Election '97: Jackson Five top the poll on green streets

Women candidates reverse trend as they outnumber single male
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The Independent Online
Stand back for the new Jackson Five - a band of five females vying for a place in the political charts. The only male opposition is a one-man band in the shape of Sixties crooner, Ronnie Carroll.

The Number One slot is Hampstead and Highgate, where Glenda Jackson, the double Oscar-winning actress turned Labour politician, is defending a slender majority of 1,440 against an unprecedented number of female candidates.

It is the first time in British political history that so many women have fought for a single constituency. In just five years, the sex ratio of candidates for the north-London seat has turned full circle. In 1992, Ms Jackson stood as the only woman against six men. Now she finds herself up against four women - and Mr Carroll - fourth in the Eurovision Song contest with "Say Wonderful Things to Me" - who is standing for Natural Law Party.

The five female candidates will be spending the next three weeks pacing the famously leafy streets, not least Ms Jackson herself, who turned down a starring role in the national campaign in order to concentrate on the home front.

Ms Jackson, 60, is delighted that men have been relegated to token fringe status in that seat. "It's terrific," she said. "It's scandalous that more than 60 years after all women got the vote, women MPs still represent only 10 per cent of the House of Commons."

She anticipated a less "adversarial" ethos as a result of the women-dominated list. "As far as the campaign in the constituency goes, it should make for some very interesting, concentrated debates, unlike the the extremely insulting, personal abuse we have seen from the leader of the Conservative Party [yesterday]."

As number two in Labour's transport team, Ms Jackson is tipped for promotion after the election. But first she must see off competition from Bridget Fox (Liberal Democrats), Monima Siddique (Referendum Party), Patsy Prince (UK Independence Party), least significantly, Mr Carroll, and, most significantly, Elizabeth Gibson (Conservative).

Ms Gibson is adamant that she will see the seat returned to Tory rule. "I believe people voted for Glenda Jackson because they were intrigued why this actress should go into politics," she said. "The gloss has been removed from the gingerbread.

"I've heard she is someone who has come in as a political ingenue: 'I've been a success in one field and now I'm going to be a success in another'."

Ms Gibson, a teacher and the mother of two children, insists she will not be impeded by the fact that her husband, Keith Best, is the disgraced former Tory MP convicted of making multiple BT share applications in 1987. "It was 10 years ago," she said. "He paid a heavy price. He's now thrown himself into working in the voluntary sector. He is a tremendous support to me and, quite frankly, apart from the fact that the media come up with this, people just don't register any more. It's in the past."

Patsy Prince, 26, is a law graduate who describes herself as a "jobbing actress". She dabbles in stand-up comedy and has made appearances at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but she hopes to make it big-time. In one sense, she says, she worships her opposition. "Yes, I admire Glenda Jackson as an actress, but not as a politician," she said.

A predominantly female campaign is an exciting prospect to Ms Prince. "It shows that women are interested in political issues more than they used to be," she said. "People are always going on about there not being enough women in Parliament. It shows that we're not just there to be told what do by by men."

But gender does not come into it, as far as Ms Gibson is concerned. "I think of myself as a Conservative candidate upholding Conservative values," she said.

"Yes, I happen to be a woman, but at the end of the day I'm a Conservative. We don't believe in quotas. We believe in people rising to the top through ability - just like Margaret Thatcher."