An unrepresentative House of Commons

Angela Merkel may be in town, but there’s also a backbench business debate later today on parliamentary representation, which is almost as exciting.  The motion is:

That this House welcomes the fact that there are now more women hon. Members and hon. Members from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in the UK Parliament than at any time in history; notes that, in spite of progress, Parliament is not yet fully representative of the diversity of UK society; recognises that increased diversity of representation is a matter of justice and would enhance debate and decision-making and help to rebuild public faith in Parliament; is concerned that the progress made in 2010 may not be sustained unless concerted efforts are made to support individuals from under-represented communities to stand for election in 2015; and calls on the Government and political parties to fulfil commitments made in response to the Speaker’s Conference (on Parliamentary Representation) in 2010, including commitments in respect of candidate selection and support for candidates

For those interested, here’s some data on which communities people actually want represented, and which show that things are a little more complicated than they are often presented.  The data draw on this paper (£, alas), which examined the public’s attitudes to their MPs – and who they would like in the Commons.  It examined ten characteristics, covering ethnicity, class, age, religion, locality, sexuality, and disability.  Respondents were given the choice of ‘a lot more’, ‘a little more’, ‘same as there currently is’, ‘a little less’, and a ‘lot less’, plus a Don’t Know option.

There was a sizeable group of respondents who were quite happy with things as they were. In seven out of the ten cases, the plurality option was ‘same as there currently is’.  Indeed, in all but one case, the combined percentage of those who wanted things to stay as they were or who did not know was over 40% of respondents; it was over 50% in four cases.  But when you examine those who did have a preference and wanted to see a change, in all but two cases those favouring an increase outnumbered those favouring a decrease.

The most popular response was for more MPs from the local area.  This was the only option of the ten where a plurality (47%) chose ‘a lot more’ as their response; another third (35%) selected ‘a little more’.  Just over 1% of respondents (combined) selected either ‘a little less’ or ‘a lot less’.  This produced a net score of +80.  This was followed by working class (+58), female (+50), MPs with disabilities (+46), and young MPs (+44).

There was less support for an increase in black and ethnic minority MPs (+28) or Christian MPs (+14), and almost no support for an increase in gay and lesbian MPs (+3).  There were then two groups where a majority of those who wanted to see change thought there should be fewer of the group: Muslims (-6), and MPs of pensionable age (-21).  There were, at the time of the survey, just four Muslim MPs in the Westminster Parliament – yet many of the public wanted still fewer.

And here’s a thing. In which ways are the members of the House of Commons most un-representative of the diversity of UK society?  Here are two (which we bet don’t get mentioned today): MPs are very interested in politics (compared to just 10% of the population) and they are all members of political parties (compared to just 1% of the population).