Women in Westminster

Electoral Reform Society
Author:
Electoral Reform Society

Posted on the 13th March 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 report

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