Tom Hunt is a local councillor from East Cambridgeshire and was a candidate in this year’s European elections.
The new law that allows petitions that attract over 100,000 signatures to trigger a parliamentary debate was a worthwhile democratic innovation introduced by this coalition; already many interesting and engaging debates have come about as a result. This is a positive step forward for democracy in this country.
However, there is one petition that I am unsure about whether to sign or not, the 50:50 Parliament campaign petition.
The fact that there have only been 369 women MP’s since 1914 is clearly an affront to democracy in this country. Clearly the fact that despite significant societal changes under one quarter of MP’s are female (147 women, 503 men) is worrying. The proportion of women in parliament needs to increase, not only is this democratic and good for women, but would also lead to better governance more generally for everyone, making the full use of the talents and perspectives of both men and women.
Having said this, surely the logical thing would be for me to support a petition campaigning for a debate in parliament about how to change this, so why am I finding it so difficult to sign the 50:50 Parliament petition?
Being blunt, it’s because I despair at the extent to which the agenda and the campaign has been hijacked by socialist feminists who are pushing radical and short-sighted solutions that, in my view, threaten our shared democracy and are even more an affront to democracy than the current gender imbalance.
The founder of the petition, Frances Scott, sets out quite clearly the steps she would like to see taken in the introduction to the petition. That is to go from the current level of 22.5 per cent to 50 per cent female representation by 2025.
Bearing in mind that the vast majority of the candidates for next May’s election are already selected this would mean that approximately 90 per cent of new MP’s in both the 2020 and 2025 intakes would have to be women to reach the number of 178, the number of additional female MP’s to reach total gender parity in parliament. Bearing in mind the variable and often slow turnover of MP’s I am not even sure that there will be 178 new MP’s or anything close to this number from the 2020 and 2025 intakes.
Irrespective of the practical problems of implanting what is proposed by the founder of the campaign, there is also the slight issue of effectively wiping out a generation of male MP’s and the clearly undemocratic issue of virtually every seat in the country being obliged to have an All Women Shortlist in order to reach the 178 target.
One only has to look briefly at the website and twitter page for the campaign to get a feel for the closeness between the campaign and the Fawcett Society, which helped establish the campaign and which is well-known as a bastion of socialism. The number of times that the Fawcett Society tweets promoting gender quotas in Parliament and the constitutionalising of equal representation in Parliament which are then retweeted by the 50:50 Parliament account is disconcerting.
I doubt that I am the only individual who would like to support this campaign for a debate about how to get more women into parliament but feels alienated by the rhetoric and motives of the its most vocal backers.
Even the Labour Party, prone throughout its history to adopting dictatorial and top-down measures in its internal party management, has had ongoing problems with its members as a result of its attempts to impose All Women Shortlists. What is more, the resistance and recriminations within the Labour Party do not appear to be waning.
Only this summer the Constituency Labour Party in Cynon Valley became engaged in a legal dispute with Labour HQ over attempts to impose a shortlist.
The outgoing Labour MP Ann Clwyd took a principled stand by defending the right of local members to decide on their candidate.
My understanding is that Labour HQ refused to back down and the Labour NEC ended up selecting a candidate with no local involvement. Many of the Fawcett Society members involved in pushing quotas and AWS’s correctly argue that the lack of female representation in parliament is an affront to democracy. How is what happened in Cynon Valley not also a great affront to local democracy?
The reality is that, given what the Fawcett Society is calling for, virtually every selection for the next ten years would have to be from an All Women Shortlist. The freedom to choose a candidate based on merit, and the skills, experiences and strengths of individual candidates would be curtailed almost completely.
I also find extraordinary the extent to which these radical feminists are able to rule the roost and push their claims almost unchallenged by more moderate feminists. There are both women and men who are determined to tackle the injustice of the chronic under-representation of women in the House of Commons over the past century but who seek to couch this aspiration and their arguments within the practicalities of a functioning democracy and a belief in democratic principles.
Unfortunately, on many occasions, the Fawcett Society make little or no attempt to understand how a democracy functions.
Attempts have been made by more moderate voices to change the terms of debate. I read with interest a Telegraph article a couple of years ago reporting that senior Conservatives were looking to join the Fawcett Society to influence the agenda. .
However, more work needs to be done. I think there is a strong case for a debate in parliament to discuss how to increase the number of women MPs. However, the current tone of debate saddens me because, many of the solutions and, as a consequence, the agenda of the 50: 50 Parliament petition appear to be driven by socialists who are friends neither of freedom, nor of democracy nor of selection on merit.
It concerns me that many of the key figures pushing the 50:50 Parliament campaign appear to see it as an opportunity to impose the practices of the Labour Party upon the country at large (quotas and shortlists) through the constitutionalising of equal representation.
The voices of these people are loud and heavily associated with the campaign to get more women into parliament. Those who care passionately about better representation of women in Parliament but who also believe in democracy, freedom, and selection on merit should raise the volume of their message significantly.