The new political class of 2015

There is a perception that Westminster politics is a self-serving career machine for the ambitions of a small cadre of self-reproducing politicians. To what extent is this view justified on the basis of the evidence? With six months until the 2015 general election Rosie Campbell, Chrysa Lamprinakou and Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson assess the diversity of the parliamentary candidates selected so far.

This post originally featured on the Constitution Unit blog.

There can be no silencing of discussions about who governs us in the wake of the Scottish referendum. As the Westminster parties try to identify means to simultaneously fix both the Scottish and English questions, whilst maximising their electoral advantage, the electorate remains sceptical about mainstream politicians’ commitment to truly represent them. We see evidence of this scepticism in the declining turnout rates at British general elections, the rise in support for UKIP and in the 1,617,989 Scots who decided that they would prefer not to be governed from Westminster at all.

The three party leaders, who travelled up to Scotland to deliver their promise of greater devolution, may not share policy preferences, but on the surface at least they have a great deal in common. All three are white, youngish, middle-aged men with high levels of education and all are career politicians. The seeming homogeneity of the political elite feeds into a perception that Westminster politics is a self-serving career machine for the ambitions of a small cadre of self-reproducing politicians. To what extent is this view justified on the basis of the evidence? Are political parties continuing to select individuals who fit the usual mould to stand for parliament or is there evidence of increasing diversity among parliamentary candidates?

Using data from our study of parliamentary candidates (see parliamentarycandidates.org), we look at the gender, race, age and occupation of the candidates selected by party and seat winnability so far.

Sex/Gender

The Labour Party’s continued use of all women shortlists has become very topical once again. Veteran MP Austin Mitchell used the occasion of the announcement of his retirement to complain that the influx of women MPs had ‘weakened parliament’. Mitchell’s intervention was followed by a YouGov poll for The Times Redbox that showed that All Women Shortlists (AWS) remain unpopular with the electorate, although they were even more unpopular among older people and men than among women and members of younger generations. Female politicians and feminist commentators, however, have defended the use of all women shortlists to overcome bias in the parties’ selection processes.

So what is the sex balance of those seeking (re)election to the Commons in 2015 for the seven largest parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green)? Of the 1,320 candidates standing so far (including returning MPs) 72% are men (954) and 28% are women (366). Excluding incumbent MPs, there are 748 candidates standing for Parliament, 69% male (513) and 31% female (233) candidates. Breaking this down by party, we can see that Labour’s continued use of AWS, means a 6 percentage point advantage over the Conservatives in terms of selecting women candidates.

women cadidates

Among new candidates in the 100 most marginal seats (those with 2010 margins of £ 5.37%), the Labour party has selected 30 women out of 58 candidates (52%), the Liberal Democrats have selected 11 women out of 32 (34%), the Conservatives 9 women out of 40 (23%) and UKIP trail behind with 4 women candidates out of 21 (19%). The differences are slightly starker when we consider seats where the parties came second in 2010 (i.e. marginal seats they might hope to win in the event of a positive swing). Among our top 100 most marginal seats where the parties came second in 2010, the Labour party has selected 24 women out of 42 new candidates (57%), the Liberal Democrats have selected 8 women out of 17 (47%) and the Conservatives have selected 7 women out of 31 (23%).

And finally, looking at retirement seats where the incumbent MP has stepped down and the party who won in 2010 has selected a new candidate: the Conservatives have selected 13 men (68%) and 6 women (32%); Labour have selected 5 men (23%) and 17 women (77%); the Liberal Democrats have selected 3 men (43%) and 4 women (57%) and Plaid have selected one female candidate.

Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) Candidates

Of the candidates (including returning MPs) selected thus far, we have identified 100 with a BME background. The Labour party has the highest number of BME candidates (43), followed by the Conservatives (29) Liberal Democrats (15), UKIP (8), the Greens (4) and Plaid Cymru (1).

Promisingly, 70 of the 100 BME candidates are not sitting MPs but new candidates and, and as shown in Table 1 below, seven have been selected to stand in retirement seats. Five Tory candidates, Ranil Jayawardena (Hampshire North East), Nusrat Ghani (Wealden), Seema Kennedy (South Ribble), Alan Mak (Havant) and Rishi Sunak (Richmond) have been selected in safe Conservative seats. Given the success of previous BME candidates in safe seats, it is likely that all three will represent their constituencies in Parliament in Westminster in 2015.

In addition to retirement seats, 16 BME candidates have been selected to stand in the 100 marginal constituencies, also indicating that parties are attempting to increase the number of their BME MPs. Whilst it remains to be seen whether further progress towards representation will be made in 2015, the selection of 70 new BME candidates this early on, as well as the choice of seats, suggests that the positive trend established in 2010 may continue.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 21.19.54

Age 

One consequence of the professionalization of politics has been a change in the age at which MPs begin their political and parliamentary career. Peter Riddell and Anthony King have demonstrated the shift from parliamentarians who had established careers elsewhere before entering politics, with a new generation who chose politics as a career, increasing the number of politicians first elected in their 30s and early 40s. This trend is evident in the 2015 selections.

When we compare the average age of the new candidates to the 2010 election candidates we find that the 2015 candidates are younger, with an average age of 46 years compared to 48 years of the 2010. Of the 2015 cohort selected thus far, 73% of Conservative candidates are in their 30s and 40s compared to 50% of Labour and 43% of Liberal Democrats.

The Labour party has selected a higher percentage of younger candidates (16%), compared to Conservative (12%) and Liberal Democrat (9%) candidates. Notably, however, of the three main parties, the Labour party also has a higher percentage of older candidates: 14% are in their 60s compared to 10% for the Liberal Democrats and just 3% for the Tories. Finally, our data show that the vast majority of the UKIP candidates, 75%, are in their 50s and 60s, with one-third of new candidates aged 60 or older.

Looking at retirement seats, the pattern holds for the Conservative and Labour selections. The majority, 53%, of Conservative candidates in seats in which the party’s sitting MP is standing down are in their 40s whilst most of Labour’s candidates in retirement seats, 44%, are drawn from the 30-39 age group. Overall, the data selected for the 2015 cohort thus far, confirm previous findings about the gradual rise of a younger British political class.

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Occupation

Finally, we look at the previous occupation of 2015 candidates by party and specifically those candidates with ‘instrumental’ occupational backgrounds. Instrumental occupations are those that have a clear link to politics—e.g. local councillor, special advisor, party worker or union leader—and are used as ‘a means to an elected end’ (Cairney 2007).

As shown in the figure below, roughly a third of Conservative and UKIP candidates hold instrumental jobs at the time of standing for Parliament. Historically, candidates from the three main parties came to politics from established professions (e.g. solicitors/lawyers, medicine, university lecturers, etc.) or from business/industry, however, as politics has become more professionalized, the number of candidates from instrumental backgrounds has grown. This is increasingly true for Labour, Plaid Cymru and other minor parties.

2015 candidates: Candidates with instrumental occupational backgrounds

backgroud

A new political class?

So, are the 2015 candidates really new in terms of what has come before? Is there evidence of a new political class? We draw three conclusions based on candidates selected to date. First, there is some evidence that parties are choosing a more representative set of candidates, at least in terms of sex and class. Second, candidates are slightly younger on average, but there is variation across the parties in terms of average age. And finally, there are an increasing number of candidates for whom politics is their first job, confirming evidence elsewhere showing a narrowing of the political class. One consequence of this is that it may serve to reinforce the view among many in the public that Britain’s politicians are ‘out of touch’.

There are some changes, but its early days. With six months until the 2015 general election, we’ll be keeping watch over who’s selected and elected.

Data are correct as of 22 October 2014. The parliamentarycandidates.org project is funded by the Leverhulme Trust (RPG-2013-175) 

About the Authors

Dr Rosie Campbell is Reader in Politics at Birkbeck

Dr Chrysa Lamprinakou is a Research Associate and Teaching Fellow in British Politics at UCL

Dr Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson is Senior Lecturer in Political Behaviour & Departmental Graduate Tutor at UCL

Missing Women: It’s Time for Legislative Quotas in British Politics

By Rosie Campbell, Sarah Childs, and Meryl Kenny and the other members of the UK Political Studies Association (PSA) Women and Politics Specialist Group

Originally posted on the PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group blog.

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.

Still Counting

The findings from last week’s Sex and Power in the UK report are stark: women constitute more than half the population but only 23% of MPs and Government Minsters, 35% of MSPs; 42% of AMs; 19% of MLAs and 33% of local councillors. Globally, the UK’s performance on women’s representation is slipping – in 1997 the House of Commons was ranked 20th in the world for women’s representation; it is now 65th.

No one who knows anything about British politics will be surprised about this. Sure there are frequently lots of brightly coloured jackets on show at PMQs , but earlier this year the maleness of politics was laid bare at Westminster: the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister apparently failed to realise that their front bench was men-only. While the Sex and Power report is welcome, it’s but another in a long line of reports over the last decade and a half which show substantially fewer women than men in politics[i]. We also now know – for the first time systematically – that mothers are a particularly absent group in the House of Commons. Working class women are rarely part of elite male claims about the under-representation of working class MPs. And BME women are fewer than they should be despite gains and ‘firsts’: in 2010, the first BME Conservative woman MP and the first Muslim women MPs.

The research evidence is clear about the causes of women’s under-representation: a combination of a lack of women coming forward and obstacles placed in their path. Academic research also shows – based on UK and global analysis – that something can be done about it in the here and now. The use of gender quotas by the Labour party in the form of All-Women Shortlists (AWS) for Westminster elections in 1997, 2001, 2005 and 2010, and twinning in Scotland and Wales in 1999, reveals the critical role that UK political parties play as gatekeepers to political office. In short, when a political party has adopted a quota for women in the UK, women’s representation has increased.

Sex and Power shows clearly the impact of Labour’s quota for the 2015 general election on the numbers of women selected as parliamentary candidates relative to the other two main parties. While not all selections have been completed, the Tories lag well behind Labour and the Liberal Democrats in terms of the number of female candidates selected in retirement seats, and behind Labour in target seats. Admittedly, the Conservatives might be able to increase their selections of women candidates in the last year; meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats will need localized above national swings to protect their sitting women MPs. In contrast, Labour should – as a direct result of AWS – see a PLP that is more than 40 percent female.

If we look to Scotland and Wales, Labour’s advantage remains, again thanks to quotas. Yet while Labour women continue to hold up headline figures, the previous Nordic-level highs of women’s representation at Holyrood and Cardiff are beginning to look rather like distant memories. In Scotland, the decline in women’s representation has been particularly dramatic, with the current SNP government only delivering a ratio of 1 in 4 women to men in their parliamentary group. This is likely to stall if not fall in the event of another SNP victory in 2016, given the party’s reluctance to follow Labour’s lead in adopting quota measures.

Following the Evidence: The Argument for Gender Quotas

As soon as quotas are raised critics are quick to tell us that everybody hates them. Male and female politicians (the usual suspects) are vocal in the media rubbishing them, from across the political spectrum. And a YouGov poll reported last week found that the public don’t like them, with not one group in favour of them. Indeed, if you ask the public what kind of representative they want, they don’t want women, even as they will agree that in principle there should be more women in politics. The findings of the YouGov survey should again not come as a surprise; surveys have repeatedly shown that voters are hostile to the concept of gender quotas or all-women shortlists. However, parties that present an all male face to the public risk looking out of touch and out of date, and the only short to medium term fix to this problem is to apply equality guarantees; be they AWS or ‘A lists’ rigorously applied.

Do quotas work? The global evidence is overwhelming – quotas that are well-designed and properly implemented are the most effective way of ensuring significant increases in women’s representation. Indeed, 17 of the top 20-ranked countries for women’s representation have used some form of gender quotas – ranging from voluntary party quotas to statutory legislative ones. Rather than follow the evidence, however, opponents of quotas usually advance a set of well-worn criticisms – quotas are un-democratic, they discriminate against men, they create ‘token’ women politicians, and so on. Well, here’s a few counterarguments to the critics, in the elite and in the wider society:

  1. ‘Just be patient, increases in women’s representation will happen naturally’. The evidence is clear – gains in women’s representation are too small and they are taking too long. As the Sex & Power report highlights, a girl born today in the UK will be drawing her pension before she has an equal voice in the government of her country. Such a scenario also presumes an upward linear trajectory – which in the UK and elsewhere is demonstrably not guaranteed.
  1. ‘There just aren’t enough women’When parties are required to select women, they usually manage to ‘find’ that they had women who’d been willing to stand all along, if only somebody had asked them. Indeed, both Wales and Scotland managed to find women to stand for the new institutions, achieving record levels of women’s representation in 1999 and 2003. Many studies have shown actual increases in the share of women candidates following the introduction of quotas. Do we really think the UK does not have 300 women good enough to be MPs out of a population of 65 million?
  1. ‘Quotas promote unqualified candidates’First, as above, qualified women are out there, just not ‘seen’. Second, the concept of merit is itself gendered, in that it privileges the ‘male-politician-norm’ over the ‘female-politician-pretender’ – there is no evidence to support the assumption that men are ‘naturally’ better at politics than women. Indeed, analysis of the career trajectories of Labour’s women MPs shows that they were as successful as their male colleagues.
  1. ‘Quota women will be stigmatised’. This may be a problem if there are only a few women, but where a larger number come in this is less likely. Labour’s AWS women have reported that their colleagues and the public rarely have an accurate sense of who was and who was not a ‘quota woman’. Finally, if one has sex neutral quotas – for example, 50/50 for both sexes – then you also create ‘quota men’, and the argument simply disappears.

The long Grass is no longer an option: time for legislative quotas now

Quotas work, but they lack popular support – does this mean that the issue of women’s under-representation is irresolvable? Absolutely not, there is a space for political leadership on this issue. As recent Scottish polls demonstrate, opinions change – voters agree that there should be more women in politics and they don’t penalise women candidates at the ballot box. When faced with an AWS woman the voter does not discriminate either.[ii]

Yet, the political parties have not yet tried to lead rather than follow public opinion on this issue. As a result, the UK debate over quotas has been marginal (within the parties, and only to any effect within Labour), parochial (refusing to engage with the global evidence), non-scientific (failing to follow the evidence), and ideological (refusing to accept that gender matters to democracy). The leaders of both main parties in England who are resistant to quotas have a tendency to raise their spectre only not to follow through: Cameron in 2010 said there would be some when the best candidates were women; Clegg is apparently prepared to countenance them after the next election…..we have become sceptical of such promises.

In this context, the debate about quotas in the UK can no longer be left in the hands of the parties. In all of the recent reports, recommendations have suggested that it is time for the UK to consider legislative quotas:

And

  • The concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, which call on the UK to consider more prescriptive measures to address the political under-representation of women in political life

A Labour government is probably the most likely direct route; but a cross-party group of women MPs post 2015, if the numbers of women on the Tory and Lib Dem benches decline, would be another. Of course the House would need to be persuaded. Political leadership is essential – not just from the women who are most vocal on this, but from the men too who support the principle of equality. The exclusion of women from British politics is a serious democratic deficit. As such, it demands not patience but a solution that works: that solution is quotas.

 

PSAWomenPollogoThe PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group provides a focus for members of the UK Political Studies Association whose research focuses on women or gender, and is also a resource for women in the PSA. The group has a commitment to ensure the visibility of women in the PSA and the discipline, while combating sexism.

 

[i] See for example Sex & Power 2014published by Counting Women In (the collective voice of the Hansard Society, Fawcett Society, ERS, CFWD and Unlock Democracy), September 2014; Improving Parliament, published by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Parliament, July 2014; The Speaker’s Conference Report on Parliamentary Representation, 2010; and the Hansard Society’s Women at the Top, 2000, 2005, 2011.

[ii] Cutts, David, Sarah Childs, and Ed Fieldhouse. 2008. “‘This is what happens when you don’t listen’: All-women shortlists at the 2005 General Election.” Party Politics 14(5):575-95; Cutts, David, and Paul Widdop. 2012. “Was Labour penalised where it stood all women shortlist candidates? An analysis of the 2010 UK General Election.” British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 15 (3), 435-455.

Hot MPs or not? Attractiveness worth 2.3% in vote share (and other things learnt on Friday)

This post originally appeared on Revolts, the blog of Professor Philip Cowley and Mark Stuart, and it reports on the Centre’s recent conference on MPs and their constituents in contemporary democracies.

Friday saw a fascinating day-long seminar at Birkbeck college, on ‘MPs and their constituents in contemporary democracies’.  There were nine formal papers:

  1. Nick Vivyan & Markus Wagner: House or Home? Constituent preferences over representative activities
  2. Rosie Campbell & Philip Cowley: Designing the perfect politician: exploring desirable candidate characteristics using hypothetical biographies and survey experiments
  3. Vincent Tiberj: Yes they can: An experimental approach to the eligibility of ethnic minority candidates in France
  4. Michael Marsh: Parish pump and the preferential vote in Ireland
  5. Jocelyn Evans and Kai Arzheimer: Living in the wrong part of town: voter-candidate distance effects in the 2013 English local elections
  6. Caitlin Milazzo: Attractiveness and candidate popularity
  7. Andy Eggers, Markus Wagner & Nick Vivyan: Partisanship and punishment for MP misconduct
  8. Wolfgang Müller & Marcelo Jenny: Who MPs think their principals are
  9. Rosie Campbell & Joni Lovenduski: What characterises a good MP?  Public and Parliamentarians views compared

Amongst the many things you’d have learnt had you been there was that candidate attractiveness can be worth up to 2.3% in vote share (and this in proper grown up Westminster elections, not Mickey Mouse ones like Police Commissioners…); that British MPs basically spend their time doing the things that voters say they want them to do, and in roughly the right proportions; and that, out of an 18-country study, the country in which MPs were most likely to say that their primary representative role was to represent their constituents – as opposed to their party, or their country, or a particular social group – was Britain.  That last finding was from the Müller and Jenny paper.  One might quibble with the interpretation of this – MPs may say that, but do they mean it? – but even so it is still revealing as the thing that they think they must say.  The country with the most party-centred representatives was Denmark; that with the most country-focussed was Estonia.

Valuing the work of women MPs

By Emma Crewe

Originally published on the PSA Political Insight blog.

Parliament Week was about women MPs this year. It is encouraging that Parliament is putting the spotlight on our women politicians but depressing that they need it. Since October 2011 I have been researching MPs’ multiple roles and how they are changing. All Westminster MPs face increasing demands in parliament, government, constituencies, civil society, and 24-hour media and internet, and not enough time to respond – new MPs reported doing a 70 hour week on average. When parliament sits, out-of-London MPs usually split their time: Monday to Thursday in Westminster and Friday and Saturday in the constituency, with Sunday off for some lucky ones. According to one it feels like Genghis Khan’s famous torture, four horses being attached to your limbs and told to pull.

There are additional pressures if you belong to a group of people who face inequality in society – women, ethnic minorities, elderly, disabled, LGBT. They will expect you to take special action on their behalf. As a black woman MP you not only have constituents looking to you as their representative, but you may also have both women and black people across the UK expecting you to champion their common cause with you. All will have different ideas about what is needed.

And you may face discrimination in our political system as a member of one or more of these groups. Women MPs in all political parties told me that when they are outnumbered in a meeting, which is the norm in Westminster, women struggle to be heard. A woman can make a point that is ignored but when repeated by a man – and especially a senior male politician – gets the response, “that is brilliant!” Equally, the media tend to report more favourably on men than women MPs. Lobby journalists, who are also over-represented by men, tend to get chummier with male MPs. Other journalists often report on women MP’s appearance, but men’s achievements and abilities. The misogyny and homophobia voiced by online and twitter trolls is unspeakable.

Women and men MPs report different experiences of discrimination – their party, position in the party and aspirations will all make a difference. For example, Labour men have complained to me about quotas and Conservative men that women have better promotional prospects than they do (although the numbers belie this). I have dwelt on gender, but equally observations could be made about other inequalities and assumptions. Younger and black MPs get their passes checked by security more often than older white MPs. Several women told me that it is hard to be taken seriously if you are a young woman; youth is associated with naivety. Older women struggle to get promoted if they have arrived in parliament late. If you are wheelchair-bound, a shocking proportion of strangers will talk to the person with you rather than address you directly and this happens to disabled MPs as much as anyone else. So assumptions about competence based on gender intersect with others based on age, race and disability.

MPs with dependents have a harder time than they used to especially if their constituency is outside London and they have no other source of income. The sitting hours of the Chamber have shortened, but if you include all their workplaces then the hours for MPs have got far longer in the last few decades. Running two homes – one in London and one in the constituency – and lower expenses for family travel and accommodation make it almost impossible to be both an MP and a conscientious parent.

Women MPs develop strategies to deal with these pressures. One of the most effective goes to the heart of political work: building alliances. Politicians need to win support, and it is not surprising that women MPs do this brilliantly. The relationship-building that is least visible takes place in the constituency. Most backbench MPs I interviewed put significant time into constituency work, especially surgeries, which are sometimes rudely dismissed by pundits as glorified social work; but these should not be ranked lower than policy work for three reasons. First, a high proportion of cases MPs deal with in surgeries are urgent. Of the thirty-two cases I listened to, fourteen were extremely serious: the person – or their relative – was destitute or about to lose their income, house, sanity or right to stay in the UK. Secondly, I found that MPs were making a difference: sometimes constituents felt that for the first time someone important was taking notice and treating them with respect. Often MPs speed something up or even transform a person’s life by ensuring their rightful access to housing or compensation, and so on. Where possible MPs worked in conjunction with local councillors. Thirdly, MPs develop an in-depth knowledge of the people, resources and latest changes affecting constituents and this, as well as seeing the impact of policy and law on people’s everyday lives, informs their work on select committees, in opposition and in government. Anthony King and Ivor Crewe write in their latest book, “the Blunders of our Governments”, that there is a disconnect between the lives of policy-makers and those they rule. Constituency surgeries are perhaps the most important way to create a human bridge between representative and represented that leaves both better informed. It brings MPs down to earth.

Constituency work has value and women not only do it willingly but with consummate skill. They use the empathy and listening skills that some psychologists suggest women tend to develop more fully than men. All the MPs I could find who rarely or never attend surgeries seemed to be male. For those few, their ambition was to get onto the frontbenches; constituency surgeries were a distraction. These MPs delegate all (rather than just most) casework to their staff. These caseworkers tend to be female, while policy advisers are more evenly split. So it is particularly fitting that backbench MP Paul Flynn in his book “How to Be an MP” writes of the relationship between MP and constituent,

The MP should be the living embodiment of the constituency, tirelessly promoting and defending the territory with the ferocity of a mother protecting her offspring.

I’m not arguing that women should spend less time in Westminster. And I don’t want to give the impression that men were necessarily bad at constituency work – one of the most skilled surgery MPs I observed was a man and the vast majority of all backbenchers take it seriously, but I think there is enough evidence to suggest that women excel at the less antagonistic side of politician’s work. There is nothing inevitable about women having greater emotional intelligence, but women become socially skilled in ways that are more useful in politics than many realise.

The denigration of MPs’ constituency work is as shortsighted as indifference to the care of their children. One measure to enable all MPs to accomplish their work, and encourage those with dependents to stand and stay in parliament, would be to improve expenses for those that depend on them. As 2015 looms, this is the moment to send a positive message to MPs that we value their work. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority are currently consulting about MPs’ expenses so an opportunity presents itself. After all, even if politicians are loathed as a group, polls show we mostly love our local MP.

Emma Crewe is a Research Associate at SOAS, University of London. She is currently researching the work of MPs in the House of Commons, a project funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship. Further details can be found on her website.

Poor Women’s Representation – ‘Shocking But Not Surprising’ – Don’t Blame the Women

By Dr Rosie Campbell and Professor Sarah Childs

Women’s under representation in Parliament has well and truly hit the headlines: Samantha Cameron isn’t happy about it; job-shares are suggested as the new solution; the Lib Dems face allegations of sexual harassment; and the 2013 Sex and Power Report confirms the ‘shocking’ but not surprising absence of women from public life.

Enough is enough, the recommendations of the 2008-10 Speaker’s Conference should be implemented immediately: it’s time for legislative sex quotas.

Party leaders have said it before, and no doubt they’ll say it again:

“… political parties… need to actively go out and encourage women to join in, to sign up, to take the course, to become part of the endeavour” – David Cameron

The problem is that exhorting women to participate in politics will not address the ‘scandalous’, as Cameron also put it, under-representation of women at Westminster. Men are nearly 80% of MPs; women are not even half-way to equal presence. Labour does the best with a third of its MPs female. The Tories at 16% come second, more than doubling their number in 2010. The Lib Dems trail in last, at just 12%, with fewer women candidates and MPs in 2010 than in 2005. The situation is depressingly familiar at other levels of government. Despite Nordic levels of women’s representation when first created, overall trends in Scotland and Wales are of stalling or falling numbers with campaigners there calling for legislative quotas too.

The reasons why fewer women seek parliamentary selection need addressing and greater diversity is required overall, but the most pressing problem is not that women aren’t putting themselves forward but that the parties fail to select and support qualified women to stand in winnable seats

Cameron again: “Just opening up and saying ‘you’re welcome to try if you want to’ doesn’t get over the fact that there have been all sorts of barriers in the way”.

These barriers were examined extensively in evidence given to the Speakers Conference. Yet only some of its recommendations have since been introduced. The coalition opted for a voluntary approach to one key recommendation – publication of candidate diversity data. Without this the public can’t see what is going on.

The barrier of party demand on the ground was widely cited. Equality and Human Rights Commission research shows local parties frequently pick candidates who fit an archetypal stereo-type of a white, male professional. The parties have addressed this barrier in different ways – with only Labour using a party quota, All Women Shortlists. The Speaker’s Conference recommended that Parliament should consider legislative quotas in the absence of significant improvements in the numbers of women in 2010 – there was none. Indeed, there is talk of declining numbers of Conservative and Lib Dem women in 2015.

The global evidence is clear: well-designed and properly implemented quotas are the most effective way to address the under-representation of women. The coalition could act. Legislative quotas – ensuring all parties use quotas – provide ‘political cover’. And both leaders’ positions on quotas are on the record. Clegg isn’t “theologically opposed”; Cameron said he would use some AWS in 2010, although he didn’t. We are pretty confident that Labour would be supportive, given its record.

We acknowledge that most people are hostile to quotas, but if we want real change they are the only mechanism proven to deliver. Quotas are not the electoral risk that some activists suggest. Studies show that being an AWS candidates does not cause electoral defeat; current selection processes are not meritocratic – Cameron said so himself. Nor do quotas produce unqualified or poor quality MPs – Labour’s 97 AWS women were equally as successful in being promoted. For some, the bottom line is what local parties regard as top-down measures. But if the truck is with ‘outsider’ women ‘being imposed’ then local parties should recruit local women to stand for selection.

Candidates are being selected as we write – the time to act is now. So, Messrs Clegg and Cameron, please be constitutionally radical and leave a legacy of gender equality from this Coalition Government. Let’s have a Parliament that closer approximates the sex balance of the UK in 2015. At a minimum, set up a second Speaker’s Conference to implement the recommendations of its predecessor, and to work with other institutions across the four nations. Or be even more radical: to expedite women’s representation introduce a bill establishing legislative sex quotas. The alternative is for us to wake up the day after the 2015 election and find the party leaders once again bemoaning the under-representation of women at Westminster.

Claire Annesley, Rosie Campbell, Sarah Childs, Catherine Durose, Elizabeth Evans, Francesca Gains, Meryl Kenny, Fiona Mackay, Rainbow Murray, Liz Richardson and other members of the UK Political Studies Association (PSA) Women and Politics group.

Women on top – promotional patterns in the House of Commons

By Peter Allen

This week saw the publication of the Counting Women In report ‘Sex and Power 2013’. As I have written elsewhere, with Philip Cowley, the media reacted by focusing on a the most troubling cases, The Observer announcing that the number of women in professions including politics to be ‘plummeting’, despite plummeting of any sort being in short supply.

Much of the focus has been on the number of women in the Cabinet, something we address there, showing that the Cameron Cabinet has exactly the same number of women in right now as Blair did at a comparable point in his premiership (the percentage is slightly lower given an overall increase in the number of ministers eligible to attend Cabinet).

Behind much of this comment, however, seems to lie an assumption that women do badly in parliament – that once elected, they will struggle to get on, and get promoted, relative to their male colleagues. This simply isn’t the case.

Looking at the largest group of women ever elected to parliament at the same time, the 1997 intake, there is no (statistically) significant difference between the promotional paths of men and women, with women actually having more success in reaching the very top jobs in British politics.

178 Labour MPs were elected for the very first time in May 1997, 114 men and 64 women. Out of this group, only 10 ever made it into Cabinet office during the Labour government of 1997-2010 – five men and five women. In terms of percentages, that’s 8% of the Labour women, but only 4% of the men.

The next office down the ministerial ladder has a similar story – only 17% of Labour men made it to office of Minister of State compared to 20% of women.

Now turning to the lesser offices, lower down the governmental pecking order, men outnumber women. Undersecretary of State, for example; 14% of Labour men counted this as their highest office compared to only13% of women, and as for PPS, this was the best it got 18% of men compared to just 16% of women. Finally, looking at those MPs who never got off the backbenches and into governmental office of any kind, this was again the case for more men than women, 47% and 44% respectively.

Highest office reached (n=178); no statistically significant differences (Fisher’s exact test).

The obvious retort to this is that despite the percentages, there are still more men in these positions overall, which is true. However, what this highlights is that the problem is the low number of women in parliament overall, not that they are being passed over for promotion in favour of men.

As academic work, including my own, has repeatedly shown, candidate selection is the real battleground here, in addition to other political pipeline institutions such as local councils – for example, why don’t more women make the transition from councillor to MP? This is a common route to parliament, one which 42% and 63% of the 2010 and 1997 intakes respectively, but three-quarters of MPs who did so are men. A concerted effort to get more women making this move would have a big effect on their numbers in parliament.

Focusing on the number of women in Cabinet may be an easy target and may engage the media, but it misses the point. It is no doubt true that women have suffered from discrimination in parliament, but it would seem that this hasn’t stopped them getting on, ultimately beating their male colleagues to the top jobs.

Peter Allen is a doctoral research student in the Department of Politics. He writes about political careers and has published work in Parliamentary Affairs and British Politics.

Job-Shares for MPs: A Step on the Way to Resolving a Major Problem

By Dr Rosie Campbell and Professor Sarah Childs

In a blog on Wednesday, Ruth Fox from the Hansard Society argued that job-shares for MPs are a marginal solution for a major problem. Dr Fox is right, introducing job shares will not solve the significant under-representation of women in the House of Commons overnight. To do that, international research clearly demonstrates, parties need to employ equality guarantees.

These can take the form of all-women-shortlists, zipped lists in proportional representation list systems, or reserved seats for women. So far, for the UK Parliament, only Labour has been prepared to adopt such measures; unsurprisingly they are the only party to deliver more than 30% women MPs. Women in the Conservative parliamentary party constitute 16% and in the Liberal Democrats just 12%.

The need for equality guarantees is acknowledged in the Liberal Democrats’ proposals, but given past division on this, we’d be surprised if they moved to adopt them. But in the absence of such measures – indeed even when a party uses equality guarantees – job sharing is another measure that should help deliver more women into politics.

Ruth Fox outlines some of the challenges of adapting the role of an MP to accommodate job-share. How will conflict of how to vote be resolved? As any job share team knows, there must be clear expectations, set out at the point of interview (and in politics at the point of election), as to how the job will be divided; who will work on what day, who will take responsibility for what, and how decisions will be made. Different job shares might approach the issue of voting differently, by either agreeing that ‘who is there on the day makes the decision’ or by agreeing a position in advance, or in respect of different policy areas.

In any case, we doubt very much that job-share candidates from either ends of a party’s ideological spectrum, or taking opposing views on conscience issues, would put themselves up for selection as a team in the first place. Crucially, and just like other MPs, job share MPs are accountable for how they act: both to the party selectorate and ultimately to the electorate. If they failed to make the partnership work – for whatever reason – they would be unlikely to be reselected or reelected.

Dr Fox also questions what would happen in the event that one member of the job-share stepped down. We do not think this need be particularly problematic, given that both MPs in the job-share will have been elected. If one should be removed from office then the other could choose to continue as a full-time MP until the next election, or they could choose to stand down with their job-share partner. Accordingly, job-shares need not increase the likelihood of by-elections

Furthermore, it is our belief that job-share MPs may prove to be more attractive at the ballot box than critics imply. The professionalisation of politics and the narrowing of the political class is an issue that resonates with many.

Philip Cowley’s work with Rosie Campbell shows that voters respond negatively to candidates without local connections, those with high incomes, and those who have only worked in political occupations. Job-sharing might encourage the local GP who wants to maintain a reduced practice, or someone who runs a family business, or the parent who wants to do the school run a couple of times a week to consider standing.

The challenges for job-sharing at Westminster are by no means insurmountable, as Dr Fox admits. And we believe them to be worth the extra cost. We do not imagine that Parliament will suddenly become dominated by job-share MPs, just as other organisations that allow job-shares are not; neither will they double the numbers of women in the House. But they would facilitate people, men and women, who make a contribution to society beyond their ‘day jobs’, through caring for children or dependent adults, sustaining a professional career or contributing to their local community, to stand for election to Parliament. Crucially, job share enables them to do so without having to put aside all of their other commitments.

Job-shares should be strongly supported by those who want to see more women elected to Westminster. This support need not be dependent upon job-share delivering a large number of women MPs at the next election. And their value is not limited to women. Job-share is about enabling both women and men who currently feel unable to participate in politics but have a significant contribution to make. The value of job-share is also symbolic – about making it clear that being a representative is a job not just for the professional or unencumbered politician but a job open to all.

This post was originally published on Huffington Post.

Career politicians are elected young, promoted quickly and dominate the highest offices of state

By Peter Allendoctoral researcher and sessional lecturer in the Department of Politics at Birkbeck, University of London.

Originally posted on the British Politics and Policy at LSE blog.

Writing about Jeremy Hunt for The Guardian the other week, John Harris lamented that Hunt, like many of colleagues in our political elite ‘style themselves as expert players of the game, but know far too little about the political fundamentals’. It is widely accepted that this political class, comprised of young and fiercely partisan political operatives who are entrenched in the ways of Westminster, has ‘triumphed’, with career politicians dominating the House of Commons, resulting in claims that parliament is desperately out of touch. The emergence of the ‘professional’ route into politics stands in contrast to the longer-established traditional route via local councils, whereby prospective MPs would rack up experience at the local level before turning their hand to national politics.

What do these changes mean for how politics works? Parliamentary scholar Philip Cowley has noted that these same patterns of ‘career politicians’ reaching the top appear to be present in our current three main party leaders, and has also suggested that we may be looking at a twin-track career path within the Commons, with preferential promotional routes for those MPs with pre-election Westminster experience, something that would seem to be the case. At the same time, the lack of local council experience in the coalition cabinet is also clear, with only Theresa May, Eric Pickles and Vince Cable having been local councillors.

For MPs who want to get anywhere fast, it would seem that being close to your party, and being part of the Westminster village, is everything. MPs who worked in politics and around Westminster prior to their election to the Commons also dominate the most important governing roles in the country (those frontbench positions in all parties). Of the 242 MPs elected for the very first time in 1997, 51.7 per cent of those MPs who made it to Cabinet-level positions had this sort of insider experience compared to only 10.3 per cent who had experience on local councils. 44.8 per cent of those MPs whose only political experience was having served on local councils remained backbenchers for the thirteen years following their initial election or until they left the Commons, whichever came first. This was the case for less than a quarter of MPs whose sole political experience was having worked in or around politics at Westminster prior to their election.

MPs with insider backgrounds were also more likely to be promoted in their first term, with 60.5 per cent of these MPs making into frontbench roles before 2001 compared to only 51.7 per cent of those MPs with local council experience. In terms of which offices these first promotions landed them in, 28.9 per cent of insider MPs bagged jobs at the Minister of State level compared to only 6.9 per cent of MPs with local experience whilst the opposite was true of the lower level role of Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) which was the first office destination of 62.1 per cent of MPs with local experience and only 36.8 per cent of those with insider experience.

These insiders are also more likely to enter parliament at a younger age, with 56 per cent of these MPs entering parliament in their thirties compared to only 24.8 per cent of those MPs with local council experience. In turn, age seems to be a useful predictor of reaching very high office, with over 90 per cent of MPs reaching cabinet-level positions being elected between the ages of thirty and fifty. It appears that being close to Westminster and your party prior to election in the form of working for a party or in other political Westminster-based jobs is a catalyst to being elected at a younger age, being promoted faster and higher than other MPs, and ultimately to a high-flying Commons career and a seat at the top table. Is this phenomenon adding to the dislocation that many see as occurring between our politicians and the electorate?

The tone and content of criticisms regarding the ‘political class’ that focus on the character of our politicians, not just the system they are a part of or the outcomes provided by it, suggest that there is a wider problem facing our political elites with many people seeing them as being unrepresentative of the wider population and lacking in legitimacy. It is less clear that there is an obvious culprit for this. Despite the fact that the Commons is dominated by whitemiddle-class men, and the current cabinet dominated by millionaires, the criticisms of our political elite are focused on more abstract notions of not being ‘real people’ as opposed to more specific, and ultimately more reparable, claims by traditionally underrepresented groups such as women or ethnic minorities (both of whom are still underrepresented in the Commons in proportion to their numbers in the population overall). Clearly, parties cannot implement all ‘real person’ shortlists when selecting candidates.

The role of parties has changed in the past fifty years, what political scientist Peter Mair called the ‘withdrawal into the institutions’, with the activities of parties now focused heavily on the national political scene as opposed to being rooted in local communities. Getting involved in politics has become a marginal activity, with one estimate placing the number of people seriously involved in political activism in the UK at only 100,000. When a broader decline in participation is combined with this withdrawal, it is inevitable that activism will professionalize for that small minority who start early and stay involved in politics. My research suggests that early, intense and professional engagement will pay dividends in the longer run, with this uniquely highly-involved group putting themselves in prime position to end up running the country.

Career politicians are elected young, are promoted quickly, and dominate the highest frontbench offices. These patterns reflect broader processes at work in British political life. Politics is of minor interest to many people, something peripheral to their daily lives – to paraphrase Mair once more, the public have withdrawn from political life and the parties have withdrawn into the institutions. My research highlights that they have also withdrawn into themselves, picking only their favoured sons (and occasionally daughters) for the very top jobs. Should we be concerned about this? Most probably, as a smaller gene pool from which our elites are selected is likely to result in a smaller scope for original political thought, something we all want. But there is no silver bullet or quick fix. A reappraisal of what we want from our politicians, and what they can realistically provide us with, is required.

Follow Peter on Twitter @peteraallen and read more of his research on his website. The article this blog is based on is available at Parliamentary Affairs Advance Access.