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Leader of Sandi Toksvig's Women's Equality Party named as Sophie Walker

Published 22/07/2015

The WEP was formed by Sandi Toksvig and journalist Catherine Mayer in March
The WEP was formed by Sandi Toksvig and journalist Catherine Mayer in March

The first leader of a new political party set up by broadcaster Sandi Toksvig to campaign for women's rights has been announced.

Journalist and author Sophie Walker has been named as the leader of the Women's Equality Party (WEP) and vowed to put equality "back on the mainstream political agenda".

The party, which hopes to field candidates in elections next year, could champion radical policies including new laws aimed at ensuring equal representation for women in parliament and on company boards.

The WEP hopes to follow the lead of other small parties such as Ukip which have managed to influence the political agenda without a large presence at Westminster.

Ms Walker, 44, who has two daughters and two step-sons, said: "We want to put equality for women back on the mainstream political agenda. We believe that it's time to really take action to fix many things that have been left unfixed for too long."

The party would campaign on six key themes: ending violence against women, calling for equal representation in politics and business "so that women's voices are heard at the same volume as men's", equal pay, equal parenting, equal education and equal representation by and in the media.

The WEP, which was formed by Toksvig and journalist Catherine Mayer in March, is still developing its policies in conjunction with activists from around 50 local branches.

Ms Walker told the Press Association: "We are working on our policies right now, we will be unveiling them later on in the autumn."

She would not rule out the prospect of pushing for legislation to ensure equal representation for women in Westminster or in the City.

"We are listening to all of our members, we are taking everything on board right now," she said.

"There is nothing off the table, everything is on the table."

She indicated that WEP would draw inspiration from the performance of parties such as Ukip and the Green Party - which together achieved 16.4% of the vote in May but just two seats - and the rise of the SNP in Scotland.

Ms Walker said: "What we are trying to do is make the existing political parties better. Yes, we absolutely are presenting ourselves as an electoral force, we have learned lessons - it's very clear to see how other parties have come through and managed to put their agendas in the mainstream by being an electoral force.

"We also want to work really closely with the existing parties. We are here to make things better and in order to do that we are working on a non-partisan basis.

"So we are working with people right across the political spectrum - you don't have to give up your political allegiances to work with us, you just have to believe that equality is better for everyone."

She added: "It's very clear that the best way to get the mainstream parties to listen to you is to present your agenda in a way that has a big movement behind it and a big number of people who will give you their votes."

Next year sees local contests, the London mayoral race and elections to the devolved administrations, although the WEP has not yet decided which battles to fight.

The WEP would be prepared to have candidates stand on a joint basis with other parties in some contests but "we will be standing sole candidates in areas where we feel that our voices are not being heard", Ms Walker said.

Ms Walker was elected unanimously by the party's steering committee but a full leadership election involving the WEP's members will take place next year.

"I think I'm the best leader for the party because I am a very ordinary person. Politics has got to make room for ordinary people again, particularly ordinary women," she said.

"My frustration up until now has been to see the issues that I really care about put at the back of the manifesto.

"My frustration has been to really feel as though people talk to me as though I'm a member of a special interest group rather than a representative of half of the population."

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