Parliamentary quotas

It seems that we may be moving a step closer to quotas for women in politics. A cross-party conference has announced that if there’s not a significant increase in the number of female MPs at the next election, mandatory legal quotas should be brought in. The conference also suggested the introduction of non-mandatory ethnic minority shortlists and said that parliament is currently: “too white, middle-class, heterosexual, male and able-bodied”. Only 20% of MPs in the UK are female compared to much higher figures of 47% in Sweden and 38% in Denmark and democracy is under threat unless the government becomes more representative, according to the report from the Daily Mail.

Positive discrimination is always a tricky subject. It is not ideal to implement it, but sometimes it is necessary to give minorities, such as women, the chance to be seen and heard. Former MP Ann Widdecombe is one of the critics saying: “What matters is the merit they bring. We really cannot have targets for particular categories. It’s frankly insulting because it suggests women and ethnic minorities cannot get there on their own merit.”

Of course merit is important – even if quotas are introduced, I don’t doubt for one second that any women becoming MPs will get there unless they are suitably qualified and experienced. But the fact remains that, at the moment, politics is an arena where it’s crucial to have a gender balance but that gender balance is currently a long way off. And quotas could be a great way to bring about that balance. The question is: what does a ‘significant increase’ in female MPs at the next election mean exactly? And would quotas ever be brought introduced in the UK or is this just talk?