A crisis of representation

The negotiation, manipulation and general head-scratching over what might actually have been meant by the Brexit vote has caused a crisis of confidence in politics, a delay to crucial legislation on domestic affairs and near-bankruptcy for public services, already starved by austerity and now further ignored as all eyes focus on UK-EU relations.

But politics doesn’t only happen in Westminster. For communities and councils around Britain, the current emergency offers an opportunity to do politics differently.

By recognising that this crisis of ideas is a crisis of representation, we can set about finding the next generation of campaigners and politicians whose fresh perspectives and talent can lead us all out of this mess.

Anyone who cares about our democracy must act in recognition that it has collapsed because its key institutions are failing in their main duty – to represent the voting public. With women making up only a third of councillors and 17 per cent of council leaders in England, and Black, Asian and minority ethnic people making up only four per cent of all councillors, the crisis is just as real at local level as in Parliament.

But we don’t have to wait for a Brexit deal to get on with the job of renewing government at the local level.

The Women’s Equality Party is preparing and recruiting candidates to stand in local elections in England this spring and next because we understand that putting women at the centre of politics – women from all backgrounds and experiences – is key to unlocking better politics for all.

“We don’t have to wait for a Brexit deal to get on with the job of renewing government at the local level

Local government funding has been cut precisely because so much of it buys the social infrastructure that women disproportionately work in and rely on. The predominance of white, male decision-makers at all levels of government means those institutions consistently make financial choices that don’t see or hear women; and that gives women no choice at all but to take on more and more unpaid and unvalued care responsibilities.

This is catastrophic not just for those women, who are sliding ever deeper into poverty, but also for the economy, business and society – at every level.

We understand that care is an investment, not an expense, that builds thriving local communities. We understand that having more women in local government means increasing the number of people who know and use local services such as childcare, community centres and libraries. We understand that you can’t foot the bill for bin collections and deepening potholes without investing in all of the lives of local women too.

Radically different approaches to policy and investment are not an indulgence but a necessity. When the country’s leaders are out of strategies, it’s time for anyone and everyone else in a leadership position to rethink what is required by the role.

In January, I resigned as Leader of the Women’s Equality Party – a job I have loved for four years – in order to tip this model upside down and build from the bottom up. Leadership means inspiring and innovating. Sometimes the best way to do that is to make space for new leaders’ voices to be heard.

For more information about the Women’s Equality Party, please visit www.womensequality.org.uk.

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