Why can't politics be more like the church?

Less than 15 years since the introduction of women priests, 1 in 4 vicars are now women. At that rate in less than 15 years 50% of vicars will be women. A statistic that was a total surprise to me as I listened to Woman's Hour, on the way to the office this morning. They will reflect the community that they work in.

Why, therefore, have women found it so hard to make a breakthrough in politics? In 90 years we have only managed to ensure 19% of MPs are women, we have plateaued for the last 11 years, and as I mentioned in my post yesterday, according to the Electoral Reform Society, if the Tories get in we will be going backwards.

Have all the women missing from politics become vicars instead?


Julian H said...
11 Jul 2008, 12:33:00

Whilst I'm no expert on the strange world of the C of E, I recall something about there being a shortage of vicars, or at least a declining supply of vicars. There's undoubtedly less competition to become a vicar than an MP, and thus it's harder for anyone to become the latter.

Also, the 'liberalisation' of vicar-position was only introduced in a relatively enlightened era, whereas MP positions were open to women decades before it became widely acceptable for women to pursue careers.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
11 Jul 2008, 13:26:00

Hi Julian,

Actually there's not as much competition as you'd think for seats, we usually have to end up placing candidates by licence in the run up to the GE. Often, seats find it hard to attract any women at all, and as a result of the rules they have to readvertise.

But if you mean in the target seats, well, there's usually at least one woman on the shortlist and sometimes more.

But I would question your assumption in your response that in a competativr environment women should fail; unless of course you're suggesting that the environment doesn't favour women?

On your second point; over the past 11 years we have stagnated in terms of the number of women in parliament. Even allowing for front loading of female vicars in the first 3.or 4 years, it would seem that the church has done much better than politics in increasing the number of women.

Jim Jay said...
11 Jul 2008, 13:37:00

Good points I thought - and worrying that the secular house of commons is lagging behind the church.

Wit and wisdom said...
11 Jul 2008, 16:10:00

I'm inclined to agree with Julian H: the Church of England is very different from the House of Commons and the current Commons atmosphere of stuffy sub-public school confrontation may simply suit men more.

I'm not saying that's right, merely that its the truth of the matter.

I'd go about redressing the balance in a completely different way - by moving the legislature out of its current museum and building a proper, modern Chamber for the 21st century somewhere anonymous like Milton Keynes.

I agree with the analysis of such luminaries as Churchill that a building shapes its occupants to some extent and I genuinely believe that a simple office move would do a lot to revive our Parliament.

How's that for 'left field'?!

Tiger Tiger said...
11 Jul 2008, 17:11:00

Also, appointment to positions in the CofE isn't done democratically; it is effectively imposed from above.

You can achieve lots of outcomes with this top down approach, but it's neither liberal nor democratic in a party political context.

In terms of your title question, I can think of quite a few reasons why I'm rather glad politics isn't like the church, thank Dog.

Julian H said...
12 Jul 2008, 09:55:00

"But I would question your assumption in your response that in a competativr environment women should fail"

Yuh this occurred to me as I was typing away, perhaps I should have considered it then rather than hurriedly clicking send.

It's a good point - if there is less demand for a position overall, then surely that would mean less demand from women, and therefore no change in the likelihood of a position going to a woman rather than a man.

So what's my point? I suppose it's a slightly different one - namely that there appears to be significantly more demand for political positions from men and thus purely in statistical terms there is less chance of a woman being selected and elected. Just as if eight men and one woman apply for a job, there's a greater statistical chance that the winner will be a man.

So why is there more demand from men to be involved? I suppose this is reflected in the politico-blogosphere, which has generally been dominated by men (although there may be a changing trend, at least in LD circles, where the best blogs, in my opinion, have more 'mixed' sources).

If there is still more higher-level party political activism from men than women (although I'm not entirely sure if this is the case generally) then, frankly, I have no idea why. In my little bubble I observe no correlation between friends' / colleagues' levels of political opinion and their sex.

So this is my conclusion - I don't know why it's happening. No idea. Pass.

Steph Ashley said...
19 Jul 2008, 01:28:00

Very, very good question, but I do believe I have a likely answer (I'm only sorry I'm joining this debate a week late!).

The fact is, political life and particularly a career as a politician is a gruelling prospect as soon as you know much about it - and long before a woman decides to run for parliament she will have some idea of what it entails. And although in an ideal world, women who want a career and a family should be able to choose it as readily as a man does, in reality we're not there yet by a long way. Doubtless there will always be some women who choose to have a political career and get there in part by forgoing the path of having a family - the private life of, say, Anne Widdicombe would be a good example. However, for many of us, having a home with a partner and child(ren) is going to be part of life and within that majority of women, I'm willing to bet that whilst many men would be happy to live in a vicarage and miss their sunday morning breakfast with the wife; very few would be able to stomach the prospect of staying home with the children while the wife heads off to London for five days out of most weeks.

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