No real chance of electing more women into Parliament at the next election

I'm sorry if I'm being a bit slow as this joyous titbit of news (not) first came out from the Electoral Reform Society last week, but I was jet lagged and clearly missed it.

But this is terrible!!

Unless Labour get a 2% increase in their majority (excuse me while I fall off my chair laughing)we won't see any real increase in women in Parliament at all. in fact, even if Labour do get an increase, the increase in women is only by 3 percentage points!!

If the Tories get any sort of majority, whether working or not then the number of women in parliament will fall by about 8 from 2005. And the trend has already started, as we have been replacing female MPs with male MPs in by elections since 2005.

I remember a couple of years ago chatting with one of my local activist colleagues about the all too slow increase in women coming into parliament. He told me that it was going in the right direction and in any case, it was going to be an exponential increase from then on in.

This is clearly not the case and it wasn't the case then.

As Ken Ritchie fromthe Electoral Reform Society says:
“Which ever way you spin it, the next election simply cannot prove a watershed moment for women in politics. Progress has always been hard fought, and the parties are simply not picking their battles.

“1997 was in many ways a false dawn for equality. In the last decade where we’ve needed concerted effort, we’ve seen stagnation. The modest numbers of women in parliament have been taken as a permanent breakthrough. In place of an upward curve we have seen a plateau, in what remains a male dominated institution".
So that's it for the next general election. For those who are interested the Lib Dems in the Electoral Reform Society reckons we're going to get 2 or 3 more women into Parliament from our 2005 levels. That is in effect 3 or 4 as we have reduced the number of women to 9 over this latest parliament.

If one was feeling generous one could say that going from 9 to 12 was a massive increase in terms of percentage increase, but all it does is put us in line with the average in the rest of parliament.

But I'm not feeling generous and we need to be thinking in whole number multiples of increase not percentages..if we wanted to have at least 30% of Nick's 150 MPs in the next two elections to be women that would mean we would have to quintuple (!!??) the number of female MPs. Given that we're not doing that this parliament we're really looking at the next one to sort it out. Rob Blackie did a great of analysis of the nuts and bolts of the scale of the endeavour on Lib Dem Voice last week.

Or are we going to give up and say it's too hard?

The Campaign for Gender Balance has been 'encouraging' and 'training' women since it was set up and if these figures are anything to go by, it's greatest achievement is to stop us from going too far backwards. I support this work (mainly via a standing order) as I'm sure that there are women who need encouragement and training and it is certainly better that we do that then we do nothing a go backwards.

At the same time, part of me rails against this as the approach because it assumes that no one else but the women in the party have to change. If only women would think differently about themselves and undertake a bit of improvement (read: be a bit more like men...oh yes, I can hear the soundtrack to My Fair Lady ringing in my ears now), then it would all be fine!

It's an approach that could be read as intensely patronising, idenitfying women as the problem and it is an approach, as Beatrice Barleon, the ERS women's officer refers to as 'tinkering around the edges'.

I do keep going on about it and am even thinking of changing my blog title to 'Cassandra' but we have to start changing ourselves to make the job of PPC more attractive and feasible for women. We have to stop asking women to change. Instead, we have to start looking at the way we do things, the different 'roles' within the party and the orthodoxy of what makes a 'good' PPC. To do that, we need to look at many other roles within the party. We have to look at broadening the remit of the Campaign for Gender Balance.

Or, we just have to admit to oursleves as a party that we are happy with a situation where men still hold the vast majority of the power and continue to organise ourselves accordingly.


Jennie said...
30 Jul 2008, 10:45:00

So perhaps we should be pushing to change the inherent biases in the system, rather than having biases of our own?

Jo Christie-Smith said...
30 Jul 2008, 11:21:00

Agreed we should start pushing to change the system...we should be working on al fronts but no national parliament that has over 30% of it's members as women has ever done it without quotas.

Obviously PR helps and in the Lib Dems we do use quotas for more or less everything else but parliamentary seats but if we wait for PR, we'll be waiting forever.

It is a tricky one as one of the reasons that I am a liberal is my belief in the individual.

But just remember back in the 19th Century the Liberal Party had no intention of giving the vote to women, after all they have to sort out so many other important things first. I don't think we've changed as a party that much, you know.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
30 Jul 2008, 11:22:00


Hw would you feel about 50/50 quotas for men and that there was a quota for men as well.

MatGB said...
30 Jul 2008, 17:12:00

I'd oppose it—what if the men were below quota, but the next available male potential candidate was a dribbling moron?

My local PPC is female, and won a hotly contested selection against strong male competition—that gives us good press locally against the AWS of the Labour selection (the sitting MP is retiring, after her work on the HFE bill that's a loss to Parlt but a potential gain for us as a party).

PR won't solve the problem. Multi-member constituencies will (and Barbara Castle's initial selection for Blackburn is an excellent case study). Multi member constituencies create the need for STV, which reforms the electoral system—STV isn't 'proportional', it's merely 'more' proportional, but crucially it improves diversity and allows the electorate more choice instead of the selectorate.

Your points about a 'good' PPC and internal perceptions from some members and Cllrs are also cogent, and I think we do need to ensure that PPCs aren't expected to do everything and be available all the time. I also think we need to look at more options re childcare and similar (something that currently prevents Jennie and I being more involved than we'd like to be).

But quotas and AWSs are a bad plan—I think my PPC will do an excellent job of representing my views in Parlt, and having discussed this issue with her I know how strong her feelings are as well, I don't need a female MP, or a male MP, I need a liberal MP, and that's what I'm working towards.

And then of course there are the historic problems based around a chunk of sitting MPs that have been in place for a long time, and/or were first selected and started working their seat in the 80s, when the party wasn't as organised and the selectorate (and possibly even the electorate) was a lot less prepared to vote for a woman.

Things have changed, things are improving, but the blunt numbers will go up and down horribly under FPTP, it's in the nature of the system.

The problem is caused by the system embedding outdated prejudices—let's fix the system rather than fiddle at the edges. STV is the fix we need, not quotas.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
30 Jul 2008, 17:38:00

But male dribbling morons get selected all the time? Think about all those Tories! All you do by limited them to 50 is reduce the potential for more!!! :-)

Yes, multimember constituenceis or open lists would be great but we don't have them. so why not, in the meantime, look for ways to improve the diversity of experience in the 'group' that is MPs in the system that we have got.

But saying, we need to wait for a change in the elctoral system first, is a bit like hearing 'We'll see.." from my Mum when I was a kid. it basically means 'no', 'not yet', 'when you're older'.

Lets take action on the reality not the way we think it ought to be.

women had to wait decades for the vote and the Liberal Party was against it for 'political' reasons (they feared that the women who got the vote would be natural Tory voters); we look back and think that is pretty shabby behaviour now but every time someone tells me to wait for this that or the other first, I just remember Asquith and his desire not to give women the vote.

AWL shortlists is a last resort; I would prefer not to need them. I would prefer that we didn't have prejudice in our membership, that we worked out a way not to give the (often male incumbent) the advantage, that we worked out a way that being a PPC would fit into the reality of women's lives rather than creating the types of barriers that mainly men can jump.

The only national parliaments that have achieved 30% women have done it through the use of quota; I just want something that works.

Jennie said...
30 Jul 2008, 20:22:00

But how much kudos would we get if we were the first to do it without?

As for dribbling morons in parliament, most of the ones I can think of are female - Dorries, Blears, Kelly, Jowell...

Jo Christie-Smith said...
30 Jul 2008, 20:55:00


I would rather have power sooner than kudos later.

And as for Blears et al (I used to have to switch Pm off in the car during the GE when she came on - although I think she's been doing some work on the voice), you only have to wonder how bad the men that could have had their place but are on the back benches, don't you?

I know there is a concern that we will get substandard women if we have to fulfil quotas but are you really saying that all the men who are currently in parliament are better than women who aren't?

It's not a meritocracy!

And any case, in countries like Finland and Spain you don't find the place suddenly flooded with rubbish women; they may do the job differently than men but they can generally wash their face, so to speak.

Jennie said...
30 Jul 2008, 21:45:00

"It's not a meritocracy!"

No, it's not, but it ought to be, and introducing quotas will make it LESS meritocratic, not more.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
30 Jul 2008, 22:37:00

So, what you're saying is, that you don't believe that if a certain number of seats were reserved for women that there would be enough women of merit to fill them?

Experience in other countries that have quotas (and I'm thinking specifically about Finland here) is that many of the skilled and experienced women who saw no point in engaging in a process that was stacked against them come out and get involved.

MatGB said...
30 Jul 2008, 22:43:00

Jo, both Finland and Spain use list system PR, thus quotas can work. If we ever had the anti-democratic abomination that is list system PR imposed on us for Parlt, then quotas wouldn't be something I'd be objecting to.

But under single member constituency first past the post? Who decides which seats get quota'd? Who allocates the women to the safe seats? Where do the LibDems get some safe seats to mess around in such a silly way from in the first place?

Experience from countries that use completely different electoral systems show and prove nothing, as the political climate and the proportion of men/women/minorities elected is in large part a result of the electoral system used.

You dismissed my support for STV as the solution, I dismiss your support of quotas using a Finnish or Spanish example, as those examples require an even more radical (and undesirable) change to the electoral system.

(and I would've replied earlier, but I'm still looking for a proportion of female MPs or equivalent in Ireland, Malta or the Australian Senate, buggered if I can find one though—any idea where I could look? I do know that NornIrish politics became a lot more inclusive when they introduced STV, and no quotas were needed at all.

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