History will be made when the borough council meets for the first time under its new political makeup tonight – because all three party leaders will be women for the first time in its history.
The first full council meeting of the new session tonight will see Conservative Mary Markham line up against Labour’s Danielle Stone and the Liberal Democrats’ Sally Beardsworth.
It will also be the first time a woman has become leader of the council since it became a borough authority in 1973.
‘It is a great honour,” new leader Councillor Markham said. “There have in the past been many female mayors and cabinet members, but I understand this is a first.”
And she added that the all-female leadership on the council now could be inspiring to younger women hoping to achieve in politics.
She said: “I believe that gender should not be a barrier to achievement. The first, and so far only female Prime Minister was of course a Conservative, and a third of David Cameron’s new cabinet, including the Home Secretary, are women.
“It would be nice to think that other women will be encouraged by this, and I hope we see more women coming into politics at all levels.”
But her new lead opponent, Labour’s Councillor Stone, believes the Conservatives on the borough council could have used the opportunity to field more women candidates.
“An election is a chance to refresh parties and in this case bring more women through the ranks” she said. “I don’t think the Conservatives took this seriously.”
The Labour side of the council chamber tonight will be made up of mostly women, 11 out of the 17.
But in terms of the dynamics between the three new leaders, Councillor Stone believes this term will see a greater spirit of co-operation than the previous administration.
She said: “What I’m expecting, is we will have a greater understanding of each other rather than seeing everything as a competition or a threat.
“The level of debate in the council had descended into a flinging of personal insults at the end of the last term.
“That’s not democracy in action at all. I have disagreements with Mary and Sally, but we have respect for each other.”