The mayoral candidate fighting for women in the northern powerhouse: ‘We need a better deal’

With only 28% of senior roles in the region’s councils held by women, Women’s Equality party member Tabitha Morton explains why she wants to lead Liverpool

Tabitha Morton readily admits she was an armchair activist before the Women’s Equality party (WEP) launched in 2015. The 40-year-old, from a working-class Labour-voting family in Liverpool, had increasingly struggled to find a party that she felt spoke for her interests.

“We had a Conservative government, an opposition that just wasn’t credible, and no matter what party I looked at, equality for women just wasn’t on the agenda,” she says. “It just didn’t feel like anyone was talking to me or my friends about the things we cared about.”

Two years on and Morton, who is head of integration at the security company Yale UK, is the WEP’s candidate for the Liverpool City region mayoral race. The party, which now has 65,000 members and supporters, hopes her presence will bring some much-needed attention to gender equality in the northern powerhouse.

In May, mayors will be elected to represent the Liverpool City region, Greater Manchester, the Tees Valley, the West Midlands, the West of England and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, taking roles that were created in return for devolved powers.

Morton’s candidacy was announced in the same week as the annual Northern Powerhouse conference in Manchester, which was criticised because all 15 of its main advertised speakers were men. “Across the northern powerhouse region, there are amazing women who work in business, the NHS and all walks of life, and they’ve just been ignored,” says Morton.

Women donned hard hats, hi-vis jackets and men’s suits for a “Lass War” protest on the opening of the two-day summit, where only 13 out of the 98 speakers were women. “The response from the organisers was that it was hard to get women along,” says Morton. “We don’t accept that.”

The WEP launch of Morton’s (far right) candidacy for mayor,
The WEP launch of Morton’s (far right) candidacy for mayor, Photograph: Blackbeard Media

Research by the Fawcett Society last year found that while 40% of councillors in the northern powerhouse are female, women make up just 28% of senior leadership roles. The devolution deal for the Liverpool City region – which sees powers over transport, planning and further education transferred to a newly created combined authority – was agreed by the heads of the six local authorities in the area, all of whom are men.

“The deal was done by men, for men, and we need to raise women’s voices,” says Morton. “We need to challenge that deal and go back and renegotiate it, so we can get a better deal for the region.

“Up until now, 51% of the population has been ignored,” she says. “The Liverpool region has the highest reported level of domestic violence in the UK and there is no strategy to tackle that. By putting it on the agenda, we’re showing the other parties that it counts.

“We want the other parties to get on board with this. We want them to adopt these policies. I’d be very happy if some of the other candidates stole some of our ideas and claimed them as their own.”

Asked how she will appeal to male voters, Morton responds that equality is good for everyone. Most men would find it hard to disagree with her policies of integrated health and social care, tackling domestic violence and street harassment, and using skills and training to reduce inequality, she argues. “We do have to look at these issues [such as transport and education] through a gender perspective because it is so often women who lose out.”

Contributor

Frances Perraudin

The GuardianTramp

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