Last week the Counting Women In coalition published its 2014 report into Sex and Power in the UK. Yet again women will be reading that they are under-represented in British politics: at Westminster, Holyrood, Cardiff, Stormont, and in local government across the UK. Meanwhile, resistance to gender quotas continues, with a recent YouGov poll highlighting the lack of popular support for all-women shortlists. It’s time for political parties to show leadership on this issue and follow the global evidence – well-designed and properly implemented quotas are the most effective way to address the under-representation of women. Patience is no longer an option – the time has come for legislative quotas in British politics.
How can research influence government and the policy making process? What are the best ways to engage with Parliament? As part of PolicyBristol’s training programme, a couple of weeks ago we hosted an event to address these vital questions. We welcomed speakers from the Houses of Parliament Outreach Service, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) and the Education Select Committee as well as one of our own academics with a depth of experience in engaging with parliamentary processes. Speakers were:
- Liz Price, Regional Officer – Wales and SW England, Parliament’s Outreach ServiceSarah Bunn, Scientific Adviser, Biology and Health, POST
- Sarah Bunn, Scientific Adviser, Biology and Health, POST
- Martin Smith, Committee Specialist, Commons Education Select Committee
- David Berridge, Professor of Child & Family Welfare, School for Policy Studies
Men’s over-representation and women’s under-representation in the UK Parliament is pretty well known, even if the public sometimes over-estimates just how many women MPs there are, bedazzled by their bright clothing in the Chamber. In fact, men outnumber women by more than 4:1.
Some people may not find this particularly troublesome. Lord Hurd has recently been cited saying that there is a “ludicrous” obsession with ensuring there is equal representation of men and woman in parliament and other areas of public life. We believe very strongly that a diversity of background and experience does matter. And there’s another serious flaw with the Hurd line of reasoning. He says that if voters didn’t want a “good looking chap from a public school” as prime minister they wouldn’t keep choosing them. But the reason feminists have campaigned for All Women Short-lists as a means to get more women at Westminster is precisely because it’s political parties not voters who choose our candidates and party leaders. We the voters don’t get to choose our parliamentary candidates, and therefore who our MPs, are. The reasons there are too few women in politics stems from both a lack of demand for and supply of women candidates: voters don’t punish women candidates. But in the absence of equality measures such as Labour’s All Women’s Shortlists, parties are much less likely to select women in winnable seats, even if fewer women seek selection as parliamentary candidates overall.