Government must do more to ‘level up politics’ for women and minorities

Electoral Reform Society,

Posted on the 5th October 2020

Despite some gains in the last general election, women and minority groups remain highly under-represented in politics, according to a new report ‘Data Drives Diversity published by the Centenary Action Group.

Despite the 2019 parliament being hailed as the most diverse in history women make continue to make up just one-third of the House of Commons. Just 63 MPs come from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic background and just five have a self-declared disability.

CAG, a cross-party coalition of over 100 organisations including the Electoral Reform Society, as well as leading activists and politicians, are calling on the government to improve diversity at every level of politics by implementing a key plank of the Equality Act – Section 106 – which would mandate parties to publish diversity data on candidates for public office.

Parties are the gatekeepers of political life and need to be held to account for their efforts to improve political diversity and representation.  Opening up about who stands to become candidates can help us see where extra efforts need to be made, so that Parliament and our elected institutions can truly reflect the UK today.

We know that many parties already collate information voluntarily and there is cross-party support that recognizes the importance of candidate diversity and Section 106. When businesses are required to publish their gender pay gaps, why shouldn’t parties have to publish their gender diversity gaps?

It’s time for party gatekeepers to open up about who’s running for positions of power – where they’re going right, and where more work is needed. The legislation is ready to go – we should not have to wait another 10 years to see it in action. This report is a vital contribution to this campaign for transparency.

The report comes as leading quality campaigners, including Helen Pankhurst, published an open letter in the Financial Times calling on the government to take action.

Speaking at the launch of the report Dame Helen Pankhurst said:

“There is no publicly available data on the diversity of candidates in this country.

“Obviously it is only the chosen candidate that appears on the ballot paper – but who gets eliminated before this choice is made? It is all done in secret, behind closed doors, so we have no idea.

“Today it is almost impossible to get a job in the private or public sector without having to submit diversity data. So why should politics be any different?”

“We don’t know how many women step forward; how many candidates from diverse backgrounds hope to stand or how many candidates with disabilities seek election. Making this a compulsory practice now, would mean it was in place for the next round of UK elections.”

“Candidate selection needs to move into the spotlight. Important decisions that affect every community across the country should be available for all to see. The time to enact Section 106 is now”.

The ‘Data Drives Diversity’ report sets out how data could be collected in a simple, non-burdensome way. It states that only data on gender, ethnicity and disability should be collected initially and only once that is underway could other data be considered.

Caroline Nokes MP, Chair of the Women and Equalities committee said:   

Parliament can never truly represent the people of the UK until it represents everyone in the UK. I want to see more women MPs. I want to see more MPs from BAME communities and more disabled MPs too. Representatives chosen from a broad range of society will benefit everyone and we should do everything in our power, to make this happen soon.”

Marsha De Cordova MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities said:

Labour supports the enactment of section 106, so that all political parties publish diversity data about their candidates. Labour is the Party of equality and will continue to work towards the increase in diversity that Parliament so desperately needs.

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