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How representative is parliament after the general election 2017?

The general election 2017 may have been a curveball, but in one aspect progress was clear. 

Watch a clip of a parliamentary session from any point in the 1990s or early 2000s and one thing stands out. Even though you might still have the books you read, or even the clothes you wore, parliament looks like a hundred years ago. Most of those sitting in the chamber are dark-suited, pale-faced men. 

By 2017, things have changed. But not completely. Depending on the clip you watched, you might catch the female Home secretary fielding questions - or you might stumble across pale, male and stale Tory backbenchers trying to interrupt a debate on domestic violence. So, after the snap election of 2017, will the new intake bring more consistency?


In 1997, the idea of women in parliament in any significant number was so novel that the 101 new female Labour MPs were termed “Blair babes”. Twenty years on, 207 women have been confirmed elected to parliament. Women now account for one in three of MPs.

This is the highest number ever of women MPs, but nevertheless still out of sync with the population. Fawcett Society chief Sam Smethers called progress “embarrassingly slow”. 


Thanks to the election of ten new black and minority ethnic MPs, and only one loss, there are now 51 such MPs.

According to Operation Black Vote, what is notable about the new MPs is that these candidates are standing and winning in constituencies outside the biggest cities. 

New MPs include Preet Gill, the first female Sikh MP, in Birmingham Edgbaston.

Despite this progress, BME MPs make up 7.8 per cent of the new parliament, compared to roughly 14 per cent of the population as a whole. 


A record 45 LGBTQ MPs were elected in 2017, according to the political scientist Andrew Reynolds. They account for 7 per cent of MPs, which is higher than the official proportion of the population, although given the historical stigma against coming out, comparisons may be hard to draw.

The SNP leads the way on representation, with LGBTQ MPs accounting for 20 per cent of the parliamentary party. In Labour and the Conservatives, the proportion of LGBTQ MPs stands at 7 per cent and 6 per cent respectively. 


Roughly 16 per cent of working adults are disabled, according to government figures, but in the most recent parliament there were just four physically disabled MPs, or 1 per cent of parliament. 

Labour added two new disabled MPs, both disability rights activists, to its cohort in the 2017 election.

One was Marsha de Cordova, who is registered blind (oh, and she is also a BME woman). De Cordova pulled off a stunning victory in Battersea, previously a safe Conservative seat. 


Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

Photo: Getty
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Cambridge Analytica and the digital war in Africa

Across the continent, UK expertise is being deployed online to sway elections and target dissidents.

Cambridge Analytica, the British political consultancy caught up in a huge scandal over its use of Facebook data, has boasted that they ran the successful campaigns of President Uhuru Kenyatta in the 2013 and 2017 Kenyan elections. In a secretly filmed video, Mark Turnbull, a managing director for Cambridge Analytica and sister company SCL Elections, told a Channel 4 News’ undercover investigative reporting team that his firm secretly stage-managed Kenyatta’s hotly contested campaigns.

“We have rebranded the entire party twice, written the manifesto, done research, analysis, messaging. I think we wrote all the speeches and we staged the whole thing – so just about every element of this candidate,” Turnbull said of his firm’s work for Kenyatta’s party.

Cambridge Analytica boasts of manipulating voters’ deepest fears and worries. Last year’s Kenyan election was dogged by vicious online propaganda targeting opposition leader Raila Odinga, with images and films playing on people’s concerns about everything from terrorism to spiralling disease. No-one knows who produced the material. Cambridge Analytica denies involvement with these toxic videos – a claim that is hard to square with the company’s boast that they “staged the whole thing.” 

In any event, Kenyatta came to power in 2013 and won a second and final term last August, defeating Odinga by 1.4 million votes.

The work of this British company is only the tip of the iceberg. Another company, the public relations firm, Bell Pottinger, has apologised for stirring up racial hostility in South Africa on behalf of former President Jacob Zuma’s alleged financiers – the Gupta family. Bell Pottinger has since gone out of business.

Some electoral manipulation has been home grown. During the 2016 South African municipal elections the African National Congress established its own media manipulations operation.

Called the “war room” it was the ANC’s own “black ops” centre. The operation ranged from producing fake posters, apparently on behalf of opposition parties, to establishing 200 fake social media “influencers”. The team launched a news site, The New South African, which claimed to be a “platform for new voices offering a different perspective of South Africa”. The propaganda branded opposition parties as vehicles for the rich and not caring for the poor.

While the ANC denied any involvement, the matter became public when the public relations consultant hired by the party went to court for the non-payment of her bill. Among the court papers was an agreement between the claimant and the ANC general manager, Ignatius Jacobs. According to the email, the war room “will require input from the GM [ANC general manager Jacobs] and Cde Nkadimeng [an ANC linked businessman] on a daily basis. The ANC must appoint a political champion who has access to approval, as this is one of the key objectives of the war room.”

Such home-grown digital dirty wars appear to be the exception, rather than the rule, in the rest of Africa. Most activities are run by foreign firms.

Ethiopia, which is now in a political ferment, has turned to an Israeli software company to attack opponents of the government. A Canadian research group, Citizens Lab, reported that Ethiopian dissidents in the US, UK, and other countries were targeted with emails containing sophisticated commercial spyware posing as Adobe Flash updates and PDF plugins.

Citizens Lab says it identified the spyware as a product known as “PC Surveillance System (PSS)”. This is a described as a “commercial spyware product offered by Cyberbit —  an Israel-based cyber security company— and marketed to intelligence and law enforcement agencies.”

This is not the first time Ethiopia has been accused of turning to foreign companies for its cyber-operations. According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists since 2013.

Much of the early surveillance work was reportedly carried out by the Chinese telecom giant, ZTE. More recently it has turned for more advanced surveillance technology from British, German and Italian companies. “Ethiopia appears to have acquired and used United Kingdom and Germany-based Gamma International’s FinFisher and Italy-based Hacking Team’s Remote Control System,” wrote Human Rights Watch in 2014.

Britain’s international development ministry – DFID – boasts that it not only supports good governance but provides funding to back it up. In 2017 the good governance programme had £20 million at its disposal, with an aim is to “help countries as they carry out political and economic reforms.” Perhaps the government should direct some of this funding to investigate just what British companies are up to in Africa, and the wider developing world.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. He is the author of Understanding Eritrea and, with Paul Holden, the author of Who Rules South Africa?