The lack of diversity in Parliament is a canary in the mine shaft


The Palace of Westminster is famously in need of renovation at the moment, and I can’t help but feel that the dilapidated building with leaking pipes and mice running around is an appropriate symbol for the state of our broken politics.

As someone who works within the Westminster bubble, it feels to me that our version of politics is atrophying; that it is stuck in an adversarial rut and unable to innovate or evolve, in a way that I don’t think is true of politics in Scotland and Wales.

Nor is it true of the world around us; there is a growing expectation amongst younger generations who are used to the fast pace of technological change, that innovation and disruption should be welcomed to fix broken systems.

While many people support the idea of fairness, it means different things to different people. For some, the idea of redistribution is fairness in action - that those who have more pay more towards public services. However it is perfectly possible for someone on a very high income to believe that making them pay a high rate of tax is unfair.  

I also think it is far too easy in a consumerist society for politics to be all about whether or not I as an individual have the got the outcome that I want, and if not, I should simply walk away. 

So how could changing our electoral system open up politics and make the process of how we make decisions fairer? For starters, it can push political parties to have a more representative policy platform that appeals to voters at large - not just those in swing seats. It can also encourage greater diversity amongst those elected to represent us, so that they reflect us.

Under PR systems, the creation of majorities frequently requires negotiations and compromises between different political parties, resulting in better representation of different societal groups. PR systems also have a much better track record of increasing the representation of women and minority groups.

The June 2017 election saw 208 women elected to the House of Commons - the highest number in history. But nearly 100 years on from all men and some women being enfranchised our Parliament is still woefully, shamefully lacking in diversity.

There is a long way to go until women get a fair share of representation in Parliament - women are still outnumbered 2-1 by their male counterparts in Parliament, with 32% of seats. As of 2017, every single country with more than 40 per cent female MP in its primary legislature uses PR.

It is not the electoral system alone that has delivered this change. But it does make it significantly easier for political parties to act to address gaps in representation.

The Centenary is a moment of celebration and a time to reflect on the great strides made towards gender equality. However while politicians and those in power celebrate the Centenary they must not just pay lip service to the principle of equal representation; we need urgent action from politicians, not overtures.

The lack of diversity in parliament is a canary in the mine shaft. It is symptomatic of a system that inherently benefits the status quo and cedes overwhelmingly disproportionate power to white men from privileged backgrounds.

It is not just women who are underrepresented, but also members of minority communities. Political parties are well placed to make immediate headway towards increasing the number of women and minorities, and yet they have not.

Let the Centenary therefore be both a celebration of how far we’ve come but also the impetus for going the final distance.