Some facts about MPs in the House of Commons (as of August 2012):
There are 650 MPs in total.
145 are female.
26 are of ethnic minorities.
That leaves a lot of white-British men representing our multicultural, more-or-less 50% female nation, doesn’t it?
The important question, however, is does it matter? Is it a problem?
The ‘YES’ argument:
Some people would argue that yes, it jolly well is a problem. They’d say that the statistics say it all, don’t they? The percentage of the UK population that is female or that is of ethnic minorities doesn’t match up to the percentage of MPs (those who represent us) in the House of Commons that are. That’s got to be a problem, surely?
For example, a white-British man might not be aware of the troubles of an African-American woman living in his constituency, and therefore might not be able to represent her well in Parliament, and won’t be able to make decisions that’d benefit her, on her behalf. Say for example, on legislation regarding child support or maternity leave or racial equality in the workplace. It can be argued that an MP of the same gender or ethnicity would fight harder to be the voice of those constituents on issues close to their hearts.
The same people who would argue this would probably be well in favour of political party quotas on gender and ethnic minority representation too. It’s also known as ‘positive discrimination’. This is the simple idea of political parties putting women and those of ethnic minorities up for more elections. To heighten their chances of election victory, they’d be likely to go into the running for safe seats (seats that the party has a high likelihood of winning). If all goes to plan, the party is made up of a higher percentage of women and those of ethnic minorities. Simple. Better representation all round, right? Problem fixed.
The ‘NO’ argument:
Alongside those who cry for reform there are those who would say that it is not a problem in the slightest. And that trying to ‘fix’ it would only make things so much worse.
Now these people are not all xenophobic sexists, not even close. The reason that they’d say this is because they probably believe that one person can understand another person’s problems, share the same political position as them, and fully represent the other, without them both being of the same gender or ethnicity. To say that you have to be the same gender or ethnicity as another person in order to have things in common with them is ridiculous. It’s saying that a person’s views on politics can be defined by the type of body they have or by their ancestry. Many people worldwide would argue that that notion is utterly wrong and untrue.
The ‘no’ arguers would continue to say that to have quotas where politicians are put up for elections solely because they’re female or of an ethnic minority would be a knife in the heart of meritocracy. Doesn’t the electorate simply want the person who is best for the job? Regardless of if they’re male, female, from an ethnic majority, or an ethnic minority. They would argue that there is no such thing as ‘positive discrimination’, that discrimination is discrimination; there is nothing ‘positive’ about it. Parties should put the best politicians up for elections, whatever gender or ethnicity they are. Representation means more than a politician having similar genetics to their constituents; it’s about them being the voice (not gender or ethnicity) of their people.
Additionally, they’d say that the only reason why less women and people of ethnic minorities are put up for elections at the moment is simply because there are less women and people of ethnic minorities who enter the world of politics. That is something that can in fact be worked on; schemes can be developed to encourage them to get more involved in politics, and develop their abilities so that they can become the best politicians they can be. That way, more women and people of ethnic minorities can volunteer to be put up for elections, and parties can have a real choice to make based on individual merits once again. It’ll just so happen that the group of hopeful politicians to pick from will then contain a more equal selection of genders and ethnicities. To those who argue this point of view, this is a much better solution to any potential ‘problems’ of representation or equality in the House of Commons; far better than any demeaning quotas at least.
So there they are; both sides of the argument. It is an argument which will probably endure in British politics for quite some time to come, as opinions continue to be split on the topic. For now, until unanimity is reached, it remains that only personal judgements can be formed. The best that can be hoped for is that when individuals make up their minds on the topic, they do so being fully informed of both sides of the argument, as this very article was intended to do.