Submission to the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation

‘Pathways to Politics’ EHRC Research Findings

About ‘Pathways to Politics’

The Commission submitted written evidence to the Speaker’s Conference on 26 January and EHRC Chair, Trevor Phillips, was invited to give oral evidence at the session held on 3 March 2009. During the course of his evidence session, the Commission’s Chair suggested we could undertake further research into the pathways followed and the barriers or enablers experienced. The Vice Chairman, Anne Begg MP, agreed that this would be helpful. A project named ‘Pathways to Politics’ was established by the Commission, in line with its Strategic Priorities to increase the equality of civic and political participation across its mandated equality areas.

The Commission starts from the basic position that a Parliament which reflects the demography of the nation it represents will result in better legislation and a higher degree of public confidence in the democratic process. We welcome the position of the Speaker’s Conference, outlined in the Interim Report (July 2009), that “the House of Commons has to change” and that this is an issue of justice, effectiveness and legitimacy. Only when our elected assemblies broadly represent the diversity of the British population will we restore trust that politicians speak for the people.

Research shows that it will take another 200 years, another 40 elections, to achieve equal representation of women in the House of Commons and until 2080 for the number of ethnic minority MPs to reflect Britain’s current population, let alone projections. One in five of the UK population is disabled and yet the numbers of openly disabled politicians is very low. There is a lack of data regarding the sexual orientation, gender identity and religion or belief of our elected politicians and until this is properly monitored, we will not know whether the level of representation is a cause for concern.

The Commission warmly welcomes the opportunity afforded by the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation to recommend urgent measures to address the lack of diversity, unlock talent across all areas of diversity, reconnect the wider spectrum of society with policy and decision making and keep up with the rate and pace of change in the country. Furthermore, the Commission believes that a Parliament more representative of Britain’s diversity will help to maintain good relations between different groups in society by allowing greater opportunity for these perspectives to be considered by those with the power, influence and the ability to make decisions which will impact directly on their lives.

Due to Parliamentary timescales, it was necessary to divide the project into two stages. The tender for Stage 1 was won by Brand Democracy who conducted the research study from which these findings have been drawn. An in-depth exploration of these issues was not feasible in the timeframe for the Speaker’s Conference. However, a second stage to the project is currently underway and initial findings are expected in March 2010 and final report in Summer 2010. More details about Stage 2 are available in the section below.

The aims and objectives of Stage 1 were to give us a picture of the characteristics of MPs and other elected representatives through a web extraction data set from politician's online biographical profiles and to provide a greater insight into their background and, where possible, common pathways into politics through an ‘opt in’ online survey. The full text of the survey questions is given in Appendix 5. However, because of a low response rate (12%) only the findings from the web data set have been used in this submission.  Appendix 4 provides further details on the survey response rate.

This represents the first stage of a two part research project to investigate the pathways politicians take into elected office. The aim of this stage of the research is to describe the characteristics of current politicians and where possible, identify common routes into political life. Stage two, to be completed summer 2010, will explore the pathways into politics in-depth, identifying factors which serve as barriers or enablers for different groups of under-represented people.

Download the full submission

Pathways to Politics’ EHRC Research Findings (word)

Last Updated: 27 Aug 2014