Friday, 13 February 2009

What we can learn from Wales

Representation lies at the heart of democracy. However not all groups are equally represented. This impacts negatively on these groups as one of the best ways to ensure that the rights of all people are protected, and that their concerns and needs are dealt with is to ensure that they are properly represented in the legislative and executive bodies of the country in which they live. Christine Chapman has an article up at LabourList concerning the Welsh Assembly's gender balance.

The Welsh Assembly is a leader amongst legislatures in terms of its gender balance, not just in the UK, or in Europe but across the world. When the first Assembly was elected in 1999, 24 of the 60 members were women. At the 2003 election the record was even better with equal numbers of men and women being elected, and a 2006 by-election led to a simple majority. All Welsh Assembly Government Cabinets have had excellent ratios of women to men. In December 2008, Kirsty Williams was elected as the first female leader of a Welsh political party. As a comparison, women make up just under 20% of MPs at Westminster.

In the article she summarises some of the reasons why an equal gender balance is a positive thing, and why working to achieve is worthwhile:

research showed that the majority of all contributions on equal pay, domestic abuse and the need for better childcare were by women Assembly Members. Of course these are often dismissed as “women’s issues”, but they are problems that affect men and women in every community the length and breadth of Wales.

Equality of representation is vital, not simply for numerical reasons, but because the involvement of women within the political process can lead to better politics and governance even in what is often regarded as traditionally “male” areas such as the economy. Support for this comes from some unlikely quarters. The centre-right Industry Minister of the Norwegian Government introduced a quota to ensure that a minimum of 40% of the membership boards of all private companies were women, arguing that quotas make sound economic sense. The investment company Goldman Sachs published a paper in 2007 arguing that the reduction of gender inequality would increase economic growth. The World Bank suggests that poverty cannot be eradicated unless parity of gender is achieved.

I would add to those the more ideological motivations of fairness and equality demand an equal gender balance. [And not just equality based on gender; only 2 black women and no Asian women at all, have ever been MPs in Britain. I don't think that those statistics are acceptable.]

Labour has done some work towards achieving a fair balance; "Labour’s policy of “twinning” led to the excellent gender parity that followed the 1999 election", but others have not; "Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have yet to adopt a policy of guaranteeing female candidates, and only one of the twelve Conservative AMs is a woman". However the balance in the House of Commons is heavily skewed towards men.

At the General Election of May 2005 128 women were elected as Members of Parliament, the highest number ever with one in five MPs now a woman, since that time due to by-election results that number has reduced to 125. Of these MPs, 95 are Labour, 17 Conservative, 9 Liberal Democrat, 1 Democratic Unionist, 1 Sinn Fein, 1 Ulster Unionist and 1 Independent

The first sentence says a lot about the state of equality in modern Britain, and it's not good. That 1/5 of MPs being female represented a record high is quite frankly pitiful. Even Labour's 76% (95 out of 125) share is well short of the approximately 177 (50.5% of Labour's 350 MPs) there would be if there was equal representation.

As a party we still have to do a lot of work to correct this. [Other parties need to do even more. But I care more about Labour, and I think we should hold ourself to a higher standard than the Tory Party does for itself.] By rectifying this inequality in government we can perhaps even achieve a lot in ironing out the inequalities in society as a whole as well.

The Fawcett Society is a wonderful organisation that works to promote gender equality in the UK.

I personally believe that we all have an ethical and moral obligation follow the example of the Welsh Assembly in ensuring equality in government, in order that we can move toward a better and fairer Britain which has a far more representative Parliament. After all representing the public is what MPs are meant to do.


  1. While having as respresentative a chamber as possible is both desireable and ideologically sound, this should be allowed to happen naturally. The practice of all female lists is undemocratic in my opinion as party members are being denied a full choice of candidate.

  2. A Comment from a blogger who has to my knowledge not commented on this blog before has been removed due to offensive language.

    Reasoned debate is good offensive debate isnt.

  3. @Laudrup - Except that it doesn't just happen naturally, take this quote from the labourList article:

    "Unfortunately we cannot rest on past success. Laura McAllister argued not so long ago that although there was cause to celebrate the gender balance in the Welsh Assembly, it was nevertheless still a very “fragile” situation. At the 2007 elections, the percentage of female Assembly Members slipped to 47%. It should be remembered that the success in Wales did not just “happen”. It came about after great effort and indeed angst within the political parties."

    While you may think female only lists are undemocratic, I think that such a poor representation of women in government is even more undemocratic.

    @Peter - What was up with that guy?

  4. i just checked out the blog of the guy who left the offensive comment and it's invitation only so how he thinks we've been commenting on it I don't know.

  5. I think he may be someone pretending to be the blogger Scottish Unionist, a blog I follow regularly which is not invitation only. He winds the nats up regularly.

    Imposing all women lists has caused many problems with CLP's rebelling in some instances. I should not matter what sex, age, creed or colour the candidate is , the best person for the job should be chosen.

  6. UPDATE:

    I emailed Scottish Unionist and got this reply:

    Hello ("Laudrup")

    Thanks for your kind words. It wasn't me. Someone has set up a copycatblog at and is attempting to discredit meby making abusive and/or sexually explicit comments. Please feel freeto continue to comment on the Scottish Unionist blog; you're verywelcome indeed! Sorry that your blog was targeted by this individual.


    I find it amazing the length these natbloggers go to.On a positive side this allows me to mention the actual Scottish unionist Blog which is an excellent resource.

    Aberdeen University Labour Club would like to thank the bitter nat for promoting the Scottish Unionist Blog.

  7. The internet is amazing for bringing together all of the asshats in the world who have nothing to do with their time.

    I mean really, this guy has nothing better to do with his time than try and make some blogger look bad. If he wants to attack Labour why doesn't he go out campaigning like a sane person.

    ANd Scottish Union seems interesting, I think I'll add it to my blogroll. So something good will come out of it like you said.