Why the Women’s Equality party may hand Philip Davies MP a win in Shipley | Robyn Vinter

If the WEP had done its homework, it would have chosen somewhere else to field its most high-profile candidate

If the last few elections have taught us anything, it is how much division can breed political success. Take the Conservative MP Philip Davies. Like Donald Trump (who he would have voted for “in a heartbeat”) and Nigel Farage (who he agrees with “on practically everything”), Davies is enjoying being both popular and incredibly unpopular at the same time.

His attempts to derail legislation to protect victims of domestic violence, his views that disabled people could work for less than the minimum wage, and what some have labelled his repeated “lobbying for blacking up” have served their purpose and attracted the attention of national media, the ire of equality campaigners and helped him to find fans among disenfranchised white men.

But many of his constituents have made it clear he does not represent their views. Shipley, in Bradford, West Yorkshire, has been home to feminist marches, discussion groups and bake sales organised by the informal non-partisan Shipley Feminist Zealots (SFZ) – so called after Davies remarked that “feminist zealots really do want to have their cake and eat it”.

After the snap election was called for 8 June, many voters in Shipley felt mobilised by the opportunity to unseat a man they loathe. After all, Davies won 50% of the vote in 2015, with the Labour candidate coming in second at 31% – a significant gap, but one that feasibly could be closed.

But a spanner was chucked into the works from outside the constituency this week when the Women’s Equality party (WEP) revealed it was fielding a candidate in Shipley to challenge Davies’s seat. The announcement, which on the surface sounds like positive news, came as a surprise to SFZ organisers and provoked anger and frustration from many members of the group, who accused the WEP of hijacking Shipley to make headlines with complete disregard for what its people want.

Shipley isn’t a constituency that needs help to realise it can have a better MP. As one local commented: “Feminism hasn’t arrived in Shipley overnight.”

But neither is it a constituency brimming with progressives who are itching to elect someone from an unknown party. The WEP simply cannot muster enough support to win here, no matter how awful the incumbent is.

Given recent political events, they’re right to challenge the lazy assumption that Labour is the only party that can beat the Tories in Shipley. But in this case, the odds are very much against them. Bookies have Labour on 33/1 to win in Shipley, and the WEP on 200/1. And Philip Davies? A complacent 1/200.

Despite local suspicion, I do think the WEP is largely noble in its intentions: a party source assured me that they were prepared to fight tooth and nail for the constituency, and it would seem the WEP does think Shipley is its best chance at picking up a seat given that it’s fielding Sophie Walker, its leader and most high-profile candidate. But if the party had genuinely listened to constituents, I’m convinced it would have chosen somewhere else.

Davies has lived in the constituency for a while, but Walker is seen as an outsider. This is not necessarily a problem in modern politics, but one resident I spoke to asked if Walker had ever been to Shipley (she has many times, the WEP assured me).

It’s undeniable that the party’s presence in Shipley has done some good though. The WEP’s commitment to Shipley has turned a much larger spotlight on Davies’s views than the local campaigners have been able to do. But though the party claims to have potential voters in Shipley, they’re not very easy to find. In fact, I’d go as far as saying the WEP is in danger of losing its deposit.

Meanwhile, Davies still has many staunch supporters in the constituency. Plus, Ukip – which came third in 2015 and has local momentum, gaining a seat in a local council election this year – has agreed to stand down to help the pro-Brexit Tory MP secure a win.

It was already going to be a big ask for Labour to win a Tory safe seat that has been blue since 1950 (bar a dalliance with Labour in 1997). And with Jeremy Corbyn being the most Marmite Labour leader for decades, even odds of 33/1 were looking generous.

In fact, the only other thing Davies needed to secure a win in Shipley was for something to come along and split the progressive vote, which is exactly what has happened.


Robyn Vinter

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Women’s Equality party leader seeks backing for a clear run to beat ‘misogynist’ MP
Sophie Walker’s challenge to Tories’ Philip Davies comes as ‘progressive alliance’ gathers support in key marginal seats

Ben Quinn

23, Apr, 2017 @5:59 AM

Article image
Questions for the Women’s Equality party | Letters
Letters: The WEP must campaign for a wider range of policies representing women from varying socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds


04, May, 2016 @5:45 PM

Article image
MPs like Philip Davies make me proud to be a feminist zealot | Sophie Walker
Sophie Walker

Sophie Walker

12, Aug, 2016 @5:38 PM

Article image
Is the Women’s Equality party too sensible for these extreme times? | Gaby Hinsliff
The party’s leader is right to eschew clickbait politics. But Sophie Walker must find a way to get her message across, writes Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff

Gaby Hinsliff

07, Sep, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
‘Democracy is broken’: Women’s Equality party leader tells why she quit
Sophie Walker calls for new voices and an entirely new model for politics after stepping down from top job

Eva Wiseman

26, Jan, 2019 @2:00 PM

Article image
The Women’s Equality party has taken on abuse in Westminster – and won | Mandu Reid
The party I lead has proved that politicians have a mandate to do right by women, says Mandu Reid, leader of the WEP

Mandu Reid

12, Dec, 2019 @8:00 AM

Article image
I’m a lifelong Tory but my vote’s going to the Women’s Equality party. Here’s why | Kate Maltby
It still looks more like a pressure group than a proper party. But at least the fledgling movement is trying to tackle the appalling gender premium in society

Kate Maltby

04, May, 2016 @12:29 PM

Article image
‘We’re not just for middle class white women’: new head of Women’s Equality party
Mandu Reid on the challenge of being Britain’s first black party political leader

Nosheen Iqbal

27, Apr, 2019 @2:05 PM

Article image
The UK government is standing by as Covid sets back women's equality | Mandu Reid
When the chips were down, we were confronted with the fragility of the gains we’d made over the years, says Women’s Equality party leader Mandu Reid

Mandu Reid

08, Mar, 2021 @4:32 PM

Article image
Why health equality is the next goal for the Women’s Equality party | Hannah Peaker
Our first conference highlighted government failure to address huge problems with the NHS and social care services, affecting women disproportionately

Hannah Peaker

29, Nov, 2016 @3:08 PM