The majority of voters are female, so does it matter that the majority of MPs are men?

Cross-posted from Lib Dem Voice:

Women now have the vote on the same terms as men. With the majority of the electorate female – and indeed the majority of actual voters at the last general election female too – what’s there left to worry about, one might ask?

Well – with only around one in five MPs female, there’s a big difference between what goes in to the electoral system (majority: female) and what comes out (overwhelming majority: male).

So what I want to address in this piece head on why I believe this matters. 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. If we don’t have the best, and if we don’t have a Parliament that fully understands how issues look to people from all those diverse viewpoints, then we get worse decision-making – and we all suffer from that in the end. To take a very simple example – if you have a Parliament passing laws on fighting crime which doesn’t understand the perspectives of people under 25, then those laws will not be as effective – and we all suffer as a result.

Now you don’t necessarily have to be of a particular group or community or whatever to be able to understand and represent its views. But in general it certainly helps.

Would a Parliament full of people over 70 have some MPs who were good at understanding the viewpoints of those under 30? Of course it would – but it would be even better at doing that if not all the MPs were over 70. The same applies to gender. Yes, some men are good at understanding and representing the views of women, and vice-versa. But when you have a Parliament that is four-fifths men, we are far too close to that everyone over 70 situation.

Now people sometimes say – ah, but if you can’t point to an example of an act of explicit discrimination, then the system is fair and doing anything to fix the results means we won’t be getting the best person for the job. So I’m going to try to tackle that head on.

First, when you have the number of female MPs at record levels – but still a Parliament that is 80% male – I think it fair to ask, “Are you really, really sure there’s no discrimination going on anywhere?” As prima facia evidence goes, that’s pretty strong stuff. Of course, it doesn’t make the case in itself, but I think too many people are too complacent in the face of what should be a shocking figure.

And, I would ask – do you really think that if you picked the 646 best people for the job of MP (using whatever definition of “best” you think suits), you would end up with four out of every five of them being male? Do you really think the distribution of talent, ability, experience, knowledge – whatever goes in to your definition of “best” – is so lopsided amongst the population that the result is that four-fifths of those people are male?

I am happy to acknowledge that there are – on average, in general, with individual exceptions – differences between the sexes. Yes, if I needed someone to run with an urgent message as fast as possible then, other things being equal, I’d ask a man as on average men are faster – or even, dare I say it, better – at running than women. Just as it would be wrong to assume that all men are faster than all women, it would be foolish to close our eyes to the differences on average.

But what such difference could there be that would justify four-fifths of MPs being male?

Certainly there are aspects of the way our political system works which typically appeal more to men or are more off-putting to women, but those are not aspects that are engraved in stone and always have to be that way. Take the bear-pit performances (and I use that word kindly – embarrassing shambles might often be more appropriate) of the PM / Leader of the Opposition exchanges at Prime Minister’s Questions, with massed ranks of people sat behind each and shouting at each other. That sort of behaviour would be completely unacceptable in a work place – imagine running a meeting at work where people behaved like that. And there’s no essential need for PMQs to be like that – look around at how other walks of life and other countries manage to have question times that are meaningful and dignified.

And in this example is where, I think, some good news can be found. For tackling issues like this would not only tackle the male/female imbalance, they would benefit politics overall.

But most importantly, we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the gender balance of Parliament as if it doesn’t matter. There is no one magic wand to fix any and all problems, but we can only fix problems if we acknowledge they exist.

0 thoughts on “The majority of voters are female, so does it matter that the majority of MPs are men?

  1. Yes it does matter, and to correct the balance the first thing that needs to be addressed is that off-putting political system. Parliament can represent a barrier to many women specifically because it has evolved to fit around the lives and preferences of the men who dominate it. It has been shown in many workforces that the addition of women does change the ethos of an organisation in a way that is usually judged to be beneficial. However we need to get sufficient numbers of women elected to be able to make our presence felt. Once we get that balance I expect to see some significant changes to the way we ‘do’ Politics.

  2. Don’t exactly understand this article, I very much hope Lynne isn’t seeking to defend All women shortlists (it seems rather ambiguous either way). It’s abundantly clear that sexist all-women shortlists certainly aren’t the answer to anything and will make the situation worse rather than better. They’re both hugely offensive to women and to the electorate as a whole. They fundamentally go against the whole democratic system we’re so proud of in this country.

    Just look at the Labour party, almost all of the most truely inept and useless female MPs got into Parliament on all women shortlists rather than on merit., it really has been a disaster. Take a look at the 1997 election for example when all women shortlists were used for the first tiem. They brought us the likes of Jacqui Smith, Helen Brinton/Clarke and worst of all Margaret Moran to name just a few. At the very same time, people such as Mo Mowlam similarly made their Parliamentary debut, yet did so lawfully and on merit.

    Quite depressing that David Cameron seems to be looking to ban male candidates from standing too. It will at least be good news for the Lib Dems though I suppose – anyone out there who genuinely opposes sexism and racism woudlnt’ be able to vote Labout or Cnservative, thus leaving people in many areas with basically no option other than to vote Lib Dem.

    I agree diversity in Parliament is a good thing, but it’s quite frankly ludicrous to just focus on gender or race (nevermind be totally obsessed with it). The vast majority of people in Parliament come from rich and hugely privileged backgrounds. Not just in the Conservatives as one might think, but there’s that many champagne socialists in the Labour Party these days that the two parties are virtually indistinguishable in so many ways.

    Whilst being wealthy doesn’t automatically stop anyone being any good at politics, in the current system so many such people are incredibly out of touch with reality and make equally appalling decisions regardless of what set of genitalia they happen to have. I.e. the difference between your average, privately educated, privileged female, and a similar male is basically ZERO. especially when considered relative to a candidate who grew up in a working class setting or had to fend for themselves in their lives.

    And we should of course remember that All Women shortlists were used by Labour to get rid of potential trouble makers (i.e. the more working class, decent men who stood up for what was right and what they believed in rather than towing the party line).

    If we had a more people like that in Parliament (male or female) is very clear we wouldn’t be in the same mess we’re in today.

  3. Just thinking about this again.

    The main reasons there are more female voters than male ones are due to the healthcare service failing men, corporate manslaughter and a lack of workplace safety, a failure to tackle male suicide/depression, and the increase in violent crime (which disproportionately impacts on males, especially in terms of fatalities).

    The fact we kill/fail so many men and regard them as the most dispensable in our society really isn’t a good method of arguing for more female MPs.

    Your average soldier coming back from Afghanistan on a daily basis in a coffin isn’t entitled to vote, and neither are any of the men who died in Iraq, the Falklands or even any of the 405,000 British soldiers killed in World War Two. However, I feel people in Parliament should still be there representing the memory of these men and everything they stood for just as much as they represent any living constituent (if not more so).

    The real question should be why don’t we have more living male voters, rather than arguing that the deaths of so many men are one reason for having more females MPs. Don’t get me wrong, it would be fair enough if say the birth rate of female babies was higher than males, but that isn’t even slightly true either, there are in fact MORE boys born than girls and always have been.

  4. Sexist clap-trap. We might as well have kids in parliament (instead of adults acting like kids) as they are under-represented and adults might not be able to remember how life is like from their perspective.