Commentary and opinion on national and regional politics by Seema Malhotra

Friday, 26 March 2010

Time for Job-share MPs?

Yesterday I was asked to join a cross-party roundtable discussion facilitated by the Fawcett Society on Women in Parliament – Implementing the Speaker’s Conference recommendations. The Speaker’s Conference reported recently after a year-long inquiry into how we increase diversity in Parliament. It was a fascinating debate reviewing recommendations the Speaker’s conference has made around what political parties could do more, what needed to change in terms of how Parliament works, and whether we should move to a discussion around quotas if the number of women MPs doesn’t significantly improve. A high number of countries use quotas in some form – and sometimes for a fixed period of time. It is interesting that finally Parliament is set for a nursery – incredible that it should be a controversial concept (see Private Eye “political correctness gone mad”) - when all three main political parties supposedly support a better gender balance in parliament, and measures to help keep families strong. Perhaps one of the most interesting possibilities to support more women in Parliament not yet getting prominence – which was one of the suggestions in the Fabian Women’s Network’s evidence to the Speaker’s conference – is the idea of job-share MPs. For some reason we celebrate when Parliament passes laws around flexible working options and then balk at the idea of Parliament implementing some of those measures itself! Perhaps also finally we’ll start to see a better discussion around moving Parliament’s hours to a more 9-5 structure – in line with most of the rest of society. Some interesting stats though. The Centre for Women and Democracy suggests that the number of women MPs looks set to increase from a fifth to up to a quarter of MPs – a step in the right direction but still woefully low on the international league table of women in parliaments. And the challenge remains stark when you also hear that there are 200 constituencies where all the candidates are male, with only ten that have all female candidates – all of which are in marginal seats.