I am very unhappy with the number of female Lib Dem MPs. 7 out of 57 is not good enough and we need to improve. The leadership programme which assists those from underrepresented groups to become candidates will hopefully help.
7/57 = 12.3%. So, less than an eighth of our MPs are women. The Conservatives have 48/307 = 15.6%, Labour 81/258 = 31.4%. Activists from the two other parties have pointed this out to me on numerous occasions. They are right to. It is embarrassing. We definitely need more female candidates. In 2010 we only had 134 (21.3%). The Conservatives had 149 (23.7%), Labour 191 (30.3%).
But I looked more deeply into the 2010 general election data and discovered some interesting things.
Firstly, when you look at the total vote for each party, and then look at total votes for males and females for each party, Labour do best with 32.4% of their vote going to women. But second best are Lib Dems with 22%. The Conservatives, despite fielding more women and ultimately getting more female MPs proportionally than the Lib Dems only had 19.8% of their votes go to women.
I wondered why this was so I took all the votes for women for each of the parties and worked out what the average vote for females vs males was:
Conservative males: 17,811
Conservative females: 14,204
Labour males: 13,248
Labour females: 14,583
Lib Dem males: 10,739
Lib Dem females: 11,201
It would seem that Conservative women tend to be in seats that are more difficult for them to win on average than those for their male counterparts.
Finally a “what if” exercise. The other two parties have many more MPs than us. When it comes to improving female representation the marginal seats are endlessly discussed. But I just looked at the top 100 seats in terms votes won by each party. How many women were candidates?
Lib Dem: 25/100 (although of course we only won 57 of them)
We are only just behind Labour, even with their years of women only shortlists. The Conservatives are way behind. If for some strange reason their vote had dropped to a level where they only got 100 MPs they would have had 9 female MPs. Incidentally, if they had only 57 MPs like us they would have had only 5.
At the very least I would suggest this analysis shows things are more mixed than the “Lib Dems are worst at trying to balance gender for MPs” accusation you regularly hear. It would appear our old friend First Past the Post is exacerbating the problem.
That 22% of our votes went to female candidates but only resulted in around 12% of our MPs being female is typical of a majoritarian electoral system. Perhaps if we had a fairer one, the representation of women and ethnic minorities would be further advanced than it currently is for all parties.
NOTE: Thanks to Pippa Norris for providing the electoral data.
* Mark Thompson blogs here