PSA Women and Politics Specialist Group

‘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?

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?

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?


[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.