Tuesday, 6 February 2018

A few thoughts on female representation

Today we are celebrating the restoration of women's right to vote. As this parliamentary briefing shows, the Great Reform Act of 1832 actually took away an implicit right. In practice, though, women voters may have been in a small minority because the franchise was based on property ownership. While there may have been no women MPs before 1918, there are occasional references to female local councillors.

Radio Wales' Sunday Supplement this week covered the centenary well (and still found time to compare the prospects of Theresa May and Carwyn Jones retaining the leadership of their respective parties!). The discussion between Vaughan Roderick, Helen Mary Jones and Kirsty Williams was particularly rewarding. There was agreement that the Welsh Assembly had fallen back from its position of gender balance when it was set up. Helen Mary seemed to believe that the main cause was the abandonment of zipping and all-women shortlists - though nobody pointed out that the Liberal Democrat representation in 1999 was exactly balanced without any overt pre-election gender preferences. I believe that another factor was the Labour government's move away from committee discussion, which tends to more consensual decision-making, to jousting on the floor of the Senedd. The latter may make better television but the aggression which it engenders puts people off. In trying to make Cardiff Bay more like Westminster, Labour has reduced women's interest in participating in government in Wales.

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