Lynne Featherstone

MP for Hornsey and Wood Green

my blog
Lynne's Parliament and Haringey Diary, established 2003

Representation

This is my most recent column published in the Ham & High:

Our Parliament has come a long way in recent years. In fact, watching ‘The Iron Lady’ with Margaret Thatcher sticking out like a blue female sore thumb amongst the total male greyness of the then chamber – it reminded me of how recently in history this establishment was nearly all male.

However, despite real progress, it is still nowhere near reflecting the percentage of women in the country – and that is without even starting to talk about other aspects of diversity such as ethnicity, class or disability…

It is in everyone’s interests to have a Parliament that is made up of the best people for the job, and that includes a range of people who can best represent the diversity that exists in our communities – and who bring the benefits of a diverse set of experiences.

We do not just elect individuals, we elect people to be members of a team (their party, government/opposition, Parliament overall) – and, just as in sport, good teams have the right mix to be more than simply the sum of their parts. Good teams need variety and diversity.

We all suffer if that is missing because we end up with worse decision-making if Parliament is made up of a monochrome slice of uniformity.

There have been tremendous strides made in recent years. Whatever your views on how best to get there – Labour’s all women shortlists made a massive change in the culture of both the Labour party and parliament. The Conservatives, using a very different mechanism, have also made great strides in terms of their diversity. And we (Liberal Democrats) had worked incredibly hard on mentoring and monitoring and had succeeded in getting women in winnable seats in 2010 – but sadly we didn’t win them.

In our case we now have the Leadership Academy which will support a small, but ambitious and able cohort of under-represented groups as key candidates for the future. Winnable seats will have to have two of the graduate candidates from the Leadership Academy on their shortlists. Members will still have the final choice of course – but we will not just be sitting on our hands thinking that nothing needs doing.

I responded for the Government in the recent debate on representation in Parliament last week. The Speaker’s Conference a couple of years back made a number of recommendations – for Government, for the House and for political parties in terms of improving the diversity of their elected representatives.

Some of the recommendations have been introduced to date – including the holding of this debate s. It is legal until 2030 to employ all women shortlists if a political party wishes so to do. The Equality Act now allows us to balance our shortlists with people from under-represented groups if we wish. There is an ‘access to elected office’ plan and fund to support those with disabilities in being candidates about to be announced in detail and a raft of other measures.

What was clear from the debate – and very heart warming – was that everyone across the political divide is working hard to improve our representative quality.

Each party has its own traditions and beliefs, so each party has to find its own solutions for the shared problem we have of how unrepresentative Parliament. The political system needs to give parties the options to pick their own solutions – which it now does.

But as ever in politics – as it should be in a democracy – what matters is not only what the system permits or what politicians want, but what the public demands.

You do not have to wait until an election though. If you know someone talented, why not encourage them to get stuck into politics and stand themselves? The readers of these columns are a wonderfully diverse group – and I’m sure that the people you know and could encourage would be more diverse than the current make-up of Parliament!

 

Sat 21 January 2012
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Comments

  1. Harriet Harms Man says:

    The real problem with Parliament is the increasing elitism, not gender or race. There are just so many super privileged, out of touch millionaires who don’t understand the real world.

    And representation actually has almost nothing to do with the the gender or race of politicians. If that were true then all the sexism against men would have been tackled years ago, yet aside from the economy it’s surely the most pressing and obvious issue today (at the very least it’s the easiest one to tackle). And lets not pretend female politicians care about representing men either (just look at Lynne’s record of sexism for a start).

    All women shortlists have been a major disaster. The first small intake alone gave us Jacqui Smith, Helen Brinton, Barbara Follett and even Margaret Moran! It’s certainly an outstanding system for finding the worst possible politicians and biggest expense cheats in the country (and that’s really saying something). Electing these useless female politicians actually harms women and is a major step backwards because less enlightened people see all these useless females who aren’t there on merit and make the assumption that all women (including legitimately elected ones) must be equally incapable and corrupt.

    “Whatever your views on how best to get there”

    Anyone with the view that to get the best out there is to bar half the population from applying is insane.

    “It is in everyone’s interests to have a Parliament that is made up of the best people for the job”

    Indeed. When will you be resigning your Equalities post please Lynne?

  2. MiGHOW says:

    http://www.jstor.org/pss/440362

    Unfortunately some studies have proven that women across all parties tend to vote for policies that favour women in the short term.

    This is an important consideration. Arguably men tend to support what is best for everybody while women support what appears best for women in the short term.

    Unfortunately with these types of gynocentric policies there are always unintended consequences. Perhaps we are starting to see these unintended consequences of previous similar policies such as the massive increase in single motherhood, unsustainable welfare and benefit spending, poor performance of boys and young men in the education system, declining marriage rates, increased youth criminality etc.

    Additionally there is very little evidence that diversification produces better governance, it remains an untested ideology. In fact the available studies and evidence suggest the contrary especially with respect to the introduction of quotas. e.g. Norway where the performance and profitability of companies was reduced as result of introducing quotas.

    Diversification sounds great in theory, however please can we have some proof, study and reliable data that it is better than the status quo before we roll it out everywhere.

    I would also suggest that allowing the current government to be allowed to manipulate the shortlists based on a nebulous notion of diversity could result in gerrymandering and result in less democracy rather than more.

  3. Paul says:

    The trouble with having more women in parliament is that they focus on women’s issues without any thought or care about men. Indeed, when a women is elected to parliament she seems to very quickly become a misandryst.

  4. Harriet Harms Man says:

    Although there’s a huge amount of truth in your point Paul that isn’t any reflection on women themselves.

    Most women are decent people, all your point proves is that some of the very worst, most sexist and selfish women are getting into Parliament and therefore the current system are causing this.

    Above all else the main problem is All Women shortlists. People who are ok with gaining power and influence by sexism and almost certainly going to be sexists themselves and they’re also going to be of a poorer standard too. We really need to restore democracy ASAP.

  5. Joel says:

    “…But as ever in politics – as it should be in a democracy – what matters is not only what the system permits or what politicians want, but what the public demands”

    And the public demands that marriage remains between one man and one woman.

    Oh, not meant to mention that here?

    More double-spreak by politicians.

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