Born into a family of trade unionists, it is unsurprising that Charlotte Nichols, the MP for Warrington North, became interested in politics at a young age. From three or four years old, she was “absolutely obsessed” with then speaker of the House of Commons, Betty Boothroyd. “My parents weren’t big on having a TV, so the only TV I remember as a kid was the news,” Nichols says from the flat that she rents in her constituency. “I didn’t understand what she did because I was too young, but I loved her shouts of: ‘Order!’”
More surprising, perhaps, is that one of the people who pushed her towards Westminster was her local Conservative MP, Theresa May. As a teenager, Nichols was roped into helping with after-school activities as punishment for her poor attendance. “For six weeks in sixth form, me and Theresa May ran the Youth Parliament for the year sevens. I remember her trying to give me career advice and me being really quite snarky and mean,” Nichols admits.
A dozen years later, Nichols – newly elected in 2019 and promoted last November to shadow minister for women and equalities – is hoping to bump into May to see if she remembers her.
It is an odd thing to win your parliamentary seat just as your party is losing others. In 2019, Labour handed the Conservatives its biggest majority in a generation. It was a gut punch to Labour, but came with a silver lining – for the first time, the opposition now has more female MPs than males: 104 to 98.
In fact, the snap election proved to be a historic success for women in Westminster. A record 220 of 650 seats went to women, with the Conservatives gaining 20 women MPs (inevitably termed “Boris’s Babes” by tabloids), though only five members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet are women, compared with 17 men.
It is within Labour that the changes are truly striking: out of 26 new MPs, 20 are women, 12 are from Black or ethnic minority backgrounds, and half are under 45. You’d be forgiven for not having noticed – there’s been a lot going on. Between Brexit and the pandemic, the first-time electees have barely had time to get used to the job, let alone make their mark on national politics. Nevertheless, this new generation of ambitious young women is not only poised to reshape their party, but Westminster, too.