Candidate Diversity Matters #Enact106
What is the problem?
One hundred years after some women first gained the vote for parliamentary elections, women both vote and register to vote in equal numbers to men but are hugely underrepresented as elected representatives. Ethnic minority women are also less likely to participate in, and be represented at, all levels of politics and public life, and disabled women are significantly under-represented in politics and public life.
One of the major obstacles to achieving a fair share of seats for women is that they are underrepresented among candidates. Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010 could change this.
At the moment there is no formal requirement for parties to report on the diversity of candidates for election – who is coming forward to be nominated and stand for selection – we just know who is elected.
Like the gender pay gap, it is only when we know about individual practices parties can be held to account and change can happen. With not enough women in parliament (and those in parliament representing a limited range of women's experiences), laws and regulations will never properly reflect the distinct and diverse needs of women in the UK today. Parties across the political spectrum increasingly recognise the need to improve women’s representation. But more needs to be done. Bringing into force Section 106 is an important step in ensuring all parties do their bit to improve women’s representation – and ensuring our elected chambers reflect the voters they represent.
What is the solution?
Section 106 of the Equality Act 2010 would require political parties to publish diversity data on candidates standing in elections to the House of Commons, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. Whilst it already exists in primary legislation, it needs to be brought into force by the Government.
Section 106 has cross-party support and has been a key recommendation of several research reports. The Women & Equalities Select Committee, Professor Sarah Childs’ 'The Good Parliament' report, the Electoral Reform Society, the Fawcett Society, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and many others have all called for it to be brought into force.
Why hasn't this been done if it's so easy?
The government has cited a concern about the regulatory burden on parties of introducing this requirement, mentioning smaller parties in particular. However, we know that many parties already collate this information.
The Labour Party’s response to the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation which recommended diversity monitoring stated: “We have monitored candidates by region, selection method, gender, and race for some years”. The Liberal Democrats' response to the commission states: “The Liberal Democrats proactively monitor diversity information for approved and selected candidates, and publishes this data publicly to Conference every six months”. The Liberal Democrats made a manifesto commitment to enactment of Section 106 at the 2019 party conference.
The Green Party also already collates this information and has committed to enactment of Section 106. It is clear that parties, large and small, are able to collect this information. Whilst there have been concerns about the level of detail required (e.g. at what stage of the candidate selection process the monitoring begins and about the anonymity of candidates) ensuring these issues are covered is well within the scope of the legislation and can be deal with in the regulations.
Why can’t this be voluntary? why does it have to be compulsory?
The voluntary approach taken to date has not worked. There is no transparency around candidate data and this type of monitoring is not happening uniformly. Whilst 2017 saw a record number of 208 women in Parliament, the improvement on 2015 was minimal, some parties ended up with fewer women elected, and women still made up less than one third of Parliament. A voluntary approach allows this issue to be forgotten until the next election by which time it is too late to put the processes in place to improve candidate diversity. Why can’t parties police themselves?
Transparency is key. Parties need to be held to account for their efforts to improve political diversity. Parties are the gatekeepers of political life in most cases. It is therefore vital that they act to improve political representation. Candidate diversity data is the only way civil society can hold them to account on this. A legislative requirement to report would create an incentive to act.
In 2018, we had many fantastic celebrations for the centenary of the Representation of the People Act. We are now working to sweep away the obstacles that continue to stand in the way of women in politics.