Sunday, 3 May 2015

Liberal Democrat female MPs

Inspired by the latest dispatch from Creeting St Peter, and taking advantage of a UKElect upgrade which includes the names of the 2015 general election candidates, I had a look at the sex profile of a few outcomes of the general election.

Mark Valladares wrote:

 we have women candidates who have taken over from retiring male MPs, and we are optimistic that some of them will win. But, we are reminded of 2010, when exactly the same thing happened, under very much more promising circumstances, and what happened? They lost. in South East Cornwall and Harrogate and Knaresborough, to name two. In target seats, where we really thought we could win, like Derby North and Truro and Falmouth, women candidates lost. And in held seats, like Redruth and Camborne and Richmond Park, good women MPs lost.

So, we have an apparent problem at the sharp end, when the electorate, uncontrollable and unfathomable, made the decision not to elect some women - not really something that political parties can control.

We do, also, have a problem at the initial stage of the supply end. Women don't come forward in anything like the same numbers as men - the ratio was about 1:2 in my days as a candidate assessor and member of the English Candidates Committee. To be honest, I have no idea why and it's hard to envisage how one might easily find out. However, the answer to that question is essential in determining possible solutions.

Part of the answer to the last point is to improve the nature of the UK parliament, to make it more congenial to women members. The devolved parliaments, and local authorities, have more helpful hours, generally more practical discussion with less posturing and a better representation profile than Westminster.

We used to have a selection system (inherited from the SDP) which produced shortlists for candidate selection which were so far as possible gender-balanced - until we were advised part-way in to the Blair-Brown administration that it breached sex discrimination law. Labour then introduced the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002, which decriminalised all-women shortlists but apparently did not allow balanced shortlists. I see from the wikipedia entry that the Act is due to lapse at the end of this year unless extended, so an early task of the new Parliament must be to look again at the whole question of positive discrimination in candidate selection.

As to the first point, if the worst happens, and we fall below 30 seats after 7th May, only one Liberal Democrat woman would survive. Dropping just seven seats would mean that eight of our MPs would be women (16%), slightly better than the seven out of 57 at the start of the last parliament. But an increase to a total of 100 MPs would see a further sixteen women, giving us 24%. This would not be as good as Labour's 2010 rate of 33.3%, but ahead of the Conservatives' 15.7%. (This all assumes uniform swings, of course.) More relevantly, it would produce healthier and probably more productive debates.

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