Clegg talks the talk on equality – but seat cull will make things worse

Nick Clegg today said his MPs were "woefully unrepresentative" of modern Britain - yet his seat cull plans will make things even worse, reports Shamik Das.

Nick Clegg today said his MPs were “woefully unrepresentative” of modern Britain, vowing to “change that dramatically” – yet the reality is his boundary rejigging, slashing the House of Commons from 650 to only 600 MPs, threatens to make Parliament, and the Parliamentary Liberal Democarat Party, even less representative than now.

The Lib Dem leader told the party conference this afternoon:

“I think we need to be really honest with ourselves, we are seriously, seriously failing as a party on this, we have to ask ourselves pretty searching questions why it is that a Liberal party, believes in social mobility, believes in diversity, hates prejudice… is so woefully unrepresentative of modern Britain in Parliament.

“There are too many, too many men, too many white men from relatively affluent backgrounds, and we need to change that dramatically… One of my big regrets is that I didn’t spend more time trying to get to grips with this earlier after I became leader; I think we’re finally, finally, starting to do some serious about it.”

Watch it:

In reality, however, for all Mr Clegg’s fine sentiment, the Lib Dems could be left without a single female MP after the next election, according to a Fabian Review study earlier this year.

In April, Sunder Katwala wrote:

“Even if the election takes place on the coalition’s schedule in 2015, it is quite likely that the LibDems will find themselves with a more male dominated party than their 1930s predecessors, when one out of ten Liberal MPs was a woman…

“The LibDems have only seven women MPs out of 57. Yet five of the LibDem women hold seats among the dozen most vulnerable for the party, while they hold none of the party’s 20 safest seats.

“And the party leadership has failed to realise that its decision to support a cull in the number of MPs has effectively cut off any chance of progress at the next election.”

And on the effect of those boundary changes specifically, Katwala and Fabian Women’s Network director Seema Malhotra revealed:

“The Lib Dems have inadvertently scored an own goal on gender by supporting a smaller House of Commons. Shrinking the House to 600 will see the smallest new intake in any post-war election, slowing down progress since new intakes have a better gender balance than the whole House.

“Typically, around 60 to 80 MPs stand down at the end of a Parliament while up to 590 defend their seats. This time, many retirees will be replaced not by new hopefuls but MPs seeking a new berth after constituency mergers.

“The Lib Dems would have expected to select six or seven new candidates to replace retiring MPs; this will probably now fall to two or three – even if all current seats were deemed winnable.”

With fewer new MPs, only a small proportion of which will be female or ethnic minority, and fewer still new Lib Dem MPs given their parlous polling, it looks like future Lib Dem parliamentary parties will be even more “woefully unrepresentative”, as will the House as a whole – thanks in large part to Mr Clegg’s own policies.

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by becoming a Left Foot Forward Supporter today.