Long Reads

General election 2019: what the Conservatives’ win means for women across the UK

The result of the 2019 general election has been announced and the Conservative party has won by a landslide, with Boris Johnson the new Prime Minister. Here’s what it means for women across the UK.

A few days ago, as opinion polls tightened, it looked momentarily like this general election result could be too close to call. In the end, it was anything but: Boris Johnson’s Conservatives have secured a definitive majority of 76.

Some seats always change hands at elections; that’s the point of voting. But this result is an historic one, representing the Conservatives’ biggest victory since Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and Labour’s worst result since 1935.

The scale of the Conservatives’ win means there will be no need for the political maneuvering and compromise required in a hung parliament. Boris Johnson can hit the ground running today as a Prime Minister, with a majority big enough to presume he can wave his plans through easily. 

jo swinson
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson lost her seat to the SNP

What has the response been from Boris Johnson?

On Friday morning, Johnson called the result “historic” and said he would “work night and day” to repay voters. “The people want change,” he said. “We cannot and must not let them down.”

As for Labour, Jeremy Corbyn used his own acceptance speech to declare that he would see his party through “a period of reflection,” but not another election. He said it had been “a very disappointing night”, but that Labour policies had been popular with voters. “However,” he said, “Brexit has so polarised and divided debate in this country, it has overridden so much of a normal political debate.”

Elsewhere Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, was subjected to one of the night’s biggest upsets when she was ousted from her East Dunbartonshire constituency by the SNP. In an emotional concession speech, Swinson said the results for many people would “bring dread and dismay”.

In Scotland, the SNP scored a definitive victory, claiming all but 11 of the nation’s seats – something SNP leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said represented a “renewed, refreshed and strengthened” mandate for a second independence referendum.

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What happens now the 2019 general election results have been announced?

Johnson laid out his immediate plans in the course of the election. Speaking during the campaign, he said a Conservative majority would see him make a Queen’s Speech where the new government’s agenda is announced – on 19 December – and bring his Brexit deal back to Parliament to be voted through ahead of the 31 January deadline for leaving the European Union. Something he said on Friday morning he would achieve, “no ifs, no buts”.

For other parties, the days and weeks ahead will see much reflection and change. Following Jeremy Corbyn’s effective resignation, a Labour leadership election will take place.

Swinson’s loss means she has already effectively lost her role as Liberal Democrat leader under party rules which state the leader must be a Member of Parliament. The party will be resided over by her deputy Ed Davey until a formal leadership election.

And with the SNP cleaning up across Scotland, Sturgeon now looks certain to seek a Section 30 order – the permission needed from the UK government to hold an independence referendum – having already pledged to do so before Christmas. 

jeremy corbyn
Election results 2019: “I refuse to live in an echo chamber, so my social media was a swamp of derisive, patronising snobbery [from Labour supporters].”

What does a Conservative win mean for women?

The Conservative manifesto does include some pledges specifically aimed at women. They have promised to introduce a Code of Practice in workplaces to tackle sexual harassment, and a Victim’s Law to support those who experience it and other forms of violence against women. And they have promised to introduce mandatory reporting on the gender pay gap. But, like the entire manifesto, these pledges are short on detail and what they look like in practice will remain to be seen.

There are also significant issues missing from the manifesto: it includes nothing on pregnancy discrimination or the rights of new mothers, and a limited offer on parental leave, which they have pledged to extend only in very specific circumstances when a baby requires specialist care after birth. And there is no specific commitment to compensate women affected by changes to the state pension age, though Johnson pledged to “revisit” the issue during the election campaign.

A pledge to “update” the Human Rights Act also potentially gives the government a blank cheque when it comes to equalities and fundamental rights. It’s something that presents a worry for women given the Conservatives’ poor record on these issues: they oversaw austerity which disproportionately affected women, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made derogatory comments about single mothers. He has also been embroiled in his own accusations of sexism and misogyny, both personally and professionally.

stella creasy baby
Stella Creasy appeared on Question Time.

What does a Conservative win mean for the big issues?

The Conservative manifesto in this election was notably vague, promising many reviews and discussions rather than solid policies. Instead the party focused on “getting Brexit done” – a prospect which now looks more likely following their victory, and the election of pro-Brexit MPs across the country.

On climate change, the party faced criticism for its failure to participate in dedicated debates and for its lack of ambition. Their manifesto reaffirms a commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, a deadline campaigners say is too late to curb the crisis. An assessment by Friends of the Earth ranked their manifesto the lowest of all major parties for tackling the climate emergency.

The campaign also saw the Conservatives under attack on the NHS, with Labour warning of the potential for Johnson to privatise parts of the service in post-Brexit trade deals with President Donald Trump. The Conservatives have denied planning to privatise the NHS and have pledged further investment in the service, but came in for criticism on their plans for “50,000 new nurses” when the figure was found to include the retention of existing nurses.

All in all, we find ourselves again in uncharted territory, with Johnson securing the biggest Conservative majority many of us have seen in our lifetimes. Only time will tell what he chooses to do with it.  

Images: Getty.

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