Barring the remote possibility of a Gordon Brown revival, it looks as if a Conservative government will have the largest number of seats in Parliament by summer. Whilst Labour calls in the removal vans and ponders for how long they may be consigned to the electoral wilderness, they might find consolation in the fact that they are not the only losers of the 2010 election. Evidence suggests that women as a group are likely to lose out too, as the total number of female MPs is set to fall for the first time in recent history.
The reason for this is simple: Labour is good at producing women MPs (think 1997 and the so-called ‘Blair Babes’) and the Conservatives are not (points for anyone who can name famous Tory women other than Thatcher and Widdecombe). This is because whilst Labour has used positive discrimination methods in the form of all-women shortlists to make sure women are selected as candidates, the Conservative Party has not. Despite efforts by David Cameron to impose an A-List of candidates who break the traditional white male, upper/middle-class Tory mould, the party has the fewest number of women MPs. Currently, there are 18 Conservative women MPs compared to Labour’s 94.
Even if the Tories gain a sizeable number of seats, the likelihood of many of these going to female candidates is low considering only 20 per cent of Conservative candidates are women. Moreover, female Conservative candidates are only present in 36 per cent of winnable seats. The result of a net loss of Labour seats and a Tory gain is going to be a flow of Labour women MPs out of Westminster and an influx of new Conservative men.
This raises the question of how representative of British society the next Parliament is going to be. After a year when distrust of politicians plummeted to a new low point as a result of the expenses scandal, it may well be asked whether public faith can be restored in politics while Parliament’s demographic make-up doesn’t accurately reflect the world it represents.