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. It’s up to all of us to hold them to that

As people go to the ballot box today in one of the most important UK elections in recent history, you might expect the leader of a political party to be obsessively checking the polls. I am not doing that. That’s because I am in a unique position – as the leader of the Women’s Equality party, I can proudly say that we have already won.

That’s not to say that we are happy with predictions about the overall outcome of the election, or the toxicity and polarisation that has infected our politics. Nor have we won in terms of seats; although we are still running three amazing candidates and hope they do well, for us this election has never been simply about vote share. We have won because we campaigned with the aim of moving the issue of violence against women and girls up the political agenda – and we have succeeded in making every other party take notice.

This is not a self-congratulatory retrospective of a campaign well fought. This is a rallying cry. We have won a significant victory by raising the profile of this issue, but that victory is fragile. Unless awareness translates into action, we will never get the change we need. Westminster’s record on tackling violence and abuse is frankly abysmal. In the past two years, more than 20 politicians have been accused of harassment, abuse or violence, and not one of them has been properly held to account. Meanwhile one in five people working in parliament reported experiencing harassment in a single year.

Across the country as a whole, rape reporting is up but conviction rates for rape are at a 10-year low. Domestic abuse has risen by almost 25% in a single year and domestic-violence killings are at a five-year high, but funding for refuges and frontline services has been brutally slashed. These facts are not unrelated to what takes place within Westminster – as long as abuse is tolerated within institutions that are meant to make our laws and lead by example, violence against women and girls cannot be solved.

It is for that reason that the Women’s Equality party used this election to highlight the extraordinary levels of abuse in politics; to explain how this feeds into wider political dysfunction when it comes to tackling violence against women; and to offer fixes. As part of this, we selected formidable general election candidates to stand against four incumbent MPs facing unresolved allegations, including sexual assault (Charlie Elphicke), sexual harassment (Kelvin Hopkins and Ivan Lewis) and making homophobic and sexist online comments (Jared O’Mara), plus a fifth, Mark Field, who lost his job in government when he manhandled a Greenpeace protester, but was exonerated by the police. Which takes me to our victory.

All except O’Mara have denied the allegations, but since we began campaigning, four of those MPs have stood down. We also used the leverage of our growing electoral impact to persuade one of the major parties to adopt our urgent policy demands in its manifesto, as the price for standing aside for them in two constituencies: an improved offer on childcare (the burden of which often traps women in violent situations), an amendment to the Recall Act so that voters can sack MPs guilty of sexual harassment, and proper funding for services for survivors of violence. In addition, dozens of candidates from across the political spectrum have signed up to our pledge campaign, promising to vote through key policies to help end abuse.

Unfortunately, our success has not taken place in a vacuum. On Friday morning it looks certain the UK will wake up to a bleak political horizon. At best, we will have a coalition of progressive parties, hopefully working to deliver a people’s vote but probably at an impasse when it comes to many other pressing issues. At worst, we will have a derelict and dangerous Conservative government purged of moderate MPs and emboldened to ride roughshod over our rights, reinforce inequality and dismantle the already weakened social safety nets we have left.

In the face of such a government, our response must be to double down on our efforts for equality and progress. We have provided the template for doing so: the Women’s Equality party was built from the outset to do politics differently – to collaborate with other parties as well as to challenge them. This approach, never as straightforward as the old-style politics of division, has become ferociously hard in a political environment inflamed by rage and righteousness. But the success of our election campaign has shown that it can work.

We have proved not only that working together is possible but also that politicians have a mandate to do right by women in the next parliament. It is now on those politicians to work together across party lines, to protect the services that need saving and to champion the issues that matter. And it’s on all of us to hold them to that.

• Mandu Reid is leader of the Women’s Equality party


Mandu Reid

The GuardianTramp

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