Ed Miliband has used the coalition’s “all-male front bench” to attack David Cameron during PMQs.
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Forget quotas for women MPs – time to limit the number of men

We should introduce quotas to limit the number of men in power, ensuring that only the best and brightest of both sexes prevail.

When we talk about “gender quotas”, what we really mean is quotas for women. We see the under-representation of women as the problem that needs fixing. So we try to explain why there aren’t more women in politics, then look at measures to boost women’s representation.

The result is that women are subjected to intense scrutiny and suspicion. Is it appropriate to select candidates based on sex rather than merit – and do we risk replacing competent men with incompetent women?

Conventional arguments are misguided because they assume that the current system is a meritocracy, which in fact is not the case. We overlook the problems caused specifically by having too many men and do not subject men to the same scrutiny as women. Yet we know that women face many barriers to entering politics, including discriminatory attitudes and sexist media coverage. If the playing field isn’t really level then men enjoy an unfair advantage.

There is no evidence to support the notion that men are naturally superior in their ability to represent others. But if men are not naturally better at politics, then the political talent pool should be fairly evenly divided between the sexes. If men make up 50 per cent of the talent pool, but 80 per cent of those elected, clearly meritocracy is not working.

So instead of gender quotas giving an unfair “leg-up” to mediocre women, they might actually allow in the talent that is currently being blocked out by the mediocre men, who benefited from preferential treatment based on their sex. Hence, they might enable us for the first time to select candidates based on merit rather than sex – the exact opposite of what their detractors fear. Instead of restricting political opportunities to a small sub-section of society – mostly rich white men – we would be making more efficient use of the whole of the nation’s talent pool.

Jobs for the boys

It is time to reframe gender quotas as quotas for men. We should introduce quotas to limit the number of men in power, ensuring that only the best and brightest of both sexes prevail. This would mean placing much more scrutiny on the credentials of men, rather than taking their competence for granted. To achieve a true meritocracy we also need more effective and meaningful criteria for judging merit.

The current criteria are woefully inadequate and deeply subjective which means they are frequently manipulated to favour male insiders. How about starting with a proper job description and person specification for MPs so we can measure candidates against more transparent and objective criteria?

This would make it easier for outsiders – such as women and ethnic minorities – to demonstrate their worth. It would also ensure the reduction of men‘s share of seats down to proportionate levels would be done as fairly as possible.

One additional advantage of quotas for men is that they would prompt us to think more about how men are represented in politics. There is a lot of research on “women’s issues” and women’s interests, but it is taken for granted that men’s needs are met because there are so many men in politics. But as with merit, we may be too complacent in our belief that the current system is working.

The aggressive masculinity that dominates political environments is off-putting to a lot of men as well as women, and it can keep important issues off the agenda if they are seen as too sensitive or embarrassing. Having a better gender balance would benefit both sexes if it makes politics more inclusive for men too. And having a political class based on talent rather than privilege, representing all rather than just some, would raise the quality of representation for everybody.

This article is an edited extract of a paper published this month in the American Political Science Review. Rainbow Murray does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article. The Conversation

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David Blunkett compares Labour membership to failed revolution “from Ukraine to Egypt”

The Labour peer and former home secretary says new members need a “meaningful political education”, and accuses unions of neglecting their “historic balance”.

There are three sorts of opposition. There’s the civil society opposition, with people campaigning in their own specific areas, people who’ve got an interest group or are delivering social enterprise or a charity. I don’t think we should underestimate that because we're going to have to hang on to it as part of the renewal of civil society.

The second is the opposition formally, within the House of Commons: those who have agreed to serve as the formal shadow ministerial teams. Because of what I’d describe as the turmoil over the last two years, they’ve either not been able to be impressive – ie. they’re trying very hard but they don't have the coherent leadership or backing to do it – or they’ve got completely different interests to what it is they’re supposed to be doing, and therefore they’re not engaged with the main task.

Then there’s the third, which is the informal opposition – Labour linked sometimes to the Lib Dems and the SNP in Parliament on the opposition benches as a whole. They’re not doing a bad job with the informal opposition. People getting on with their work on select committees, the departmental committees beginning to shape policy that they can hopefully feed to the National Executive Committee, depending on the make-up of the National Executive Committee following this year’s conference. That embryo development of coherent policy thinking will be the seed-bed for the future.

I lived through, worked through, and was integrally involved with, what happened in the early Eighties, so I know it well. And people were in despair after the ‘83 election. Although it took us a long time to pull round, we did. It’s one reason why so many people, quite rightly in my view, don't want to repeat the split of 1931 or the split of 1981.

So they are endeavouring to stay in to argue to have some vision of a better tomorrow, and to persuade those of goodwill who have joined the party – who genuinely believe in a social movement and in extra-parliamentary non-violent activity, which I respect entirely – to persuade them that they’ll only be effective if they can link up with a functioning political process at national level, and at townhall and county level as well.

In other words, to learn the lessons of what’s happened across the world recently as well as in the past, from the Ukraine to Egypt, that if the groundswell doesn’t connect to a functioning party leadership, then, with the best will in the world, it’s not going to achieve its overall goals.

How do we engage with meaningful political education within the broader Labour party and trade union movement, with the substantially increased rank-and-file membership, without being patronising – and without setting up an alternative to Momentum, which would allow Momentum to justify its existence as a party within a party?

That's the challenge of the next two years. It's not just about someone with a vision, who’s charismatic, has leadership qualities, coming forward, that in itself won’t resolve the challenge because this isn't primarily, exclusively about Jeremy Corbyn. This is about the project being entirely on the wrong trajectory.

A lot depends on what the trade unions do. They command effectively the majority on the National Executive Committee. They command the key votes at party conference. And they command the message and resources that go out on the policy or programmes. It’s not just down to personality and who wins the General Secretary of Unite; it’s what the other unions are doing to actually provide their historic balance, because they always have – until now – provided a ballast, foundation, for the Labour party, through thick and thin. And over the last two years, that historic role has diminished considerably, and they seem to just be drifting.

I don’t think anybody should expect there to be a party leadership challenge any time soon. It may be that Jeremy Corbyn might be persuaded at some point to stand down. I was against the challenge against him last year anyway, purely because there wasn't a prepared candidate, there wasn't a policy platform, and there hadn’t been a recruitment drive to back it up.

People shouldn’t expect there to be some sort of white charger out there who will bring an immediate and quick end to the pain we’re going through. I think it’s going to be a readjustment, with people coming to conclusions in the next two years that might lead the party to be in a position to fight a credible general election in 2020. I’ve every intention of laying down some good red wine and still being alive to drink it when the Labour party is elected back to power.

David Blunkett is a Labour peer and former home secretary and education secretary.

As told to Anoosh Chakelian.

This article first appeared in the 30 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Wanted: an opposition