Let’s make a benign UKIP!

11 May

Catherine Mayer © Calyx Picture Agency


After the local elections in May 2017, Catherine Mayer hoped to have time to reflect, space to promote her book on women’s equality (Attack of the 50FT Women) and perhaps write the next one, she told us at Swindon Festival of Literature.

But then in April,  a 50FT woman got in the way. Theresa May called a snap election.

As president of the Women’s Equality Party (WEP), a woman PM should please Catherine. And in a way it does. But not when Mrs May talks about girl’s and boy’s jobs on BBC 1’s flagship magazine programme, The One Show. This kind of thing is why Catherine accidentally began WEP.

In 2015, at London’s WOW Festival, Catherine made a ‘rambling’ speech about 9 million women staying away from that year’s general election ballot box, and the achievements of UKIP. Despite returning just one MP – small fry for the 25 per cent share of vote – UKIP were still instrumental in Britain beginning the process of leaving the EU. Despite herself a Remainer – for the equal rights brought about by the EU – she said ‘UKIP taught us important lessons. Popularity can cause seismic change.’

So, she joked, ‘Let’s be a benign UKIP.’

Off she went back home to relax with a cup of cocoa (probably) and flippantly remarked on Facebook that she’d begun a women’s equality party and did anyone want to join? Soon hundreds of women were keen to know where to sign up. Realising she was onto something, she rang her friend Sandi Toksvig and poached her from BBC Radio 4’s News Quiz. Turns out Sandi had had the same idea…

So what does a ‘benign UKIP’ mean?

Catherine is convinced that the current ‘first past the post’ system of voting will ensure the government will continue to switch between Labour and the Conservatives, perhaps sticking on the Conservatives. But this does not deter her. “We’ll either get into power or the main parties will steal our policies,’ which the WEP actively encourages and is already happening. ‘We persuaded the Labour candidate for the Mayor of Liverpool (Steve Rotheram, who won) to sign up to our manifesto,’ she said and London Mayor Sadiq Khan admitted he stole much of a recent speech from WEP.

Politicking aside, what does Catherine see as the gender divide? While on TV recently, Catherine – “watched that well-known ‘feminist’ Piers Morgan introduce Stephen Hawking as the world’s smartest man.’ Piers asked the Professor if the amount of UK women in power was scientific evidence that women were achieving equality. The Prof said no, but talked of a ‘seismic shift’. ‘He may be the smartest man alive but he doesn’t know about equality,’ said Catherine. Just 7.61 per cent of the world’s democratically elected leaders are women. The gender pay gap exists because women have children and start before they have children. Traditional economics do not include the unpaid contribution that women make. And the realisation that, through the election of Trump, ‘progress is not linear and can be rolled back.’

WEP Head of Policy is Halla Gunnarsdóttir, former special adviser to the home secretary of Iceland. Iceland has topped the world chart in women’s equality for the last seven years. “In 1995 Icelandic women said, ‘sod it! I’m taking the day off!'” explained Catherine. Countrywide street parties followed and men had to pick up the vacuum left by women – men could finally see the contribution made by women, and that gender equality is good for everyone. The WEP is planning to emulate this success with a big day off in the UK.

So why ‘Women’s’ Equality Party and not just the Equality Party? asked an audience member. Back to UKIP. A one policy party with ‘fiercely focused core objectives’ can have the biggest impact. Which is why Catherine thinks WEP beat the Greens in ‘True Blue Tunbridge Wells’ – the Greens spread out from their core environmental policy of the environment.

And women need it. Even now, despite the protestations of men (and some women), said Catherine, “the biggest disadvantage globally is to be female.”

Back in the 1930s my gran was the first to wear trousers in her town. It’s been too long for the rest to follow suit. I for one have waited long enough for equality for all women.

Catherine Mayer appeared at Swindon Arts Centre as part of Swindon Festival of Literature, 10 May 2017, with her book Attack of the 50FT Women: how gender equality can save the world which has loads more gender facts, and what a gender equal world might look like.

Words by L. Davison.

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