Today in the UK Parliament a debate is being held on progress made in increasing the diversity of representatives in the House of Commons. It results from the report of the Speaker’s Conference on Political Representation which was published under the Labour government in 2010.
There has been some progress in increasing the numbers of women, ethnic minorities and people with disabilities. However, Westminster remains the bastion of the white, middle class, middle aged man.
Just consider the example of elected Women. Shamefully only 22% of MPs in the UK are women, 78% are men. According to the campaign “Counting Women In” this figure puts the UK behind 40 countries including Rwanda, Mexico and Iraq. We are on par with Uzbekistan.
At the top it is even worse. The old boy’s network which makes up the coalition cabinet has more male millionaires than women in it.
I am glad to say that, although there is still more work to do, my own Labour party is above the national average at 32%. 16% of Tory MPs are women, this figure drops to 12% in the Lib Dem ranks.
As the Speaker’s Conference report says, “Parliament is the representative body for the United Kingdom and there should be a place in it for individuals from all parts of society”.
It also explains that “broadening representation would bring the positive benefit of improved effectiveness in the development of legislation and scrutiny of the government”.
Vice-Chair of the report Dame Anne Begg, Labour MP for Aberdeen South, opened the debate by pointing out that if parliament and government is to be successful and make the best decisions it must reflect the society it represents more closely.
She also highlighted the danger that the diversity of the parliament may decrease further as a result of the boundary changes before 2015.
Women are just one group that must be more equally represented in parliament. Barriers also need to be removed for people with disabilities and those from ethnic minority backgrounds. We must also look at the financial obstacles that prevent people who would potentially make good politicians from applying for selection.
Diversity in politics is important for the decision making process to function at its most effective. We must remove the range of barriers that put off talented and experienced people from standing for election. I look forward to hearing some more ideas from my UK colleagues of how we can do this successfully.
You can watch the debate here.