10 February 2008

What A Surprise! When Parliament Mirrors Minorities, Society Is Happier With Its Government.

There are currently 126 female MPs and 420 male MPs in the House of Commons. Only Labour has made use of All Women Shortlists (AWS) and it shows. One in four Labour MPs are female (96 women to 258 men) compared to one in seven Lib Dem MPs (9 to 54)and one in TWELVE Tory MPs (17 to 180).

A Tory victory at the next general...
election would probably halve the total number of female MPs - back to around 60 - exactly where we were in 1992 under the last Tory government.

In fact most constituencies have NEVER had a female MP. Brighton Pavilion is one of these constituencies - hopefully that will change if Nancy Platts wins at the next general election (whenever that election may be).

This is the 100th year of International Womens Day, but there is little to celebrate for those of us who would like to see a more representative government.

Those countries with list proportional systems have the best representation (around 40% female lower chambers). But of course it is not just women who are under-representated, it is also lower socio-economic groups. This in turn has a knock on effect to some ethnic minorities.

The latest suggestion to try and mend our dysfunctioning electoral system in regards to this, is to have All Black Shortlists. People may think that because I support AWS, I would support ABS, but I don't. This is because we could address the lack of ethnic minorities with All Working Class Shortlists and this would have the advantage of not just addressing the lack of women and minorities by installing a load of middle class women and middle class black and Asian men but actually selecting a whole range of people who are under-represented.

Of course an easier and more effective method than just putting all these sticking plasters on a broken electoral system would be to have a system that actually represents ALL the people because it treats everyone's vote equally. The chances of getting that unfortunately took a backward step in the last few weeks but one lives in hope of seeing a better democracy eventually.


  1. I recently went for a BUPA medical and when it was being set up I was asked if i wanted a male or female doctor, my instant response was the "the best doctor". Interestingly they don't offer the option of a white or black doctor or Muslim or christian doctor. or to be flippant a northern or southern doctor.

    Then we could get in to should I have been offered a black female or male doctor, perhaps a black northern female doctor?

    Whilst I appreciate the point you are trying to make any attempt to apease one section of society immediately highlights the lack of others. I hate the idea of any party list system, unfortunately FPTP is almost getting there, but to be honest I don't know the answer to the problem.

    Perhaps doing away with parties altogether will allow constituencies to elect the best person to represent them, irrespective of colour, sex or creed.

  2. Neil, I would submit that peoples' satisfaction with government relates to the policies of the government and the competence with which it executes them. The sexual, racial and class composition of the HoC will influence what policies are adopted and turned into law, so to that extent I would agree with you. But I hold to Tony Benn's position, that it's about policies not personalities. It is difficult to get away from the fact that the vast majority of women who have risen to prominence in this government have not been competent.

  3. GS, For those who don't like party lists but agree with me that seats should be in proportion to votes I propose this system. It is a system the Hansard society suggested in 1976. While not as good as party lists at electing minorities, it is better than the present system. It is as simple to vote and count as at present. It requires little change from the present arrangements - but works much better. It would be a system unique to the British way of thinking and I think our electorate and parliament could accept it. I personally think this 'constituency link' idea is a farce, but this new system would preserve it anyway to keep those who make that argument happy.

    People are suspicious of party list systems because internal party democracy has been destroyed in this country. The Tories never had any and Labour have been eroding theirs for years.

    The answer to this is to pass laws stating that all candidates have to be elected openly and properly by their respective parties.

  4. Stephen: Self fulfilling prophecy. If you gave as much scrutiny to the men I am sure you would find the same proportion of competence. I think the system does affect the quality of intake of women - but women are in such small numbers in parliament that there are bound to fewer notable statespersons amongst them.

    A lot of people use the argument that AWS are insulting to women - and I do get the point, but you have to ask what is more insulting. To accept a system that gives us less than 10% of women in parliament or to do something about it. There are people out there that suggest that 'women just aren't good enough' or 'they are not interested in politics'. There is nothing more insulting to women than that!

    I think as a short term step until we have an inertia and acceptance and a reasonable number of women in parliament, then AWS are acceptable. As a long term solution they are flawed because it is the electoral system that is the main problem. I think we have to give women a chance, the same men generation after generation have shaped our politics, women didn't even have the vote only a few generations ago. These things take time.

  5. Er ... 'When parliament is full of rapacious fraudsters and downright corrupt liars, society is happier with its government'.

    That's that fixed.

  6. Neil, re your reply to GS, I thought we'd agreed to go for the Baden-W├╝rttemberg-type system?

  7. Mark, yeah, the baden-wurttemberg system is a good option for the UK because people are suspicious of party lists/internal party democracy. But if internal party democracy is fixed, I still prefer a party list system overall because minorities are represented more fairly. Saying that I would be quite happy with the baden wurttemberg for the UK - it is a massive improvement on what we have and would be simpler to implement in the UK.