Friday, June 04, 2010

Shadow cabinet quotas

Harriet wants half of the Shadow Cabinet to be women. I like the idea in principle but I'm left wondering if the reason that it may be an achievable demand can partly be put down to the view that political office is no longer coveted in the way that it was?

In 'the new politics', politicians are now sharing their power with others. And, of course, with the increasingly powerful political centre.

Women are outnumbered 2:1 on Labour's Westminster benches (a significantly better ratio than any of the other parties). There are 27 posts with two additional 'allowed to attend' seats around the table. Currently, six are women (and one of those 'allowed to attend posts is a woman as well).

The leap from six to 14 is easily do-able, I would have thought, though it means that eight blokes will have to step aside - that's the obvious political complication. Eight thwarted careers - not a high price to pay, but often a very hazardous one. All of that said, as high office has never been so unattractive as it is today - maybe now is the best time to make this move?

There are 258 Labour MPs and if 31% are women, it means that we've got 80 women MPs (... by my calculations? I can't actually find any accurate figures on online)

A few questions:
  1. How is this to be done? By leadership prerogatives or by a rule change? The former would be the Tory way (not that the Tories would do it) and Ed Miliband appears to be signed up to the idea. A rule change would fix it but could be messy. There are more effective means of doing this than by using crude quotas, and I don't see it as a huge obstacle.
  2. Where does it end? Does Parliament have to be representative of the age-bands, ethnic groupings and the sexual orientations of the electorate? Or of Labour voters?
  3. Representation / representative. How far are the two meanings of the word 'representative' interdependent?

As I've said, I like the idea of Labour being representative of the general population in all of these ways. I think that it may make for a better electoral performance and a better quality of policymaking.

But I keep going back to the notion that MPs should represent the nation as a whole and the idea that particular interests have to be at the table cuts against this preference.

What do you think?

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