‘Desperately seeking an Elderly Gentleman with a Large Majority … to Persuade Parliament to Allow MPs to Job-share’

By Professors Rosie Campbell and Sarah Childs, Birkbeck, University of London

Or a woman MP for that matter. But they must be adored by their parliamentary and local constituency party so that both will be happy for them to stand as half of one of the first MP job-shares at the next General Election. We think it might take someone who understands Parliament, and is respected within it, to push the debate about making parliament accessible forward.

Open House?

MPs job-share is seemingly not very popular: most MPs poo-poo it and there is no mass protest on the streets demanding flexible working for MPs. And it certainly isn’t easy to argue for more MPs.. But we think it’s time for Parliament to debate this issue, nonetheless. The Courts back in 2015 said as much.[1] The Fawcett Society’s new report ‘Open House?’[2]  launched earlier this week seeks to ignite a new, and more substantive debate in Parliament and we hope amongst the wider public too. We think it is possible to persuade both that MPs job-sharing is not as radical as an idea as it might  first seem, and that it could potentially significantly enhance the quality of democratic representation.

MPs job-share will make Parliament more accessible to groups currently under-represented: to parents, carers, those who wish to continue with their professions or trades, and those for whom working full-time is impossible. For some disabled individuals, the lack of job-share for MPs effectively negates their democratic right to political participation, as Sarah Cope and Clare Phipps, and Emily Brothers’ contributions in the Report make clear.

What Do We Know about Job-share in general and at Westminster in Particular?

  • It works at senior levels in business, industry and the civil service. Pam Walton’s contribution outlines ‘best-practice’ that can be ‘read across’ to Parliament’ A successful job-share is about collaboration not competition, shared values and vision, and clear communication, speaking with ‘one voice’.
  • The legal situation is at the moment clear; it is not possible to stand as a parliamentary candidate on a job-share basis. Rosa Curling’s chapter reflects on the case brought before the High Court in 2015. So, the law would need to change. But our electoral law, as bob Watt makes abundantly clear, is not unchanging. Not only have we had constituencies with more than one MP in the recent past; back in the 17th Century, William and Mary job-shared the ‘top job’ – King regnant and Queen regnant.
  • The public are agnostic rather than hostile. Rosie Campbell and Philip Cowley’s research showed that when the reasons for allowing job-shares were given to survey respondents, support rose from 37% with no explanation to between 42-48%. Younger people are more supportive than older; and women more supportive than men. When asked to judge between candidates in an experiment the public seemingly evaluated the qualities of the candidates and NOT whether they were standing as a job share.
  • Amongst MPs and Candidates who stood in the 2015 General election, there is no majority in favour of MPs job-share But party and sex differences are apparent: Labour women, Liberal Democrat women, PC women, and Green women and men are all in favour.

How to make the case for MPs job-share?

Sam Smethers, Fawcett’s Chief Executive rejects the ‘It is thus because it has always ever been thus, and so therefore it should be so’ criticism of MPs job-share. Instead, we think it is worth asking whether the practices of flexible working that have facilitated access to the labour market more generally could apply to our democratic institutions; allowing parliamentary candidates to stand as a job share is an option that we think would work.

What principles and practices would underlie MP job-share?

  • Applicants should identify their partner in advance of seeking selection by a political party and stand for selection as a team
  • MP job-shares should share political values and attitudes
  • Both should be individually judged by their party as meeting the qualifications of parliamentary candidates
  • At the point of selection – and again at election – they should present a comprehensive and clear statement of shared beliefs, issue priorities and goals
  • Job-share candidates should detail the procedural rules that will determine their working arrangements on a day-to-day basis.
    • There is no need to be prescriptive; they might work for different parts of the week; different times of the parliamentary year; work in the constituency or at Westminster; and share weekend constituency work on a rota, for example
  • Job-share MPs should be thought of as akin to job-sharing elsewhere (there are established examples of job sharing GPs, civil servants and even political editors of newspapers); two people sharing the act of representation.
  • Job-share MPs would vote as ‘one’. This maintains legal clarity. Parties and the public must be clear about who will be voting and when.
  • Job-share MPs would ‘rise and fall’ as one; ultimately, they would be held to account in the ballot box.

Countering ‘The Iraq vote’ critique

This is the critics’ nuclear button. There is, of course, always the possibility of unforeseen issues and issues over which the job-share MPs might find themselves in disagreement. This will likely be rare but it is still very important. The key here is a procedural resolution. MPs might agree in advance to abstain, or let the person in Parliament on the day decide. Such arrangements are central to the ‘offer’ put before the party and the electorate.

As we make clear in the Report, in many ways this is little different from current practice:

Whilst an MP may have presented – first to their selectorate, and then to their electorate – their original policy position and beliefs, they may later find themselves facing a vote where they are in ‘two’ minds. On these occasions, the individual MP may very well decide to abstain.[3] The constituents of the job-share MP are, in analogous fashion, in no way disadvantaged, because currently a constituent will not know for certain that their individual MP will definitely vote, or vote in a particular way. British MPs are, importantly, representatives and not delegates.[4]

Political Equality and Good Representation

We are not naïve enough to imagine that the introduction of MP job-share will be easy nor revolutionize Parliament overnight; but its composition would almost certainly change. And for some people it would constitute a transformation in their individual political rights. This is something not to be sniffed at. Just a small number of job sharing MPs would symbolise that politics is for everyone.  So, we are on the lookout for a popular sitting MP, one prepared to take the next step towards opening up Parliament, by initiating legislative change, and standing as one part of a MP job-share at the next general election.

P.S. This is a job share blog – written by one of us, but signed off by both.

[1] See pages 20 and 23, Open House?

[2] https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/Handlers/Download.ashx?IDMF=bb90467f-174b-4f68-801a-4ae04e4fd33c

[3] There is no official system of abstention in the UK parliament, although MPs have been known to walk through both division lobbies to register an informal abstention.

[4] Open House? pg 34.

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Gender Pay Gap Transparency: Will It Work?

This guest post by Ben Worthy originally appeared on the Open Data Study blog.

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In July this year the BBC, with a bang and probably a muffled whimper, released details of its highest earners. It predictably provoked outrage at the overpaid but also, less predictably, re-ignited the debate on the gender pay gap. Political leaders were quick off the mark to condemn the stark gap between male and female presenters. Theresa May criticised the BBC for paying women less for doing the same job as men and Jeremy Corbyn suggested a pay cap.

How Big is the Gender Pay Gap in the UK?

Measuring the gap is tricky. Here’s a summary from the ONS of some of the key figures for the UK in 2016:

  • Average pay for full-time female employees was 9.4% lower than for full-time male employees (down from 17.4% in 1997).
  • The gap for all employees (full-time and part-time) has reduced from 19.3% in 2015 to 18.1% in 2016 (down from 27.5% in 1997).

So the gap is nearly 10% or 18% depending how you measure it. This FOI request shows how the gap has altered in the past decade or so in the UK. The pay gap is high, and higher than the UK, in many other parts of the EU, where the UK sits about seventh from the top: ‘across Member States, the gender pay gap varied by 21 percentage points, ranging from 5.5 % in Italy and Luxembourg to 26.9 % in Estonia’.  To get some sense of the scale of the problem, in 2015 ‘women’s gross hourly earnings were on average 16.3 % below those of men in the European Union (EU-28) and 16.8% in the euro area (EA-19)’.

Gender pay

So what’s being done?

Something, finally. Successive governments have been determined to open up gender pay. Gender pay transparency is actually a Labour policy from long ago in 2010. Theresa May’s sound and fury has been heard before. Back in 2010 a certain Theresa May, writing in the Guardian no less, already claimed she was ‘clearing a path towards equal pay’ in 2010.What she forgot to say was that the Conservative-Liberal coalition she was part of didn’t actually engage the requirement to publish gender pay, contained in section 78 of (Labour’s) Equality Act of 2010. They wished to pursue a ‘voluntary scheme.’ Alas, few volunteered. Four years into the scheme only 4 companies had reported.

David Cameron, in a second wind of revolutionary ardour, committed to engage mandatory reporting (5 years after not doing so). This would ‘eradicate gender pay inequality’. All companies over 250 employees would have to publish the data. As of April 2017 companies have a year to produce the data and a written statement explaining, if there is a gap, what action will be taken. After 2018 organisations not publishing will be contacted by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission. The light of transparency will, it is hoped, end pay inequality.

How’s it going so far?

Although a number of companies have been voluntarily publishing the data, as of May 2017 only 7 companies had reported. An email from the GEO from July informed me there were now 26 and, according to a spreadsheet on data.gov.uk, there are now 40.

That’s from an estimated 7,000 companies with 250 or more employees. On a very generous rounding up, that means only 0.57% companies have reported. At this rate, if the Equalities and Human Rights Commission must send out notices next April, they’d better fire up the old email wizard or buy plenty of stamps.

There is also concern over the coverage of the policy, as this paper argued:

Only around 6000…of the 4.7 million businesses in the UK have more than 250 employees. Thus, around 59% of employees would be unaffected by the provisions if reintroduced in their current form.

The government calculated that the pay gap reporting would cover 34% of businesses with a further 12% covered by regulations for public bodies, meaning ‘approximately 8,500 employers, with over 15 million employees’ would be opened up.

The Women and Equalities Select Committee argued that the data needed to be broken down by age and status, and applied to companies with less than 100 employees-moving to 50 in the next two years (the government argued smaller businesses may find it ‘difficult to comply due to system constraints’). May appeared to promise further action on gender pay before the General Election and there was a mention of more data in the manifestobut, like much in that doomed document, we’ll probably never know what, if anything, was intended.

What will publication do?

On a practical level much may depend on how the data is published and who accesses or uses it. Underneath this is a serious question for all transparency policies: what exactly will publication do? While opening up such data is useful, measuring gender inequality is highly complex and a ‘moving target’ and is caught within wider issues of female representation in public life, professions and boardrooms. There is a long way between publishing data on a problem and ‘eradicating’ it.

In the case of the BBC, the controversy has led to a letter and high profile lobbying but will it lead to real change? Tony Hall has set a deadline for action (2020) and promised representation and consultation. Now FT journalists may strike over it and Sheryl Sandburg has weighed in.

The former Secretary of State for Equalities spoke of how publication of gender pay gaps would have benefits in terms of ‘transparency, concentrating the mind and helping people make employment decisions’, all of which are either a bit tautological (transparency will make everything more transparent) or vague. More worryingly, a survey for the Young Women’s Trust found that many business were unconvinced ‘44 per cent of those making hiring decisions say the measure introduced last April will not lead to any change in pay levels’. In the 2016 the Women and Equalities Select Committee concluded that pay publication focuses attention on the issue but is not a solution: ‘It will be a useful stimulus to action but it is not a silver bullet’ and recommended that ‘the government should produce a strategy for ensuring employers use gender pay gap reporting’.

As the committee put it, openness is ‘a first step for taking action rather than an end in itself’. It is hoped that publication could drive up pay and standards-though the evidence of what publishing pay generally does is rather mixed (publishing executive pay appears to push overall pay up not down). Companies could be embarrassed into action but could, equally, ignore it, wait for the storm to blow over or kick it to the long grass with a consultation.

As with all sorts of openness, mandating publicity is only the start. Gender pay data must not sit on a spreadsheet but needs to wielded, repeated and find a place as a staple, symbolic benchmark-and become, like the ‘scores on doors’ restaurant star rating, a mark of quality or reason to avoid.

Images from UK government equality report and EU gender pay gap pages

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2017 Women & Politics Essay Prize

We are very happy to announce the winners of the 2017 Women & Politics Essay Prize!

Undergraduate students from all over the country were nominated by their supervisors, and the quality of entries was so high that judge, Dr Toni Haastrup awarded a joint first prize.

JOINT FIRST PRIZE

Isabel Abbs has just completed her undergraduate degree in Philosophy and Politics at the University of Edinburgh. Throughout her degree she was particularly interested in studying the power imbalances which create and control marginalised groups, and their intersection. Isabel is now working in a law firm, and ishoping to move on to a post-graduate law degree next year with an ultimate aim of working in policy for international NGOs.

Judge Dr Toni Haastrup’s comments on Isabel’s essay: One of the many strengths of this paper is the ability to maintain its coherent narrative while engaging various policy choices and at the same time maintaining the analytical focus of feminist political economy. Overall, the argument is sophisticated and generally impressive at this level.

Conor Michaels is a recent graduate in Geography and Politics from Oxford Brookes University. He is interested in local and global geographies of power and embodied experiences, particularly in relation to the ways in which bodies are raced, classed, gendered, sexed and sexualised. Conor is keen to continue his studies at postgraduate level in the near future, and to further develop his research interests. He currently works at Clapton Girls’ Academy in Hackney in a role responsible for the school’s Humanities department.

Judge Dr Toni Haastrup’s comments on Conor’s essay: There are two main strengths of the essay: first, it convincingly elaborates on why and how gay rights may be considered human rights; second, the tension inherent in accepting the claim that human rights exists is western or not.

SECOND PRIZE

Sarah Vowden staying on at Goldsmiths to do an MA in Research Architecture, a bit of a departure from previous studies but hoping to further her interests in spatial politics.

Judge Dr Toni Haastrup’s comments on Sarah’s essay: “The essay underscores the tendency to erase disabled bodies from protest/resistance narrative, highlighting a blind spot of some feminist activism. It offers a sophisticated reading of feminist (intersectional) texts.”

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Northern Ireland and gendered rights: a place apart

The General Election has thrown the spotlight upon Northern Irish politics and, in particular, policies around abortion and the LGBT community which differ substantially from the rest of the UK. Here, Jennifer Thomson explores the situation in Northern Ireland and the implications for the rest of the UK. 

After several days of confusion, speculation, and negotiation, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party appear set to act as kingmakers and support Westminster’s Conservative minority government. The ramifications for what this will mean for the peace process (and the currently stalled government) in Northern Ireland are unclear and, as John Major has argued, potentially troubling. The turbulent period in British politics that begun in the wake of the Brexit vote last June, looks set to continue.

Although the potential importance of the DUP was pointed out in the run-up to the 2015 General Election, when a hung parliament did not materialise despite having been very much expected, no such scenario was anticipated this time around. Since the surprise result, much media attention has focused on the DUP’s policy lines on social issues, with the party being strongly socially conservative, promoting a type of rhetoric around gendered rights in particular which is in stark contrast to the liberal, compassionate Conservatism that former PM David Cameron championed.

As others have pointed out, the DUP are far more likely to use their new position of importance at Westminster to argue for increased financial support for Northern Ireland and its public sector, and will probably be less interested in pushing their social agenda on the rest of the UK. Yet their sudden elevation to the centre of British politics has temporarily focused the media’s attention on the disparities between gendered rights in mainland Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Same sex marriage remains illegal in Northern Ireland, largely due to the DUP’s continual use of a veto mechanism at Stormont to prevent the required legislation. A lifetime ban on gay men donating blood was lifted in England, Scotland, and Wales in 2011, but only in 2016 in Northern Ireland – the delay was largely due to former DUP Stormont Health Minister Edwin Poots’s executive decision that the ban should stay. Poots was also key in attempts to continue to keep in place laws exempting same-sex couples from adopting in the province. Like the ruling on blood donation, this was also eventually overturned by courts in Northern Ireland, in opposition to DUP policy and actions.

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In light of the above, it is perhaps unsurprising that abortion is also strictly controlled in the province. Northern Ireland was never included in the 1967 Abortion Act and attempts to extend it have as yet been unsuccessful. As a result, abortion is all but illegal, and women cannot access terminations even in cases of rape, incest, or fatal foetal abnormalities. This legal situation means that around 1000 women travel to England from Northern Ireland every year for terminations, paying privately for a procedure that can cost anywhere between £200-2,000. Although other political parties have played a role in maintaining this status quo, the strength of the DUP’s numbers at Stormont and the very vocal beliefs of several of its members have been important factors.

The DUP’s increased importance in national politics is unlikely to change laws on abortion or LGBT rights, in Northern Ireland or elsewhere. Abortion rights in Northern Ireland have caused controversy between the DUP and national government before – in 2008, when Gordon Brown’s government needed extra votes for its proposed 42-day detention limit for terror suspects, it was widely reported that the DUP had agreed to support the move on the basis that a proposed extension of the Abortion Act to Northern Ireland be dropped. Indeed, following the 2017 election, it is notable that whilst Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has vocally acknowledged the DUP’s stance on LGBT rights and received ‘categoric assurance’from Theresa May that such rights are protected and not be up for debate in national parliament, politicians have been less vocal in speaking up for abortion rights. Will anyone at Westminster advocate extending abortion rights to Northern Ireland, and, indeed, lead a rallying cry to guarantee them across the UK as a whole?

With the Conservative party now reliant on the DUP to pass key legislation – not least of all as the government moves into tricky Brexit negotiations – the DUP are unlikely to be challenged on these issues. Yet, hopefully the renewed media attention around these differences between mainland UK and Northern Ireland will not go away, and will encourage public discussion over this unjust territorialisation of gendered rights. Women in England, Scotland, and Wales have now been able to access legal abortion for 50 years; same-sex couples have enjoyed equal marriage rights since 2014. Neither abortion nor same-sex marriage have been incredibly politicised in recent years, but rather largely accepted by the public and political mainstream as part of the make-up of modern, liberal Britain.

After the general election of 2017, mainland UK has woken up to a newfound appreciation of the tone and content of party politics in Northern Ireland. We can no longer be ignorant of the very different and incredibly restrictive legal situation which exists in the province for the LGBT community and women seeking terminations. In Northern Ireland today, a raped woman cannot get a termination, and a gay man cannot marry his partner. For those of us in England, Scotland, and Wales, we would do well to remember not to take our laws in these areas for granted, as, for those in one of the four regions of the UK, equal rights remain a distant possibility.

Jennifer Thomson is an Early Career Academic Fellow in the Department of Politics and Public Policy at De Montfort University and co-convenor of the PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group. She is currently writing a book on Northern Ireland and abortion politics. You can see more about here work here. She tweets @jencthomson. This post originally appeared on the LSE British Politics and Policy blog.

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On Corbyn, Book-Eating and the Future of UK Political Science

Jonathan Dean, University of Leeds, reflects on the state of the discipline of political science in the wake of the surprising results of the 2017 General Election.

The story is one we have heard before. An election is looming. Pundits, commentators and academics offer their predictions and hot-takes, only to be left with egg-ridden faces when the election result defies their predictions. Curtice is, literally, the last man standing. Meanwhile, tweets are unpinned, post-hoc rationalisations are offered, and debates about data collection and polling techniques ensue.

After this most recent election, however, the situation feels a little different. Following a result unanticipated by most (except YouGov: credit where it is due), the mea culpas from commentators and British politics scholars have been coming thick and fast, reaching their improbable apotheosis when one of our number saw fit to “eat” his most recent book live on TV, a display of almost Old Testament-style contrition reconfigured for the social media age.

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In an earlier blogpost, I suggested that the UK political science community has a Corbyn problem. I stand by that view. However, the problem we face is, I would suggest, more fundamental than that a few of us (myself included) made some dodgy predictions underestimating how Corbyn’s Labour Party would fare at the ballot box. More significant, I would suggest, is the fact that few in our profession were even interested in Corbynism. Corbynism was, for many, so self-evidently misguided that it barely merited any scholarly attention or analysis. A similar fate befell other recent upswings of grassroots politicisation, such as the 2010 student movement or the movements surrounding the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. This, I argue, is symptomatic of a deeper malaise in our discipline which we urgently need to tackle if we are to avoid further reputational damage.

There are a number of complex issues at play here, but I want to highlight three in particular. The first concerns the scope of UK political science. Numerous people have pointed out that UK political science in general – and British politics scholarship in particular – remains dominated by the “Westminster model”, with its attendant assumptions about power, parties, voting behaviour etc. This in turn has implications for the composition of the discipline in terms of diversity of people and perspectives: our discipline plays host to much the same forms of white male dominance that one finds in the corridors of Westminster, while gender and race are all too often seen as outside the scope of proper political research.

But had we moved our gaze beyond Westminster-centred electoral politics to encompass, for instance, work by cultural studies scholars on the connections between youth culture and ideology, black feminists on race, gender and political solidarity, or literature on social movements and activism, we might have been better able to properly make sense of Corbynism (as well as other recent instances of grassroots politics). Our aversion to scholarly pluralism and interdisciplinarity is, I would suggest, not serving us well.

This in turn feeds into the perennial question of how and why political scientists undertake public engagement. The key problem here, much commented on and beautifully spoofed by the anonymous @ProfBritPol twitter account, is the emergence of short term punditry as a benchmark of one’s status within the profession. It seems as if a Paul the Octopus style capacity for short-term prediction is increasingly replacing deep, thoughtful scholarship as the key indicator of scholarly esteem. This only serves to sustain the incipient “laddishness” of our discipline: not only are almost all the high profile pundits men, but political science public engagement risks degenerating into a spectacle worthy of football pundits’ trying to outdo each other with their pre-match predictions.

But this turn to punditry should, perhaps, not surprise us: as sociologist Mark Carrigan has pointed out, the neoliberalisation of academia – in conjunction with the impact agenda – generates an “accelerated” culture of short-termism, in which the continuous production of short, fleeting, superficial interventions [yes, dear reader, arguably including this blogpost] takes precedence over deep, reflective and, above all, slow academic analysis.

Finally, there is the problem of objectivity. We are, I would suggest, still driven by the fantasy of the objective political scientist, unencumbered by ideological partisanship. A cursory engagement with, say, feminist or Foucault-inspired work on the complex dynamics of power, selfhood and agency should disabuse the expectant political scientist of this fantasy.

But the myth of neutrality persists: rather than have an honest discussion about how our political analyses are shaped by our ideological commitments we just pretend, in public at least, that we don’t have any. And at times we have cynically hid behind the veneer of scholarly objectivity to actively pursue an anti-Corbyn agenda, enthusiastically confirming rather than interrogating kneejerk dismissals of Corbynism in print and broadcast media. If we were more honest with ourselves, we might concede that a lot of us think that the royal road to good, robust, ideologically neutral political science scholarship passes somewhere to the left of Tony Blair and to the right of Angela Eagle.

But, as someone once asked, what is to be done? My first, admittedly only half serious suggestion, is that we collectively agree to just stop. The neoliberal imperative to be constantly “on call” with our tweets, hot takes, analyses and predictions, is not good for us. Perhaps we should agree to a one-month post-election cooling off period where we reflect, take stock, catch up on sleep, and just slow down a little.

My second suggestion is more serious. We need to broaden our horizons. We spend too much time citing work by people in our ever-narrowing subfields (who also often happen to be our drinking buddies). At a minimum, let’s all agree to read something a little outside our usual comfort zone over the summer (and, no, Ken Clarke’s new memoir doesn’t count). We also need to talk. Political science is in urgent need of a broader conversation about the nature, scope and purpose of scholarly analyses of politics. So let’s collectively try to be a bit more open with one another online, in offices, in corridors and in conferences about what we think the purpose of our “vocation” is, and how we can negotiate the difficult terrain of academic public engagement.

I know these claims are sweeping, some might say disingenuous. But after June 8th, we’ve got some serious ground to make up. If we don’t, shreds of paper in our digestive tracts are going to be the least of our problems.

Jonathan Dean is Associate Professor of Politics at the University of Leeds. He tweets @Jonathan_M_Dean.

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Let’s Put the Champagne on Ice: The Commons’ Missing Women

With a record high number of women elected to Parliament, was the 2017 general election something to celebrate? Sarah Childs, Meryl Kenny and Jessica Smith re-assess the recent result and consider what it means for women’s political representation.

‘Record-breaking’, ‘unprecedented’, ‘historic’ – these were the headlines after Thursday’s UK General Election. Some of the articles attached to these celebratory headlines centred on the fact that there were more women MPs elected than ever before. Others highlighted that the ‘200 seat’ mark had been breached. Or championed the diversity of House overall, with rising numbers of BME, LGBT, and disabled MPs.

But we’ve put the champagne on ice.

Yes, Westminster’s new intake has some notable ‘firsts’. Preet Gill became the first female Sikh MP, winning Birmingham Edgbaston for Labour. Marsha De Cordova, a disability rights campaigner and Labour councillor registered as blind, overturned a large Tory majority in Battersea. Layla Moran’s win in Oxford West and Abingdon makes her the first UK MP of Palestinian descent, and the first female Lib Dem MP from a minority background.

But be under no illusion, the House of Commons is still unrepresentative. Relative to their presence in the population, the numbers of BME MPs needed to have doubled in 2017. It rose from 41 to 52 (8% of the House). Five disabled MPs have been elected (an increase of three from 2015), but this amounts to less than 1% of the House’s membership – compared to 1 in 5 of the population that self-identify as disabled.

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In terms of women’s representation, we saw a small increase of 12 more female MPs. When the final seat was counted – for Emma Dent Coad in Kensington – the total number of women in the House of Commons was 208 (up from 196 immediately before the election). But these women constitute 32 per cent of all MPs – a mere 2% increase. Still less than one third female, the UK would now rank 39th in the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s global league table, lagging behind many of our European comparators.

To portray – as many UK newspapers and websites did – the ‘unprecedented’ number of women MPs as some sort of ’smashing’ of the glass ceiling is simply incorrect – a few more scratches at best. Forget the ‘200 women’ mark, the real threshold to cross is 325.  And that seems as long a way off as ever.

No doubt we’ll be accused of being ‘feminist killjoys’ but there are very real risks in not contesting the plethora of upbeat media accounts. It, wrongly, suggests that: (1) the job is done: the ‘problem’ of women’s representation has been solved; or (2) gender equality is on its way (#justbepatientladies).

If only we could be that optimistic.

The outcome of the 2017 GE raises classic issues for women’s representation:

  • Stagnation and Fallback. A 2% increase is, of course, an increase, but gains on women’s representation have been too slight and are taking too long. Neither has progress been straightforward. In Scotland the proportion of female MPs decreased in this election from 34% to 29%. This is largely due to Conservative gains – only 1 of the 13 Scottish Tory MPs elected is a woman. The SNP’s Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh was also defeated in Ochil and South Perthshire, leaving Scotland without any BME MPs. Talk of parity in the House of Commons being achieved in 45 years incorrectly assumes that the direction of travel will always be upwards – which is why gender and politics academics rarely engage in forecasting the ‘number of years’ it will take to achieve equality projections.
  • Party Asymmetry. The overall percentage of women MPs also masks significant differences amongst the parties. There was some speculation in the run-up to the election that the Conservatives would see a ‘breakthrough moment’ on women’s representation in 2017, potentially catching up to Labour for the first time. This didn’t materialise – in fact, the gap widened slightly. Women now constitute 45% of all Labour MPs (119 of 262), up from 44% before the election. Meanwhile, the Conservatives saw a decrease in the number of female MPs, dropping from 70 to 67, with the percentage of women’s representation in the party unchanged at 21% (in the context of an overall loss of seats). The Liberal Democrats, which were a men-only party in 2015, now have four women MPs (33%, albeit still on low numbers overall), including the return of Jo Swinson in East Dunbartonshire. Meanwhile, women are 12 of the reduced SNP group at Westminster (34%), a loss of six women from the previous Parliament. Only 1 of the 10 DUP MPs – now potential ‘queen-makers’ – is a woman.
  • Quotas worked, yet again. As in all elections from 2005, Labour successfully employed gender quotas in the form of all-women shortlists (AWS). This quota is the reason why it has been the ‘best’ party for women’s descriptive representation at Westminster. It is a shame that Labour’s quotas haven’t been more contagious – without commitments from all of the parties, progress will continue to be glacial.

Classifying the 2017 GE as ‘record-breaking’ for women is lazy journalism that belies the reality, and breeds complacency. It gives some parties a congratulatory pat-on-the-back for minimal progress, if not decline. Moreover, it side-steps the question of interventions: will the government now commence section 106 of the Equality Act 2010 – so that parties publish their candidate diversity data? Will the Government respond to recommendations advocating legal quotas, which, all the global evidence shows, are the most effective way to ensure significant increases in women’s representation? (Check out The Speaker’s Conference report 2010, The Good Parliament Report 2016, and the WEC report 2017).

The next election might be a few months away or it might be in five years time – but it is clear that the issue of equal representation is too important to leave up to the discretion of political parties. Warm words are not enough – with over 100 women MPs still missing from Parliament, it is time for legislative quotas to embed equality in our political institutions. Without them, the search party will not be called off anytime soon.

Sarah Childs is Professor of Politics and Gender at the University of Bristol. She tweets @profsarahchilds. Meryl Kenny is Lecturer in Gender and Politics at the University of Edinburgh. She tweets @merylkenny. Jessica Smith is a PhD student at Birkbeck, University of London. She tweets @Jess_Smith1534.

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PSA ECN Annual Conference 2017

ECN Annual Conference, 22nd June 2017, Liverpool Central Library

Critical Junctures at Home and Abroad: 12 Months Since Brexit

The PSA Early Career Network invite you to their annual one-day conference, on the theme of Critical Junctures at Home and Abroad: 12 Months Since Brexit, on Thursday 22 June 2017 in the stunning Liverpool Central Library.

The ECN conference is an opportunity for early career researchers to showcase and develop innovative ongoing research, to gain feedback from established academics as well as a supportive peer group, and to engage in networking with colleagues at varying stages of their career.

Submit an abstract by 10th May 2017 by emailing ecn@psa.ac.uk

Registration opens 21st May 2017 – just £5 for ECN members, and £15 for non-members.

More information is available here or on the ECN website – www.psa.ac.uk/psa-communities/early-career-network.

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