UK elects most diverse parliament ever but it’s still not representative

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Jennifer Hudson and Rosie Campbell assess the diversity of the new parliament and write that while the Class of 2015 has more female and BME MPs, it is still a long way from being descriptively representative of the population it serves.

Ahead of the 2015 election, broadcaster Jeremy Paxman argued that voters were being given a choice ‘between one man who was at primary school with Boris Johnson and one man who was at secondary school with him – both of whom did PPE at Oxford’.

Throughout the campaign, we’ve been gathering data on the parliamentary candidates to see if this lack of choice plays out across the board. Do the people elected to represent the UK, bear any resemblance to the public they represent?

Women on the rise

This year saw 48 more women elected that in 2010 – bringing the total number of women MPs to a record 191. Women make up 29% of newly elected MPs, up from 22% in 2010.

The Green party had the highest percentage of women candidates selected at 38%, but with chances in only a handful of seats, they had little chance of affecting parliamentary gender balance.

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All women shortlists remain a controversial but effective way to improve women’s representation in politics

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Rosie Campbell reviews the debates around the use of gender quotas by the Labour Party. She writes that although they are unpopular with many voters (and some sections of the party itself) the evidence continues to suggest that they are an effective way to boost female participation in politics in the short term.

The Labour Party’s continued use of all women shortlists (AWS) remains controversial but the international research shows that the use of gender quotas (such as AWS) is the only reliable way to improve the representation of women in the short to medium term. All women shortlists are unpopular with voters; a YouGov poll conducted for the Times in August 2014 found that 56% of the British public are opposed to AWS. Men were more anti-AWS than women, with 63% of men opposed compared to 51%. Nonetheless there is no denying that as a concept gender quotas are unpopular with the British public. And yet research conducted by David Cutts and Paul Widdop shows that voters don’t seem to punish women selected by AWS at the ballot box. It is perhaps for this reason that the Labour party was and continues to be willing to employ AWS, even in the face of some times pretty vehement opposition from some of its members; although AWS are unpopular, women candidates are not and parties may fear an electoral penalty if they are perceived as male, pale and stale.

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UKIP Candidates: The Anti-Westminster Outsiders?

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Much of UKIP’s appeal has arisen from positioning itself as the ‘anti-Westminster party’ but to what extent do UKIP candidates differ from those put forward by the ‘traditional parties’? Sally Symington and Jennifer Hudson assess the backgrounds of UKIP candidates using the data available and suggest that they may in fact reinforce the ‘male, pale and stale’ image of parliament.

UKIP is no longer a peripheral party and will, for the for first time in a British General Election, have a measurable impact on the outcome, both directly, through winning seats, and indirectly by influencing the behaviour of the other major parties. According to recent polling data, support for UKIP is at 16% and Ofcom has endorsed it as a ‘major’ party, including UKIP in the prospective TV leader debates. A recent poll of pollsters predicts UKIP will win five seats in May.

Much of UKIP’s appeal has arisen from positioning itself as the outsider or ‘anti-Westminster party’. After the Clacton by-electon in October 2014 Nigel Farage claimed, ‘We have a career political class of college kids who have never had jobs in their lives with absolutely no connection to ordinary people’. In this blog, we look at the backgrounds of UKIP candidates and ask to what extent are they different from candidates representing the traditional three parties? Are they less likely to have gone to university and worked outside of politics? Are UKIP candidates really different or do they reinforce the ‘male, pale and stale’ image of parliament?

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