11 December 2005

All Women Short Lists (AWS) are proving a success.

If you want to know how progressive the parties are on gender equality, just take a look at the following figures on the number of female MPs at Westminster in 2005.

Labour: 98 (28%)
Conservative: 17 (8.6%)
Lib Dems: 9 (15%)
All MPs: 127 (20%)

Source: BBC/Hansard Society

Labour's success in recruiting women MPs has even provoked the Tories to consider joining the 20th Century on the issue (still a century behind, but its progress).

But as the Labour and especially the Lib Dems show, it is still very difficult for parties to select women candidates in winnable seats under our electoral system. The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly show how PR helps this situation with 40% and 50% female representation respectively.

Whatever is wrong with the principle of AWS, it seems in practise it has been a huge success both electorally for Labour and in terms of fairness to women. The standard of women candidates has been as high (if not higher) than the male counterparts from my reading of the situation.

The Tory record here is disgraceful; They have increased their number of female MPs from 13 in 1931 to 17 MPs today, hardly an improvement. Considering all the media attention lavished on the horrible Justine Greening etc. It is hard to believe the Tories select so few women, but their spin machine has always been better than Labour (they even spun New Labour catching up on spin); The Tory's spin department just had a lot more horrible facts to distort and couldn't hide the sheer level of incompetence and unfairness of the Tories and their policies after 18 years of power.

Women MPs in Parliament.

1931: Labour 0, Tory 13 (2.7%), Lib 1 (2.8%)
1945: Labour 21 (5.3%), Tory 1 (0.5%), Lib 1 (8.3%)
1970: Labour 10 (3.5%), Tory 15 (4.5%), Lib 0
1992: Labour 37 (13.7%), Tory 20 (6%), Lib 2 (10%)
1997: Labour 101 (24.2%), Tory 13 (7.9%), Lib 3 (6.5%)
2001: Labour 95 (23.1%), Tory 14 (8.4%), Lib 5 (9.6%)
2005: Labour 98 (28%), Tory 17 (8.6%), Lib 9 (15%)

Source: HoC Library

As we can see, progress has been painfully slow for all the parties. Only Labour has recently made progress by introducing AWS. Since 1997 it's numbers of women MPs started to shoot up and in 2005 it increased its percentage of women MPs even further.

There has only ever been 22 female cabinet ministers and only 5 of these have been Tory despite Tory Governments dominating the 20th Century.

To understand how this current Labour government has changed the situation you only have to consider that Labour currently have 6 females in their cabinet, this is more than the Tories have EVER had in their history. In total, there has been 13 female cabinet ministers since 1997 under this government.

As a temporary measure until 2012, the AWS seems a reasonable policy, it has already had an impact on the backward Tories by forcing them to consider there own lists to increase the number of their women MPs. This can only be a good thing, but without PR, progress will remain slow. PR of course will address other just as important under-representations in ethnic minorities, the working class and the range of opinions expressed in parliament.

11 comments:

  1. AWS cannot be right in principle, but we'll have to wait a while to see if the long-term percentage of women being chosen as candidates - which was increasing slowly - has accelerated (i.e. attitudes have changed, perceptions of the job among women, etc.) to see if the *experiment* has worked in practice. Given that we now have more women in with the advantage of incumbency, it may take 10 or more years after the experiment ends.

    It's a bit unfair to compare our figures against the Tories, seeing as they didn't use party rules to block men from standing. Who knows what our % would have been without AWS? That's what should be compared.

    The fact that they're considering AWS does, however, show that (a) they consider the gender of candidates important in its own right, and (b) their voluntary measures have failed to achieve an increase in the % of women.

    Isn't the point with the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly that, because they were completely new, the incumbency effect (which we'd expect to favour men) was not present, and therefore the gender shares would be at their "natural" level.

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  2. It was a Labour decision and quite a brave one to experiment with AWS, so they should get the credit if it works, which is seems pretty obvious it is. Why is it unfair to compare us with the Tories? They decided that women's representation didn't matter. If we hadn't have led the way, would they even be bothering about it now?

    PR systems worldwide generally show better representation for women. You are right that the incumbency effect on a new parliament and assembly wouldn't be there and that would have made a difference as well, but where new FPTP systems (admittedly a while in the past) have been introduced, representation of women has hardly changed. The improvements in representation under PR were happening many decades ago, while FPTP countries have hardly changed. It is the emphasis on one candidate in each area, in a straight choice, most go for the orthodoxy of choosing a male candidate. Under PR, parties know it is in their interests to have a 'balanced ticket', and there are no risks involved in this.

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  3. This is a numbers game. Trying to use anything in place of merit smacks of ideology before justice.

    Does an AWS mean that a potentially more meritous man has been denied a place in parliament? Would an all ethnic-minority shortlist be acceptable? And if so is that not racist?

    Are AWSs sexist? If not, why not?

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  4. Gav: "Does an AWS mean that a potentially more meritous man has been denied a place in parliament?"

    Turn the question around, think of all the meritous women that have been put off politics and denied a place by the incumbency of men and prejudice in the selection process. Isn't this just as unfair? AWS is wrong in principle, but in the short-term it can be justified in practise. As for being sexist, it is debatable, because the overall objective is sex neutral. AWS only exist because they are redressing sexism against women.

    Of course a better solution and the one I advocate is PR, this would also help solve the ethnic minority under-representation problem as well.

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  5. I've already written about this at:
    http://flatline.org.uk/archives/000019.html

    As for the "meritorious" man, consider Peter Law (Blaenau Gwent). He may not have been more meritorious than the women on the AWS that was imposed on the local labour organisation, but he was the MP the constituents wanted so much they were prepared to fight off the national party to get him.

    It doesn't matter if the election is fair if the choice of candidates isn't, and excluding people from candidacy on grounds of gender doesn't sound very fair to me.

    Silly hypothetical: should a transgender MP be allowed onto an AWS? Would you consider them as representing 'men', 'women', 'transsexuals', or what?

    I'm not in favour of PR, but think that AV might be better than the current system. Party lists are a really bad idea.

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  6. Hello Peter, my machine has been infuriatingly down all day, so sorry for delay in replying.

    Transgender, great, put them on the AWS, don't see a problem. I'd imagine they are under-represented as well.

    I am against AWS in principle, but in practise it has made a difference, so you have to say it has been a success.

    PR would mean we wouldn't have to bother with any of this nonsense, as women wouldn't have to face the barriers currently in place.

    As a first step AV would be an improvement - at least each constituency MP would have at least 50% of the vote.

    I'd only support party lists if they are open (ordered by the electorate) not closed (ordered by the party).

    I like the system Hansard recommended in 1976; where the best placed candidates from each party (those with the most votes in their constituencies) are elected according to their national share of the vote. But failing that I'd plump for the system that Ireland has and the electoral reform society favour - STV.

    Any system would be better than FPTP though.

    Peter Law demonstrates that if people really are upset by the woman candidate chosen, the electorate ultimately decide. So AWS is not anti-democratic.

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  7. "As a first step AV would be an improvement - at least each constituency MP would have at least 50% of the vote."

    More importantly, AV decreases the fragmentation of protest votes, and empowers smaller parties by making larger parties horse-trade policy for their recommendation.

    "I'd plump for the system that Ireland has and the electoral reform society favour - STV."

    This is another of your weird arguments from authority or the experience of a country with much to recommend against its imitation, though you to your credit you're not supporting New Labour's anti-terror agenda on the grounds that the same measures worked so well in Burma, Apartheid South Africa, Communist China, Nazi Germany, El Salvador, and so on.

    It's far too early to tell whether STV is working in Ireland, as not all the significant political parties have been constitutionalist for long enough; Fine Gael since 1930s, Fianna "slightly constitutional" Fail since 1970s, but Sinn Fein (2010s?). Across the Border, the DUP is mildly dubious too, at least historically. This stuff matters, at the electoral system determines how easy it is to keep someone out of Parliament, specifically whether Sinn Fein can get the balance of power in the Dail before abandoning organised criminality and the ability to go back to paramilitary activity. The last thing you want is a system where the third or fourth most popular party can pick up a seat or two here and there. Under FPTP, there'd be little danger, and under AV, none.

    As to the Electoral Reform Society, why should STV be good just because they say it's good? It could be that the ERS are nice and decent chaps with sound arguments. But we know that's not the case and wouldn't matter if it were. I scutinised the same ward of the Cambridge 2005 general elections with Cllr Rosenstiel who runs the ERS - doubtless he was not amused by my Green Party rosette - and he detected some infraction of the electoral rules by the counting officials
    a few wards down, and dealt with it in the most ungentlemanly manner, raising his voice and being much ruder than their failure could possibly have justified.

    He and the other ERS chap who attended the Make Votes Count meeting in Cambridge both struck me as fanatics completely unwilling to listen to viewpoints they disagreed with. The argument for multimember constituencies for parliamentary elections has never been won by the STV crowd, but they think it has because their activity is so marginal that no-one listens to them and argues back. The world has moved on since STV was invented back in the bad old days of the nineteenth century Westminster parliaments, where FPTP in multimember constituencies returned two members of the same party; we've had AV since the 1920s, we've had the German/Kiwi top-up innovations, and this has all passed them by.

    "Any system would be better than FPTP though."

    No, most systems for electing legislatures are even worse than FPTP.

    "Peter Law demonstrates that if people really are upset by the woman candidate chosen, the electorate ultimately decide. So AWS is not anti-democratic."

    I'm not sure that inference is sound, but the problem with AWS is that it's anti-meritocratic: candidates of equal ability are not treated equally.

    So, we know that criminals, as a group, are underrepresented in the appellate judiciary - let's disregard those grubby circuit court judges for a moment. We also know that white people, particularly white male people, are underrepresented in the (by age) junior ranks of the medical profession. It turns out that the number of positions in each profession is limited by some combination of market demand and state intervention. Should we have a shortlist of criminals or white people for getting into these jobs, to rectify the imbalance?

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  8. I forgot to add: if you had to vote on the second reading of the proposed Parliamentary Constituencies (Equalisation) Bill, which way would you vote? Please do not say "I would rather vote about abolishing single-member constituencies, or some other distinct matter".

    If you were to vote against the bill, on what grounds would you do so? And which way would you have voted on the Reform Acts in 1832 and 1867?

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  9. Martin, I agree with you about the ERS and STV. The ERS are out of touch (though the ERS people I have met have been nice, well meaning people) and STV is not my preferred system, as I stated in my comment.

    I have always argued for MMP or open-list PR. I know the Greens prefer MMP and I agree with them. It is important that minor parties are represented. I do not prefer STV over these schemes because it effectively means a threshold of 15% to get elected, as demonstrated in Ireland.

    However STV is better than AV and FPTP. AV is even more disproportional than FPTP, although it at least allows for the preference of the majority in each constituency to elect an MP, which is why it would be a good first step on the road to PR.

    When I mentioned Ireland and the ERS, I wasn't using that as an argument in favour of STV, I was just giving pointers to which system I was on about not arguing for it. See my many posts on PR in the sidebar, to see my arguments for and against each system.

    You are right, there are some systems that are worse than FPTP, but nobody would suggest block voting for a modern democracy, just like they don't suggest FPTP, unless they are some corrupt African dictator (or US President?) looking for the easiest system to gerrymander.

    You are normally pretty reasonable in debate, but here I don't think you have read what I have written.

    I do NOT support and have NEVER supported the anti-terror legislation of this government. Indeed I think 14 days detention is too long, let alone 28 or 90 days. Most, if not all of their anti-terror legislation has proved counter-productive. It is just pleasing the Daily Mail stuff.

    "Should we have a shortlist of criminals or white people for getting into these jobs, to rectify the imbalance?"

    I have stated that AWS are WRONG in principle, but in the short term have worked in practise. I would prefer that we had PR to solve the problem of under-representation instead of AWS.

    "the problem with AWS is that it's anti-meritocratic: candidates of equal ability are not treated equally."

    The problem with not having AWS is that it's anti-meritocratic as well: candidates of equal ability are not treated equally, i.e. women are discriminated against not to mention ethnic minorities and the working class. This injustice should insult your 'meritocratic approach' just as much as AWS. Both are equally wrong.

    Women make up 51% of the electorate but only around 20% of our MPs (without AWS this figure would be even less).

    Whatever the reasons for this, this is clearly not fair. As long as you accept that women are just as capable of doing the job, then something has to be done about this.

    I would vote in favour of the John Maples's bill (likewise 1832 and 1867 reform acts) you mention, but also vote in favour of getting rid of FPTP which this bill will highlight as an awful system.

    People like John Maples make a lot of the constituency link which this bill will damage considerably by making boundaries arbitrary and make them have no connection to local communities or geographical and administative borders. Without this link it will be clear how rubbish FPTP is (and it would be impossible to implement anyway, as boundaries would have to be reviewed before each election and the census is always far behind the movement of people, so the boundaries would still be inaccurate). The one supposedly redeeming feature of FPTP is the constituency link, this bill will remove even that supposed advantage.

    There is no point tinkering with the borders, it has been estimated that equalising boundaries will only make less than a 7 seat difference for the Tories. In historical terms the difference in electorate size is smaller now than in the 1980's and 1990's.

    What gives Labour such an advantage is differential turnout and their concentration of votes. This can't be addressed without having PR. AV will make no difference to this either.

    I believe it is illegitimate for Labour to be running this country with just 21% of the electorate voting for them (35% of the vote).

    It would be even more unfair if the Tories were ruling on a small percentage (like they were in the 1980's and 1990s) because the Lib Dem policies are far closer to Labour than the Tories.

    So despite nearly 60% of voters consistently wanting progressive policies over the last few decades they have been saddled with right wing Tories running the country. We can't let that happen again.

    How can anybody be in favour of democracy and defend this system? We can't let the Tories rule again on so little of the vote. Labour must honour its manifesto promises on electoral reform that it so shamelessly reneged on.

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  10. "AV is even more disproportional than FPTP"

    For this to be a valid criticism, you have to demonstrate why proportionality is valuable or to be valued above other properties of the electoral system.

    Elsewhere you mention your belief that it's important that minor parties be represented. Please read my comments elsewhere about the difference between representation and influence effected in practice in Australia.

    "You are normally pretty reasonable in debate, but here I don't think you have read what I have written."

    Cheers.

    "I do NOT support and have NEVER supported the anti-terror legislation of this government."

    I didn't say you did, though what I did write was badly worded, ambiguous, and potentially misleading, though not intentionally so. Sorry. I guess it should have had a reinforcing "either" on the end or suchlike. My initial reaction to this rebuttal of yours was "did I even say that?"

    "I have stated that AWS are WRONG in principle, but in the short term have worked in practise. I would prefer that we had PR to solve the problem of under-representation instead of AWS."

    My point was about ends rather than means: I'm indifferent as between PR and AWS as a means for dealing with the supposed problem.

    "The problem with not having AWS is that it's anti-meritocratic as well: candidates of equal ability are not treated equally, i.e. women are discriminated against not to mention ethnic minorities and the working class. This injustice should insult your 'meritocratic approach' just as much as AWS. Both are equally wrong."

    Equally?

    "People like John Maples make a lot of the constituency link which this bill will damage considerably by making boundaries arbitrary and make them have no connection to local communities or geographical and administative borders. Without this link it will be clear how rubbish FPTP is. The one supposedly redeeming feature of FPTP is the constituency link, this bill will remove even that supposed advantage."

    You misconstrue the benefits of constituencies. I shall not denigrate them by referring to them only as part of a "constituency link". My thoughts on the matter are best summed up in this article which I incorporate by reference.

    You provide no evidence for the assertion that John Maples "make[s] a lot of the constituency link". His speech in the Commons didn't even mention it. Then again, he could be one of the people who thinks of constituencies as absolutely central, as opposed to regarding the "constituency link" as some sort of inconvenient but mildly worthy impediment to reform.

    "There is no point tinkering with the borders, it has been estimated that equalising boundaries will only make less than a 7 seat difference for the Tories. In historical terms the difference in electorate size is smaller now than in the 1980's and 1990's."

    How do you know that?

    "What gives Labour such an advantage is differential turnout and their concentration of votes. This can't be addressed without having PR. AV will make no difference to this either."

    What does the Maples bill address if not concentration of votes? If it does address concentration of votes, how is it true to say, as you do, that it can't be addressed without PR?

    "So despite nearly 60% of voters consistently wanting progressive policies over the last few decades they have been saddled with right wing Tories running the country. We can't let that happen again."

    Are you going to ban the Tory party? Or rig the electoral system so they can't win, even with 50% of the vote? (I mean, to the extent that this hasn't been done already)

    What happens if you come up with some scheme for preventing a Tory government (I recommend pissing about with the House of Lords rather than the electoral system, if that's your aim) on the grounds that no majority has ever wanted one of those since universal suffrage came in, but one day a majority does want such a thing? Would that be fair?

    "How can anybody be in favour of democracy and defend this system? We can't let the Tories rule again on so little of the vote. Labour must honour its manifesto promises on electoral reform that it so shamelessly reneged on."

    Democracy is not group proportionality. AV and FPTP have considerably better democratic credentials than PR systems, because they maximise electoral accountability. That they do this at the expense of strict group proportionality should be no reason for discounting accountability completely. I am with Tony Benn on this one: elections are "about" the ability to sack your representatives.

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  11. Martin, this post answers your point on accountability of PR.

    "This injustice should insult your 'meritocratic approach' just as much as AWS. Both are equally wrong." Equally?"

    Yes, because AWS addresses some of this injustices of the present system.

    "Are you going to ban the Tory party? Or rig the electoral system so they can't win, even with 50% of the vote? (I mean, to the extent that this hasn't been done already)"

    Oh, poor Tories moaning about getting 30.6% of seats with 32% of the vote, while the Lib Dems are being unfair for moaning about getting 9% of seats from 22% of the vote.

    Under PR, any parties that can get around 50% of the votes, can form a government. How does that discriminate against the Tories?

    "elections are "about" the ability to sack your representatives"

    I agree, and FPTP makes it very difficult to do this for 80% of the electorate - see my post.

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