ireland.

There is a slightly higher number of women candidates who have run for the parliamentary seats in Northern Ireland. The parties have collectively nominated six women who have run before: Yvonne Boyle of the Alliance, Iris Robinson of the DUP, and the SDLP's Marietta Farrell, Dolores Kelly, Patricia Lewsley, and Brid Rodgers, who is waging her fifth campaign, this time in a more competitive seat.

Those women who have previously sought unsuccessfully to enter parliament can perhaps take heart from the experience of some leading political figures. Successful women politicians like Margaret Thatcher, Betty Boothroyd, Shirley Williams, and Ann Widdecombe all had to run for parliament at least three times before finally succeeding. But the record for persistence among women MPs belongs to Barbara Ayrton Gould, finally elected to the House of Commons as part of the Labour sweep of 1945 on her eighth attempt.


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