It’s been one of the defining images of the election campaign so far – the three female party leaders having a post-debate group-hug while Ed Miliband and Nigel Farage look on as awkward bystanders. And the one defining figure has, without a doubt, been the rebooted leader of the SNP, Nicola Sturgeon – despite the fact that she’s not even a candidate in this election.
Still, there are a record number of women running in the 2015 General Election – over half the candidates in Labour’s target seats are female, for instance – and, according to reports, three in ten new MPs could be women, which would be a record number.
So who should we have our eye on come polling day on 7 May? Here are our predictions for five of the names to watch…
Nusrat Ghani. Conservative candidate for Wealden, East Sussex. Born in Kashmir, Ghani is the first woman in her family to go to university. She has previously worked for the BBC World Service and in the charity sector. If she gets in – and this is a safe Tory seat (the current majority is 17,179) – then the 41-year-old will become Britain’s first female Muslim Conservative MP.
Polly Billington. Candidate for Thurrock, Essex. Billington is a former BBC journalist who’s also worked as a special advisor to Ed Miliband. Thurrock is a marginal seat – UKIP did well during the local elections – but Billington still stands a good chance and would be a probable face in Government if Labour win the election.
Lisa Smart. Candidate for Hazel Grove, Greater Manchester. Many female Lib Dem MPs are set to lose their seats this time round. Smart should get lucky, though – this is a winnable seat (majority: 6,371) and she is replacing Andrew Stunell who is standing down. A graduate of the Lib Dem Candidate Leadership Programme, Ladbrokes even has her at 50/1 as the next Lib Dem leader.
Lucy Frazer. Candidate for South East Cambridgeshire. Frazer is frequently touted as the Tory’s “rising star”: she’s a Cambridge graduate (as well as only the second woman to be President of the Cambridge Union) who went on to become one of the youngest QCs in the country. Frazer, now 45, describes herself as “not a career politician… simply someone who has been lucky in her professional career who feels it is important to contribute to society.”
Naz Shah. Candidate for Bradford West. Shah, 41, has been part of what has been described as the “dirtiest campaign” in the election so far. The Labour candidate is running against Respect MP George Galloway – who has held the seat for three years – and Galloway recently questioned the validity of her backstory (police are looking into claims that he smeared her). Nonetheless, a piece by Shah on her extraordinary upbringing – her family was plunged into extreme poverty after her father left them for their 16-year-old neighbour; Shah was then forced into an arranged marriage at 15 before her mother was jailed for poisoning a man who was abusing her – went viral on Twitter.