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.
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.
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.
Transparency in government sounds like a good thing. Surely more information is better than less, and an informed public will make more accurate judgments about government policy. However, in complex policy areas, transparency often means selecting and highlighting some presentable facts, while omitting the contextual information needed to interpret those facts. In extremis, the facts become so decontextualised that the public is likely to be misled.
Consider the efforts of Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), to enhance transparency about local government finance. This has brought us some eye-catching statistics. Perhaps one of the most striking was the claim that funding per head for Hackney in 2011-12 will amount to £1043 per person, while in Wokingham it will be a mere £125. Google ‘Hackney 1043 Wokingham 125’ and you can see how many newspapers found this factoid worth repeating from the DCLG press release.
How is this figure arrived at? Using detailed information available for 2010/11, we can get some idea. Hackney spent more per person than Wokingham: 33% more on education, twice as much on social care, 80% more in expenditure on services overall. With various convoluted pluses and minuses to get to the important if oxymoronic figure of ‘Revenue Expenditure’ (translation: expenditure that has to be financed out of local authority revenue), the gap widens further: Hackney spends 95% more overall. A substantial difference, but not enough to explain why Hackney would get more than eight times the central government funding allocated to Wokingham.
But of course Hackney is not only needier than Wokingham, with more children in local authority schools and more elderly people needing care; it is also poorer, so we would expect lower council tax receipts. Sure enough, council tax per capita in Hackney was about £340, in Wokingham just over £500. The difference which had to be financed by central government in 2010/11 was £2,260 per person in Hackney and £830 in Wokingham. You’ll notice that these figures are higher than those given out by DCLG, and nowhere near as disproportionate: it would seem that Hackney got 2.7 times as much funding from central government as Wokingham, not 8.3 times.
So what accounts for the difference? Funding for local authorities from central government comes in two main forms: specific grants routed via departments, and ‘formula funding’. Mr Pickles’ version of transparency is to shine the light on formula funding, and cast a veil over specific grants. What should we make of this? It is tempting to say that ‘Hackney 1043 Wokingham 125’ is not so much a factoid as a lie: one element of funding was left out in order to deliver a strong message with the other element.
But Mr Pickles is an astute operator, and I assume that he has a defence, which might go like this. A complete measure of central government support for an area would be difficult to produce. It would be difficult to include NHS and Social Security spending, for example, because these are not allocated by local authority area. For transparency aficionados, this is a well-known strategy: selectivity in presenting the data is rationalised by pointing to the difficulty of giving a comprehensive view.
Comprehensiveness is indeed difficult and complicated, so transparency has to be pursued in good faith. The selection of the formula funding number looks like bad faith. DCLG routinely produces statistics on the financing of local authority expenditure broken down into the three elements of council tax, specific grants and formula funding, so why leave specific grants out on this occasion? Perhaps DCLG has not yet got the estimates from other departments for specific grants in 2011/12, but in that case, the honest announcement would have been that Mr Pickles did not know how much support from central government would be received by each local authority. Perhaps the temptation to pacify the LibDems by highlighting the formula funding figure was too great, but it is risky: they will tumble to the fuller story sooner or later. In the meantime, the Tory heartlands are cultivating their grievances against the sponging inner cities. Mr Pickles’ selective illumination has not helped the quality of public debate.