Nick Clegg, speaking at the Lib Dem conference this week, told the party that there needed to be more ethnic minority, disabled and female members. He said, “We have some exceptional women in Parliament…but we don’t have enough.” Previously, the party has been against positive discrimination but Clegg now proposes a list of Lib Dem ministers with 50% of places for female, 20% of places for ethnic minorities and 10% of places for the disabled. This came after the Hansard Society condemned the lack of women in the Coalition, revealing that only 32 out of 184 cabinet committee seats. When this issue was discussed at the Lib Dem 2002 conference, female MPs wore t-shirts with the slogan, “I am not a token woman”, to make a strong point. The idea came from Jo Swinson, who still opposes all-women short lists. Who is right? Does Clegg really want to have better representation in his party and do his part to remove glass ceilings, or is this simply a way for his party to gain popularity again?
Until recently, I had a firm opinion on this topic, all-women short lists are not the way to improve equality, but no I ask myself, how much has society really advanced since equal opportunities and anti-discrimination found its way into law? Little, if Parliament is anything to go by. True that females have become MPs, we have even had a female PM and, from the politicians I have spoken to, treatment of female MPs in the House has improved, but that is not to say that there is no more ground to make.True equality is impossible, but isn’t it about time for institutions, like Parliamentary committees, to be forced into giving equal opportunities?
“We have got fewer women around the Cabinet table than we have had in years- we are going backwards in numbers.” – Ruth Fox, the director of the Hansard’s Society’s Parliament and Government Programme
Opponents will say that discrimination of any kind is immoral, no one should get a job because of their sex, the colour of their skin or because of their disability. And perhaps they are right, all-women short lists may not be the way to solve the issue, Swinson has a point, work needs to be done in order to ensure there are actually women to go onto the short-list. It seems to me though, unless an alternative is found, all-women short lists is a step in the right direction. Perhaps it will encourage women into politics and at least that means that if/when women actually get to that stage then they won’t have a stumbling block.One thing is for certain though, non-intervention has not worked and, at least in politics, the glass ceiling remains.
What do you think?