This May will be a boost for female representation – but there’s a catch

The current electoral system is a huge barrier to seat access for female MPs


With less than a quarter of MPs currently women, a 50:50 parliament seems like a distant hope.

But there are grounds for optimism. Based on polling trends and an analysis of every party’s candidate for the upcoming election, the Electoral Reform Society has predicted that 192 MPs are likely to be elected this May – up 44 on the current 148. It would mean three in ten MPs would be women, the highest ever figure.

Parties are putting forward more female candidates than before, too, with every party except UKIP fielding a higher proportion of female candidates than parliament’s current make-up (see Table 1). And in target seats, Labour and the Conservatives are actually fielding a higher proportion of female candidates than their overall number, meaning they are clearly trying hard to get more women into the House.


This is good news. The predicted boost this May would see us rising up the world ranking for female representation in lower chambers from 56th to 36th. We’d finally be ahead of Afghanistan and other countries with less-than-positive track records on gender equality.

But we’d still not be world leaders, by any means. And while moving from 23 per cent women to nearly 30 per cent is a welcome rise, there’s one big barrier that’s blocking future progress: our electoral system.

Under First Past the Post, there are hundreds of effectively uncontested seats where parties have a big enough lead not to worry about opposition. That means many MPs can act as ‘seat-blockers’, occupying their seats for decade after decade.

Here’s the catch: the longer an MP has been in situ, the more likely he is to be a man.

As you can see in Table 2, there are 67 MPs first elected in 1992 or before who are standing again this May. 59 of them are men. Having held their seats for over two decades, we can guess that most of these men will keep their positions effectively unchallenged.


This is a major barrier in terms of increasing women’s representation in the future. We can’t allow the existence of safe seats to act as a block on reaching a 50:50 parliament. We need to reform our voting system.

Proportional representation isn’t a silver bullet, of course. It can only facilitate – rather than guarantee – more diversity in politics. But experience from other countries shows that nearly all of those with a high proportion of women in parliament use some form of PR. Moreover, larger multi-member constituencies would increase the likelihood that more women would be able to win seats, as voters would have a greater choice of winnable candidates. Under our current broken electoral system, less ‘traditional’ and ‘safe-looking’ candidates lose out.

Nonetheless, it’s good news that nearly 200 women will be elected in two months’ time. Let’s just make sure it doesn’t become a new ‘glass ceiling’.

Josiah Mortimer is Communications assistant at the Electoral Reform Society. Follow him on Twitter

Read the ‘Women in Westminster’ report here

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21 Responses to “This May will be a boost for female representation – but there’s a catch”

  1. 50:50 Parliament

    Great to

  2. 50:50 Parliament

    Around 70 countries have proportionally more women in their Parliament’s than the UK. This is under representation needs addressing. We are asking Parliament to debate and take action, please everyone add your voice by signing our petition at .

  3. 50:50 Parliament

    Great article and report. Thank you Josiah Mortimer and the Electoral Reform Society.

  4. Guest

    The ERS are bunglers who supported AV.

    And they want some of the worst forms of PR now – not eliminating the issues of tactical voting or doing much to tackle the way the left are so poorly represented.

    With “friends” like these…

  5. littleoddsandpieces

    There are enough marginals in England to bring more allies to Labour than to the Tories, and deny Tory and Lib Dem sitting MPS those seats.

    Because the poor of all ages, in and out of work, now outnumber all other voters in those marginals.

    First Past The Post is not valid in the coming predicted most severe hung parliament in UK history.

    Neither Tory nor Labour, even with partners, will get anything like a majority to rule government.

    A group of partners need to get at least 323 MPs.

    A coaliton, even support and confidence, can be more than 2 parties. This has worked successfull in other countries over many years.

    This is the only way to get a secure stable government on Thursday 7 May.

    The allies for the poor to vote for and getting nil media coverage, which is not helping the nation to have stable government and not a government that will fall only within 6 months of the election, again and again are:

    – Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC)
    fielding 111 candidates so 1/6th of the seats but getting
    nil media coverage that is their right

    – Class War
    (great for the youth vote especially in London
    fighting alongside the social tenant in and out of work
    being socially cleansed out of the rich only resident city)

    – Socialist party of Great Britain (Socialist GB)

    – Mebyon Kernow of Cornwall
    (support more social housing for local residents)
    Cornwall has single figure Tory and Lib Dem marginals.

    Labour could do better to curry favour with these parties and either direct or encourage trade unions to give each equal money for advertisements on such as:

    bicycle ads / A Boards by jobcentres and foodbanks
    and on the high street

    Then a Labour / SNP / Plaid Cymru / TUSC / Class War / Mebyon Kernow / Socialist GB alliance, would shut out the Tories and possibly completely obliterate the Lib Dems.

    And the nation could have secure and stable government for 5 years and starvation would all end.

  6. Leon Wolfeson

    FPTP is /valid/. It’s a problem and should be changed, but it’s the law of the land.
    Moreover, FPTP means we already have coalitions, they just call themselves parties.

    And no, you’re talking about a Labour-driven coalition, hence neo-liberal and pushing austerity.
    Labour’s strategy has been to move right, and count on the fact that they’ll still be “better than the Tories” when push comes to shove.

  7. keithunder

    The ers supports STV which pretty much eliminates tactical voting. It is not possible to eliminate it entirely, but it is the system which makes tactical voting almost pointless.

  8. Godfrey Paul

    We need the best people available to stand. Their sex is irrelevant.

  9. Guest

    STV lends itself heavily to tactical voting. It’s all about the voting order, for instance, and parties. STV fails to meet the criteria for “independence of irrelevant alternatives” and “monotonicity”, terms you may wish to look up.

    (Moreover, I’d add, the version of STV used in the UK for other elections – in terms of the way
    the votes are transferred – is about THE most hostile to smaller parties.)

    It is, of course, perfectly possible to have systems where tactical voting is largely pointless, but those are systems which use i.e. top-up rather than preference voting.

    Please don’t spread propaganda.

  10. keithunder

    I am aware of these criteria and that STV fails to comply, but this is irrelevant in practical terms, no system is perfect. STV is in practice less prone to tactical voting than any other system. Your later preferences are only used if your earlier ones are no longer relevant. So I can vote Pirate number 1 if I wish without having to bother about whether they reach the list threshold, because I know that if they don’t get enough votes that my vote will be transferred and not discarded as in list systems.

    I don;t see how STV as used in the UK is hostile to small parties is hostile to small parties (unless you are referring to the system used in Scottish local elections, and that is because of the small number of members elected in each constituency). You just need to look at the results in Northern Ireland which uses a superior system and achieved a better vote to party ratio than the Scottish AMS system (despite STV not being party based).

    I am not quite sure what you mean by top up systems, I assume you mean AMS systems.. If you don’t think tactical voting is a thing in those then look at the German results where the CDU tactically voted FDP on the list (and then stopped doing it causing the FDP to lose all it’s seats) and even worse the results in Italy where they used AMS twice and exploited a fatal flaw in all AMS systems causing it to be abandoned.

  11. Leon Wolfeson

    No, it’s highly relevant. STV is practically designed (among PR systems) for tactical voting, your claim is an outright lie – top-up and several other systems are far more resistant to it.

    You’ve not bothered, it’s clear, to look at the systems and the mathematics behind them to make the sort of conclusions you’ve been coming to! You’re also trying to conflate, entirely dishonesty, AMS and MMP, which differ in several important respects.

    MMP in Germany…you mean people voting for the party of their choice, and getting what they voted for. Then the FDP lost popularity because of their political choices. That’s called “democracy”, and is not flaw in a voting system!

    Italy’s problem was one with several clear-cut and simple solutions (to stop fake lists like that), and in any case is a problem with the *specific* form of AMS used in Italy. Under MMP overhang seats eliminate the effects (and it would be harmful to the seats of the party using it, anyway!)

    You’re knowingly pushing propaganda supporting *the* single version of PR which would let the major parties maintain their chokehold. There’s plenty of valid criticisms of MMP, but you’ve not gone near them and instead gone with what amounts to “It’s bad because “.

  12. keithunder

    Rather than insulting me I think you need to explain in practical terms how STV is more prone to tactical voting.than AMS or MMP.
    MMP is basically the same as AMS you have two votes one for a FPTP seat and another for a party list.
    In Germany many CDU voters were encouraged to vote FDP on the second vote to make sure they got past the 5% block so the FDP got elected. In the last 2 elections they stopped doing that and the FDP lost all it’s seats.
    In fact the German the overhang seats were a flaw in the system and made it less fair. They have recently changed the law so that overhangs are now abolished (by giving the other parties extra seats to make up for them) If you think overhang seats were a good thing then you do not understand how the Germans system used to work.
    The Italian exploit still exists! In Scotland or New Zealand for example it would work very well. In all of these systems if the FPTP seat elects a party supporter as an independent or a fake party then they keep these seats and the lists seats are added as additional seats. In Italy the fake lists were not the problem!
    These systems boil down to a horrible combination of two tactical voting prone systems.

    In my example under STV I can vote Pirate number one without bothering to work out if they have a chance .. Under FPTP or a list system I have to consider tactically whether the pirate has a chance before I risk wasting my vote. This is the same in AMS or MMP or whatever you call it and then I have to make the tactical calculation twice!

  13. Guest

    Calling you out on lies is an “insult” now. Sad.

    You then do it again, conflating AMS and MMP. As you talk about a key principle which has been shifted around to make things even fairer, as you lie about what happened in Italy.

    You make up nonsense about tactical voting which STV is more prone to.

    You have no idea of the math of this, as you spout off propaganda.

    Facts, not insults.

    (And you need to do *detailed* calculation to see if voting pirate will help or hinder the candidate who you actually want to get elected under STV. The ONLY truly safe option for your primary candidate is to only vote for him!)

    You’re defending the best PR electoral system for Labour and the Tories. Not a coincidence.

  14. keithunder

    What is the fundamental difference between AMS and MMP?

    I am not lying about what happened in Italy
    ABOLIZIONE SCORPORO is the description of the FPTP candidates of the right wing parties (SCORPORO was the name of the AMS/MMP system in Italy)

    The individual parties stood as themselves in the top up lists. You can see this for yourself if you actually look at the results rather than accusing people of lying

    If you think that only voting for one candidate and no other is the best strategy for STV then you clearly do not understand how The Single Transferable Vote works. You seem to have locked on to some right wing anti STV website and are just repeating stuff you have read without actually understanding it.

    Your vote is transferable if your first preference is not elected. Anyone who has used STV understands this. If I vote pirate in STV I do not need to do any calculations if they get eliminated my vote transfers to the next preference.

    Under MMP or AMS or any other list system if the pirates in my example get below the threshold my vote is not transferred it is wasted!

  15. Leon Wolfeson

    You’re making up things I didn’t say now. What happened in Italy is *easily* fixable and ONLY applies to that particular version of AMS, not MMP.

    STV is, again, all about detailed gaming of the system because of the terms I used and which you’ve not looked up. I am a left winger, and I am supporting a decent system of MMP – you’re accusing me of your sins, it seems.

    The reality is that MMP is far closer to proportional in practice than STV. Again, especially due to the way votes are reallocated in the UK which is very hostile to smaller parties.

  16. keithunder

    How is what happened in Italy fixable? I know about the terms you used and I have accepted that STV does not pass them please read my posts again. If MMP or AMS is more proportional than STV in practice then how is it that the last assembly elections in Northern Ireland was more proportional party wise than the last elections in Scotland or Wales despite STV not being a party system?
    I know about Arrows theorem which you selectively quoted from, you keep telling me about what I don’t know and you are very short on facts. The fact that you claimed that the best way of gaming STV is only to vote for one candidate and not to transfer proves that you actually know nothing about how STV works. Why don’t you educate yourself and actually answer any of the questions I have posed.
    In fact AMS/MMP is the preferred system of the Conservatives/Labour if they were forced to choose a PR system, because it gives the party total control over who gets elected rather than the voters, the opposite of STV!
    If you are a left winger certainly don’t argue like one!

  17. Guest

    Oh yes, I’m “not a left winger” because I don’t like your precise voting system, or go along with your lies.

    Again, you evidently don’t know a thing about the topic, or the terms used, or you wouldn’t lead with idiotic questions. Or bring up smokescreens.

    You then make up things about quotes, and lie about what I said. The FACT is that the only way you can be SURE you won’t hurt the candidate you want elected is to vote for him, and ONLY him under STV. This is mathmatically proveable.

    You then make up nonsense about what the “Conservatives/Labour” want, as you again conflate AMS and MMP, lying your heart out, as you spout nonsense.

    You’re a liar, plain and simple. That’s not ideological, that’s simply a statement of fact.

  18. keithunder

    You never answer any of my questions because ‘they are idiotic’ you accuse me of lying and then don’t say in what way.You appear to have some kind of problem with they way you think.

    The only way in STV that a second or later preference is looked at under STV is if your first preference is already elected or if your first preference is already eliminated so mathematically it is impossible for a later preference to affect the chances of an earlier one. I suspect you are confusing STV with a Borda or points system (in which case what you say about later preferences would be true)

    Please look up how STV is counted and then look at Borda and see the difference.

    I still don;t know what the difference is between AMS and MMP and you can’t tell me because there is no difference.

    Other questions you did not answer are:

    How is what happened in Italy fixable?

    How is it that the last assembly elections in Northern Ireland was more proportional party wise than the last elections in Scotland or Wales despite STV not being a party system?

    If you are such an expert as you claim surely you can answer these simple questions.
    Just as a passing note calling someone a liar because you are unable to answer their questions must make you a rather unlikeable and annoying person, if you can’t answer in a logical and inoffensive way then please stfu!

  19. Guest

    I answered them, you just don’t like my answers.

    As you say, because I don’t agree with you, that I’m mentally defective. That’s your platform, right there.

    You then keep blatantly lying about STV, showing you have no knowledge of the issue, You don’t even know about the multiple ways to count STV votes, as you outright deny that STV fails – as it does – the critiera of “independence of irrelevant alternatives” and “monotonicity”.

    You are denying formal mathematical proofs.

    Then you ask an answered question over and over, as you lie again, making up things I never said, as you try and deny STV allows parties now…sad. And of course you want to silence me for talking about the truth, as I’m sure you’d oppose me voting because I don’t agree with you.

    And yes, you’re unlikeable and annoying, as you argue with basic math and scream and throw **** because of it, and then call for censorship and for your anti-logic to go unchallenged.

  20. keithunder

    You did not answer my questions which I will repeat:

    How is what happened in Italy fixable?

    How is it that the last assembly elections in Northern Ireland was more proportional party wise than the last elections in Scotland or Wales despite STV not being a party system?

    I already accepted that STV fails the two tests you mentioned. Have you ever counted an STV election? Do you know how it works?

  21. Leon Wolfeson

    You once more ignore my answer because you don’t like it.

    You once more bring up something irrelevant. A punch in the ****s* is more proportional than FPTP, that’s hardly proof of much at all!

    (*Don’t try that at home)

    And oh, now because I haven’t hand-counted I don’t count. Right. And I evidently, again, know a lot more than you. Things like the order of elimination of candidates *matters* under STV, which is why it’s so vulnerable to tactical voting/

    But facts.

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