On 12 November the House of Commons agreed to establish a new committee, which will be chaired by the Speaker. According to the Parliament website, the Speaker’s Conference – which will be comprised of him and seventeen other members – has been asked to:
"Consider, and make recommendations for rectifying, the disparity between the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons and their representation in the UK population at large".
How should the Conservatives respond to this? Is it a good idea? Is it necessary? Why focus on those areas and not others – are those groups any more egregiously under-represented than, say, people who didn’t go to university, or people from a low-income background?
Is a balance that better reflects society as a whole anything like as important as having the best individual for every constituency?
There is reason to suppose that some people might be at an unfair disadvantage. It is absolutely clear, for example, that many women have suffered discrimination at Conservative candidate selection meetings in the past. Where there is discrimination against anyone within politicial parties, the parties should root it out. But it’s not so easy to make voters change their ways. Ultimately, it is for the electorate in each constituency to determine whom they want to represent them. In a secret ballot, they can make their decision for any reason they please.
Perhaps that mitigates against people from a minority background, as they are not only likely to be in a minority nationally but also locally. Yet that doesn’t mean that people won’t vote for them! And we should also dismiss the notion that you have to be from a particular background to represent adequately the interests of others from that background.
Moreover, this incessant focus on people’s backgrounds risks reducing people to being thought of as no more than a woman, or an Asian, or a person with a disability.
That said, it is certainly to be hoped that Parliament will be fairly representative of society. Perhaps there is more that could usefully be done to effect that.
Thoughts, good readers?