When in March Sandi Toksvig and Catherine Mayer announced they were founding the Women’s Equality Party, we couldn’t have cheered louder. Mickey Noonan went to the party’s very first fundraiser and witnessed a non-partisan political force to be reckoned with.
Political fire and oestrogen is a potent mix. On Tuesday 9 June, in a rammed Conway Hall, London, comedian, broadcaster and Standard Issue writer Sandi Toksvig and author and journalist Catherine Mayer – co-founders of the Women’s Equality Party (#WE) – threw the party’s first ever FUNdraiser and it was an absolute doozie. At this rate, the party’s official launch in September (it aims to field candidates for 2020) will be some sort of festival.
Though the majority of bums on seats belonged to women, there was a decent number of blokes in attendance, and, cockle-warmingly, a good percentage of youth. In fact, of the 41 branches of the WEP that have already been set up, one is a youth branch; excellent news for both feminism and politics in general. In the space of just three months, a staggering 30,000 people have shown their support, with branches opening across England, Scotland and Wales powered purely by volunteers.
‘Women’ might be the first word in the name, but it’s the word ‘equality’ that’s key here. Because they’re intrinsic: equality for women isn’t a women’s issue. As Toksvig told Standard Issue back in February, ahead of the Women of the World Festival, “What I think now, politically is, if we put women’s issues first, everybody would do better: the children would do better; the men would do better, it would be a better system for everybody.
“There’s no doubt whatsoever that women have borne the brunt of the recession, have borne the brunt of the cuts and yet what we’re seeing, which is very interesting, is the highest increase in men’s suicides that we’ve had for generations. It isn’t just that the women are suffering: there is a knock-on effect and the whole of society is suffering. The most likely cause of death in young men at the moment is suicide. That is a sick society that we need to fix and I think one of the ways we fix it is to make things better for women in the first place.”
Toksvig is quite probably the first ever political party emcee and it’s doubtful there’s a better mouthpiece out there. Her sharp brain, vast knowledge of history (with a brilliant stack of facts about high-flying women oft-overlooked by HIStory) and her brilliant sense of comedy means she gets valid points across as if it’s entertainment. She reads from her old Janet and John book, a tale all about John’s new cap. “Where the hell is Janet?” she cries. We’re here, Sandi! All the Janets! Fuck John’s cap!
Politics you want to tune into is what Toksvig’s specialised in for years, and it can only serve her well when she’s Prime Minister*. She winds up the night in a black tailcoat, back to the crowd, urging us all to join in the silent and passionate conducting of an imaginary orchestra to Beethoven’s Ninth. It is simply joyous.
Mayer, too, is an engaging presence and looks like she could elegantly dispatch a bacon sarnie. She candidly, if with a laugh, admits that UKIP gave her the initial idea to start a political party: by becoming an electoral force, WEP can’t fail – as with Farage’s kippers, the other political parties will be forced to sit up, take notice and, hopefully, adopt the WEP’s agenda of equality. The difference being that WEP is diverse and inclusive, and wants to unite people of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, beliefs and experiences.
The idea is to take this political wagon on the road, raising awareness and – equally importantly for a fledgling party – cold, hard cash. There’s a Geldof moment where Mayer bluntly asks us to put our hands in our pockets, but it’s a needs must situation. And we must: womensequality.org.uk/donate/.
Women have waited too long to take their rightful place in the frontline of politics. Looks like we don’t have to wait any longer. Looks like #WE might just do it.
*Here’s hoping. Although Mayer’s nudging her to run for London Mayor.
WEP’s policies are things that can be agreed on irrespective of gender, whether your politics are left or right:
• Equal representation in politics and business
• Equal representation across the education system
• Equal treatment of women by and in the media
• Equal pay
• Equal parenting rights
• An end to violence against women
Aged five, Mickey Noonan shoved an apple pip up her nose to see what happened. Older, wiser but sadly without a nose-tree, Standard Issue's editor remains curious about the world. Likes running, jumping and static trapeze.