Women in Westminster

13 Mar 2015

One of the chief reasons why people are increasingly alienated from our politics is the fact that Westminster looks so little like the people it is there to represent. At the moment, barely one in five MPs are women, which simply isn’t good enough.


We desperately need to see more women in Parliament, and a general election gives parties a chance to correct the imbalance.


A new Electoral Reform Society report suggests that parties are starting to step up to the challenge. The number of women in the next House of Commons could rise from 148 to 192, according to our analysis (based on the gender of likely winning candidates combined with a uniform swing model).


This increase would be the fastest rate of progress since 1997, when the number of female MPs doubled. In our new report, Women in Westminster, we find that:


  • 192 female MPs are likely to be elected in May 2015 (up from 148 now), representing 29.5% of the Commons. This is 6.6% up from the status quo
  • The UK could move from 56th to 36th in the world rankings for female parliamentary representation
  • The Greens, SNP and Labour outperform other parties in terms of female candidates
  • Our First Past the Post voting system is a major barrier to growth in women’s representation in Parliament; ‘seat-blocking’ incumbent male MPs continue to act as a brake on increased female representation, due to the prevalence of unchallenged ‘safe seats’



We also reveal that the Conservatives could go from a 16% female parliamentary party to 20%; Labour from 34% to 41%; and the Lib Dems could be left with just one female MP.



party table



The increase to 192 MPs should be welcomed. But progress is still incredibly slow. It’s made slower by our broken voting system which creates hundreds of artificially safe seats and works against parties trying to force change.



Women in Westminster finds that the longer an MP has been in Parliament, the more likely he is to be male. Of those incumbent MPs elected in 2001 or before who are standing again in 2015, just 14.6% are women; this figure drops to 10.5% of those who were elected in 1987 or before.



incumbency table



After this election, we want to see parties redouble their efforts to select women in winnable seats. But above all, we want to see the UK introduce a voting system which would give us a Parliament that more closely represents the people.


First Past the Post (FPTP) is the world’s worst system for achieving gender balance. As parties evaluate their progress towards equal representation, they should make an honest assessment of the implications of continued use of FPTP for achieving equality.


Read the full report


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8 Responses to Women in Westminster

Vernon Taylor 14 Mar 2015

The way you present the case for more women MP's smells strongly of the evil of positive discrimination, although that isn't actually stated. Parliament should be a meritocracy and neither an old boy's club or a subject for the whims of fashion.

It seems to me the reason not enough women are being elected to Parliament is not enough are standing for election which means the Electoral Reform Society should be advertising in local newspapers where ordinary people will read and not in places where mostly politicians and those interested in politics are the only readers. I am sure we can all remember the damage done to Britishness the last time a female politician gained power and we can manage without a replay of that sort of American capitalism.

I am a little baffled though. Clearly the representation of female issues will be weak in the constituencies where a man is the elected representative but equally clearly the situation becomes reversed when a woman is elected so it seems the Electoral Reform Society is seeking to do as much harm as good.

Perhaps there is a case for each constituency to have one male MP and one female MP in order to strike the right democratic balance so like a patient visiting the doctor a constituent could elect to choose to see either a male or a female representative.

Anne F 15 Mar 2015

So depressing to see the decline in numbers of women able to stay on in Parliament. I heard an ex MP recently speak about how she was hassled and barracked, even had dirty jokes shouted at her when she stood up to speak in the House.

Jim Broome 13 Mar 2015

Does it matter what the proportion of XX and XY chromosomes there are in Parliament? Will women be any less short-termist, better informed, and less corrupt then male politicians? They are the reasons people do not care about politics, not whether they are represented by men or women. Honest politicians that look further than the next election, make an effort to be informed about issues, and act in the interests of the electorate and not who bought their last lunch are what should be encouraged, rather than wittering about their sex.

Bridget Lanham 14 Mar 2015

I am 80 years old and have never missed voting in a General Election. I am appalled at the name calling and general disrespect across the floor of the House of Commons. It is very difficult for Women Members to be heard above the bellowing male voices. I have always been a supporter of a Federal system where each member country would rule itself and our ghastly Upper House would be transformed Into a Senate where the four countries met as equals to work on important Common Causes. In the past twenty years I have wasted many of my votes because of being led to believe that our out of date Constitution would be worked on. Our House of Lords is an embarrassment, but it has a function which could be incorporated in a Senate. That Senate would need to have equal members from each country and be elected.
I live in Edinburgh and therefore voted in our Referendum. Scotland needs to be able to rule itself but so should England and Wales. And where our interests were common we would have the Senate.
I feel our Political leaders are just drifting along and we could end up with a mish mash of rules which nobody has voted on. An example is the five year fixed term, which produces a year or two of stagnation towards its end. Yours sincerely, Bridget Lanham

Ravi Pandya 13 Mar 2015

Indeed,women account for more then half the uk population and without women in uk,how would uk military would have functions with boots on the ground or more like coffins all over the world with grieving mums,dads and all in anguish as blessed,Reg Keys who lost his son in Iraq war is still watingfor answerfrom the sat,why did his son have to die as the Iraq war reprot by chilcott is still buried and biting the dust.
Hence,with all said and done, folks want women not for just being a woman or for sake of numbers but genuine women who are not afriad to speak up like Scarlett Ohara in Gone with the wind with Clark gable or like the Irihs MP Clare who spoke out against Hare coursing in Irihs Parliament.Indeed,folsk also dont want some one like Maggie again, old boys ntwork who didnt promote females but became more laddie or tom boy and did some horrendous things by turning a blind eye to Jimmy saville and co abusing children including some of her cabinet colleagues and all.Hence,folks want decent ,caring,brave women who ar not beholden to anyone and will lift britain,uk plc by its bootlaces and bring it into the 3rd millenia as a genuien demcoracy and not a feudal or semi feudal type fake demcoracies of middle east or old indi and africa etc etc.phew.if only.in the interim,cant the male MPs and all who are in parliament like Turkish male protestors go to parliament,that is who support womens equality dressed in saris ,kimonos, or frocks and dresses to show solidarity with women voters,mps and equality in diversity.indeed,scottish men wear skirts anyway as thier national dress so why cant wear dresses,saris to name and shame the establishment mirred in the old empire days.phew.indeed,folsk dress up for red nose day mularkey so why not for womens equality.

Alan Hardy 13 Mar 2015

Another powerful argument for proportional representation, along with a fair number of total seats for each party, people voting for whom they believe in rather than tactically, counteracting apathy by encouraging people to actually vote, a better system for an age of coalitions, and a way to shake up and reform the whole political system.

Frances Scott 13 Mar 2015

We are asking Parliament to debate and take action for better gender balance in Parliament. Please support our cross party campaign by signing the petition www.change.org/5050Parliament. This serious under-representation needs to be properly addressed. We would like men and women to be making the laws together, in roughly equal numbers, for the future of society.

Michel Oldman 13 Mar 2015

Much as I support STV as a voting system, it will do little to address the gender imbalance. Only in seats, where the difference in votes between the top 2 candidates is half or less of the total of votes cast for other candidates, will it make a significant difference. I am sure that ERS can work out how many that fit this test?
As ERS have already pointed out, there is an imbalance in background as well, with bankers and professional politicians as a group outnumbering women in parliament. So we need lots of female engineers in parliament, which is unlikely as only 7% of engineers are female!