Why the number of female MPs matters

The Christmas edition of the Electoral Reform Society’s magazine, The Voter carries this short article from me:

Houses of ParliamentSadly, I am one of only 126 female MPs in a Parliament of 646. Parliament remains an old boys club, with its adversarial style of politics where bully-boy tactics are the norm; any of you who’ve watched PMQs will be fully aware of this.

And this feeds a political system that is so busy being adversarial that it forgets to be effective. This lack of representation is repeated throughout our political system. In local government, women make up just over a quarter of local councillors, whilst with MEPs it is a similar story: just one quarter female.

The quality of our government suffers from these imbalances – an impact which therefore affects us all, men and women. Women need to be there, with men, making these decisions, to ensure that public services and policy are relevant to all people and are capable of having a real effect on the lives, not just of women, but of everyone in society.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the allocation of resources, where the macho boys culture so often summons up the massive project and neglects the important details. When I was chair of transport at London Assembly it was starkly clear. Why is it that an obsession with boys-toys – the macho game of who’s got the biggest airport or the longest train – delivers multi-billion pound budgets for massive transport infrastructure projects yet not even a fraction of those budgets were spent on so called ‘soft measures’, such as making sure you can fit a double buggy through the door of a bus and making sure that local shopping centres and services are easily accessible – really easily accessible – through using public transport?

But it should not be a question of either or – it should be a matter of both. Some of our Nordic counterparts are light years ahead in terms of female representation, and we can see the practical effect on policy and resource priorities. Take Finland – with its childcare allowance for women who stay home and look after children under the age of 3 and its municipal care for children who are below the school age of 7.

We have come a long way in 90 years. It’s not enough, but we are constantly pushing, and constantly forcing change. I hope that within the next decade we will able to celebrate the achievement of equal and proper representation of women in politics, as another 90 is far too long to wait for this change!

It isn’t enough that women have the vote, and it isn’t enough that Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan all rank above us internationally when it comes to women’s representation. Equal representation and involvement in politics is our right, and it is the women today who will bring about change tomorrow, by demanding the equal representation they deserve and by working together to achieve it.

0 thoughts on “Why the number of female MPs matters

  1. What proportion of the membership of the Labour, Tory and LibDem parties is female? I’m not having much like finding out through Google 😦

  2. You make a good point, Lynne. I wonder if you are aware that the proportion of magistrates between men and women is roughly equal (in fact, it may be 50-50). Whilst they are obviously different professions, magistrates and councillors especially have a number of parallels, especially the particularly local role they pay, and lack of salary.Why do you think women are drawn more to being a magistrate than being a councillor?

  3. I find something offensive in the implication that men as a group as responsible for childishness in Parliament.If I said “all women in Parliament are [insert some negative characteristic]” you would be rightly outraged.We should judge people as individuals not by their gender. Condemn childish individuals in Parliament not “men” as a group.It’s sexist.There are a number of women MPs who aren’t exactly models of courtesy and Socratic dialogue: Diane Abbott (who insults every other women MP on the Politics Show) and Ann Winterton (racist joke, anyone?) spring to mind.

  4. More sexism from Lynne”Why is it that an obsession with boys-toys… “”Parliament remains an old boys club, with its adversarial style of politics where bully-boy tactics are the norm;”Well, us “boys” are all beer and football obsessed stereotypes, aren’t we? This selective belief in fundamental male-female differences is typical feminist hypocrisy.Secondly, I thought that feminist adult women hit the roof whenever anyone referred to them as “girls”? Why are we then referred to as “boys”?Women are very well represented in policy making and implementation. For one thing, nearly every social worker is a feminist woman. Even the government admits that there are at least 250,000 social workers active in Britain. That doesn’t even include all of the benefits officers and psychotherapeutic councillors etc. I hope that as an MP, you’ll be going down to the local counselling services and demanding that they implement some affirmative action.Again, you make no mention of securing equal custody and equal rights towards their children for fathers – an approach that would lead to women having far greater career opportunities. It’s typical feminist fallacy that ignores zero-sum reality. How can women near-dominate certain areas of work, have unfairly favourable entitlement to family life and work-life balance, and yet still be well represented as MPs? Do you have any evidence that women who run as an MP are particularly less likely to be elected?Equal opportunities, not equal outcomes.I’m afraid that this comment constitutes something of a parting shot from me. I started subscribing to this blog because an article that you wrote for another site gave me the impression that you represented something different from the other female MPs. I thought that you might be someone who was worth listening to and working with. It seems that I was wrong and that you are cut from the same cloth as Jackboots Jacquie Smith and her cronies.

  5. Obviously, women are never adversarial. This article, for example, isn’t in the slightest…

  6. Lynne, have you ever actually used, or even read about, any of the big ‘boys’ toys’ infrastructure projects? Because one of the reasons the price tags for these projects are so high is *because* universal accessibility has – rightly – become one of the most important guiding principles behind transport investment.Indeed, one of the reasons spending on the London bus network has been so high is /because/ of the decision to replace all buses with ones fully accessible to wheelchair users and parents with double buggies, well ahead of the legal deadline for doing so.If things were still as you claim, then all transport projects would look like the Victoria line, with the focus solely on boosting commuter capacity and throughput with no investment in regeneration, accessibility or focus on benefits for marginalised/minority groups. The Crossrail supporting documents and benefit/cost analysis are about as far away from that approach as you can possibly imagine.

  7. John B – yes, I have – indeed, I spent several years as Chair of Transport at the London Assembly. We need a balance between ‘big’ and ‘small’ projects, but too often it is just the big ones that get the attention – for the reasons I think which I gave.

  8. Actually Lynn, you don’t. All yo do is ask a rhetorical question and make a snide, misandrist smear:the macho game of who’s got the biggest airport or the longest trainVery mature. I hope that you don’t object when people blame poor decisions they think you’ve made on you being “Distracted by your biological clock” because your gender binary based bigotry has left you somewhat exposed to accusations of hypocrisy should you do so.

  9. This country is no better served by having a proportionate amount of females than if it has no females in government. If those females utterly fail to represent as much as any of the men do then gender, quite frankly, is nothing to do with the problem.What we need is a parliament with 100% good politicians that know how to advocate and represent the countries people, whatever their colour, gender, or any other persuasion. The idea that somehow more women in parliament will achieve this just because their women is pretty ridiculous.

  10. OK – given the number of men I have managed to annoy – thought I would come back and thank you all. At least you engage with the issue – which is a start – if not an all-singing all-dancing ringing endorsement of my post! But I speak as I find – and of course – if you read the post as a whole you will see I am advocating a balance between, for example large infrastructure transport projects and the ‘soft measures’ like walk to school, safe routes to school, transport that serves domestic function rather than working function. And I do speak from experience – which is why I have used transport as a metaphor simply to demonstrate what the absence of women (or whichever gender for that matter) from decision making delivers in real terms.It isn’t sexism – it is speaking as I find and laying out there for all to see. Of course it shouldn’t be that way – and not all men behave badly in Parliament and not all women behave well – these are sweeping generalisations. My use of ‘macho boys toys’ is probably not PC but talking about the longest train or biggest airport in those terms makes the point, in an audience with a sense of humour generally rates a smile (if not a laugh) and demonstrates a contrast. So – to all those offended by a truth – let’s change that truth – so that these arguments become specious. Because for all those decent men who wouldn’t dream of behaving like a boor – there’s an awful lot who do. Example – I remember trying to get into the lobbies to vote and there was a queue. A man behind me said ‘I’m in a dreadful hurry – but this lady is in the way’. Upon which I turned around and he said – ‘Oh – it’s not a lady – it’s a Lib Dem!’ And roared at his amazing joke! I refrain from revealing his political persuasion. And it’s funny, you know, my colleague Susan Kramer’s new proposals for families which give men equal rights to time off following birth of baby caused a storm today. I was listening to Nick Ferrari’s program on LBC and the callers who called in after Susan had explained the policy. Part of the proposal is that the man or woman can choose post baby leave up to a year (it’s already that for women) and it is up to the couple to decide who takes how much of that time and when. The furore and anger at the mere suggestion that men should be entitled to the same rights as women sent listeners into a spin. How could business survive? How dare the Lib Dems be liberal and propose policies that would deliver equal rights? Scandalous! That’s the real world. That’s the mindset that is out there to some extent – so all I would say is that I hold to my argument that we need both genders in Parliament to make the best decisions. And that other country’s around the world have recognised this in their legislatures – and we lag way behind! But thanks to all who have commented – feedback (including critical feedback) always welcome – even when you’re wrong!

  11. “That’s the real world. That’s the mindset that is out there to some extent – so all I would say is that I hold to my argument that we need both genders in Parliament to make the best decisions. And that other country’s around the world have recognised this in their legislatures – and we lag way behind!”So you’ll be jumping on the task of getting more people in poverty in to parliament too then (though that of course creates a paradox)? And perhaps more disabled people? I’m not sure if ginger people are proportionately represented either. We also should look to ensure there is fair representation of those that suffered child abuse, those that are obese and those that are the victims of serious crime.You see, without actually physically putting all of these demographics in to parliament there is no way that their views can possibly be represented or considered. I mean…that *is* what you’re saying Lynne, right?

  12. So a group of men conclude it doesn’t matter how many female MPs there are. Nice.

  13. People who say “I speak as I find” really mean they don’t think before they speak. PC is all about thinking before one speaks.When you talk about “macho boys toys” and say that “it was only a joke” well that is the oldest ploy in the business for being offensive and trying to get away with it by saying that your victim has no sense of humour. Again not thinking before you speak. Lynne, when you are writing this blog you are not just chatting to your mates. You are speaking to the whole world and that includes many of your constituents!

  14. David – not in my case, it doesn’t. I did/do think before I blog.Thomas – sorry, didn’t respond to your point earlier. I suspect more women gravitate towards being a magistrate rather than a politician because it is a less exposed role. Politics is often harsh and not woman-friendly in its conduct. To me – that just means we need to change it – but I can see why many women are put off.

  15. My experience in industry where I work as a corporate coach is that there is no particular benefit to either people or individuals if women become leaders and then act like men. Yet I find it hard encouraging femininity as a positive characteristic in my female clients; the learning is inbuilt that to get where men get you must behave like a man.Similarly in politics; as a Liberal I’m all for proportional representation, well beyond the narrow confines of parties. But if women in Parliament turn up in suits of armour (however beautifully tailored) and play on the adversarial agenda nothing is gained for men or women.Bringing more feminity into politics, more outrage at the genuine pain felt by those who live in war zones, more collaboration, more compassion and more authenticity by women (and men!) in politics would bring much needed warmth and human development of our society.