International Women’s Day: Parliamentary seats across England are effectively ‘reserved’ by men, research shows

Posted on the 9th March 2018

Image: The names of every female MP ever. 489 women have become MPs since 1918 (compared to the 442 male MPs in parliament right now).


Hundreds of seats in regions throughout the UK are effectively ‘reserved’ by incumbent men, according to new regional analysis we’ve released for International Women’s Day.

The findings show gender equality in Parliament is being held back by Westminster’s voting system.

While there is near gender parity among current MPs first elected in 2015 (45% are women), 170 seats are being held by men first elected in 2005 or before – with few opportunities for women to take those seats or selections. More than 85% of MPs first elected in 2001 or earlier are men.

The ERS are warning that without change of the system, further progress will be extremely slow.

The problem stems from the fact that long-held seats were first elected in much more unequal times. But the MPs can hold on to their seats due to the one-member, closed-off nature of First Past the Post constituencies, as well the incumbency effect in Britain’s many ‘safe seats’.

We’ve broken down the figures by English region – and they reveal some startling regional gender inequalities.

‘Seat Blocking’ in England – The Key Stats

  1. The East of England performs the worst for ‘seat blocking’ by proportion: 15 of 58 seats (26%) are being held by men first elected in 2001 or before, giving them a significant incumbency advantage. 94% of all East Midlands MPs first elected in 2001 or earlier are men (15 out of 16). And 74% of all current MPs in the region are men.
  2. In Yorkshire and the Humber, 12 of 54 seats (22%) are being held by men first elected in 2001 or before. 75% of all Y&H MPs first elected in 2001 or earlier are men (nine out of 12). And 61% all current MPs in the region are men.
  3. In the East Midlands, 10 of 46 seats (22%) are being held by men first elected in 2001 or before. 91% of all East Midlands MPs first elected in 2001 or earlier are men (10 out of 11). And 70% of all current MPs in the region are men.
  4. In the South West, 12 of 55 seats (22%) are being held by men first elected in 2001 or before. 100% of all South West MPs first elected in 2001 or earlier are men (12 out of 12). And 80% of all current MPs in the region are men.
  5. In the West Midlands, 13 of 59 seats (22%) are being held by men first elected in 2001 or before. 93% of West Midlands MPs first elected in 2001 or earlier are men (13 out of 14). And 73% of all current MPs in the region are men.
  6. In the South East, 18 of 84 seats (21%) are being held by men first elected in 2001 or before. 90% of all South East MPs first elected in 2001 or earlier are men (18 out of 20). And 74% of all current MPs in the region are men.
  7. In London, 15 of 73 seats (21%) are being held by men first elected in 2001 or before. 71% of all London MPs first elected in 2001 or earlier are men (15 out of 21). And 58% of all current MPs in the region are men.
  8. In the North East, five of 29 seats (17%) are being held by men first elected in 2001 or before. 100% of all North East MPs first elected in 2001 or earlier are men (five out of five). 52% of all current MPs in the region are men.
  9. The North West scores the best with only 10 of 75 seats (13%) currently held by men first elected in 2001 or before. 67% of all North West MPs first elected in 2001 or earlier are men (10 out of 15). And 57% of all current MPs in the region are men.

Women’s representation in 2018

The dominance of men in long-held seats acts as a ‘major barrier’ to further progress, according to the ERS.

The ERS say the one-member-per-seat nature of First Past the Post exaggerates these problems, with Westminster’s system ‘the worst in the world’ when it comes to gender equality.

The campaigners calling for multi-member seats under a proportional voting system to be introduced, to ensure all seats are properly contested, including by women.

Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“While we’ve seen progress on women’s representation in recent elections, gender equality is being held back by Westminster’s broken voting system, which effectively ‘reserves’ seats for men.

“More than 85% of MPs first elected in 2001 or earlier are men, with the one-MP per seat one-person-takes-all nature of First Past the Post leaving few opportunities for women’s representation once a man has secured selection. Sitting MPs have a huge incumbency advantage, and since open selections are relatively rare, we face a real stumbling block in the path to fair representation.

“Parties have made significant strides, with near gender parity among current MPs first elected in 2015. But without change of the system, further progress will be extremely slow.

“Westminster’s single-member seat system is widely regarded as the world’s worst when it comes to achieving gender balance. Proportional multi-member systems – used in democracies around the world – mean there are always real opportunities for improving women’s representation.

“As parties evaluate their progress towards equal representation, they must consider a proportional voting system that puts real democracy and dynamism at the heart of our politics.”

Background

Table: Broadly speaking, the longer an MP has been in Parliament, the more likely they are to be male.

    Winner’s Gender by Number of MPs      
MP for this Seat Since: Total Female Male % F % M
2018 or before (all MPs) 650 208 442 32.0% 68%
2015 or before 545 167 378 30.6% 69.4%
2010 or before 380 93 287 24.5% 75.5%
2005 or before 212 42 170 19.8% 80.2%
2001 or before 143 21 122 14.7% 85.3%

Region-specific data is available on request.

The cause of seat blocking

Deselection of sitting MPs by constituency parties is relatively rare, which means a large proportion of Parliament is made up of men who have been there for decades. Moreover, the longer an MP holds his/her seat, the less likely a challenge seems. 

This, and the prevalence of ‘safe seats’ under Westminster’s voting system, means that once a seat is in an MP’s hands, it may be theirs for decades.

While parties have made strides in recent elections, progress is being held back by the fact that 80% of MPs first elected in 2005 or before are men – with little hope of diversity or space for new candidates unless they stand down.

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