Data: If we’d won more seats in 2015, our Commons team would still have been over-whelmingly white and male

If you don’t already get Mark Pack’s Liberal Democrat Newswire, it’s worth signing up to it. I’ve also heard he’s co-written a book on how to win elections.

In this month’s Liberal Democrat Newswire, which is number 77, Mark presents some very clear statistics on a key point which has come up in the diversity debate:

One comment often made is that the party’s current all male, all white line-up in the House of Commons is due to the party having only 8 MPs – and that if they party had done better at the last election, it would have been more diverse. The extent to which this is true is central to the debate because it helps answer the question, “if we carry on following the approach we’ve taken so far, will it bring success on diversity if/when the party starts winning more seats once again?”

Given the positive comments (including by myself) made about the diversity of the party’s selections in seats where MPs were standing down prior to 2015, for example, this is a good question to pose. However, it’s also a question only rarely answered with hard data.

Most usually, the person I’ve seen asking this question assumes that the answer is “yes, we’d have had a good result on diversity if we’d won more MPs in 2015”. The data, however, says otherwise. Here’s what the Parliamentary Party would have looked like if the party had done better in 2015:

8 MPs: 0% female, 0% BAME*
15 MPs: 7% female, 0% BAME
30 MPs: 7% female, 3% BAME
45 MPs: 22% female, 5% BAME
60 MPs: 25% female, 3% BAME
85 MPs: 29% female, 4% BAME
100 MPs: 28% female, 5% BAME
150 MPs: 26% female, 7% BAME

The sharp rise in gender diversity between the 30 and 45 MPs shows how the party did have some success in its selections in the most winnable seats – but it also shows just how limited the impact of that success would have been. There’s no plausible result in which the Parliamentary Party would not have been overwhelmingly white and male. If you pick the exact number of MPs very selectively, you can get a peak at the male dominance dropping to ‘only’ just over two-thirds – which given men are in the minority is still a long way from reflecting the gender balance in the electorate. To get it under two-thirds you have to go up to the heady heights of a Parliament which would have had a Liberal Democrat overall majority.

Read more by signing up to Liberal Democrat Newswire here.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Paul Murray 11th Mar '16 - 9:17am

    Which is simply repeating the statistics I posted yesterday. If the Liberal Democrats had a parliamentary party large enough to provide a statistically meaningful sample then the percentage of women MPs would be exactly in line with the percentage of women on the approved candidates list, which is 27%.

    I am tired of hearing proponents of AWS talking about “anti-woman bias” from members at selection meetings. It is insulting to the members of the party and utterly inconsistent with the data. There is not the slightest statistical evidence that such a thing is happening.

    And unless you think that the Liberal Democrats are going to stage a miracle revival in 2020 (in which case I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you) then the party will still have a wildly unrepresentative parliamentary party simply because it is so small to be diverse. Someone on this forum recently said “and still the Lib Dems have only one woman MEP” completely ignoring the fact that this one woman represents 100% of all Liberal Democrat MEPs.

    The party is facing the real prospect of total annihilation in 2020 and the membership is talking as though it has hundreds of safe seats that it can simply parachute diversity candidates into.

  • But AWS, had it been in place for 2015 selections would have made virtually no difference whatsoever to the outcome Mark Pack points out.

    Tim Farron announced a fervent intention to have female candidates in 50% of our Target Seats for 2020. In 2015 we had female candidates in 40% of our Target Seats and 55% of the seats where MP’s were standing down. So both Tim’s intention and the York AWS proposals mean no more than a slight increase in the % of female candidates in ‘winnable’ seats in 2020 as compared to 2015. Sledgehammer to crack a nut comes to mind.

    All of which in any case entirely ignores what makes a seat ‘winnable’ and what turns winnable into ‘won’. As a small minor Party (no longer even Third) we simply do not have safe seats where selecting a candidate internally is the same as the electorate electing the candidate at the ensuing public election. As we saw in 2015 when not a single one of our newly selected candidates (male or female) got elected and our existing MP’s were all but wiped out.

    Instead of spending the last 10 months denigrating our surviving MP’s on grounds of Gender I would have thought any Party, that wished to survive and rebuild, would be closely scrutinising why that handful survived the near total wipe out and what we can learn from that. I would suggest for starters that the accident of biological birth had no more to do with our remaining Parliamentary Party being 100% ‘pale and male’ than it does with 100% of our remaining MEP’s being ‘pale and female’.

    100% of our 2016 top candidates in London and in Wales are female and 100% in Scotland are male. I don’t think gender will have the slightest bearing on how many actually get elected in May.

  • Paul, if you exclude all seats where a white, male MP was defending his seat what do the statistics look like? That would show how effective actions in the 5 years to 2015 had been. Or do you feel we should have deselected white male MPs?

  • @Hugh – I think this is the answer to what you meant to ask.

    In 2015 there were a total of 11 vacancies brought about by people standing down. Of these 5 had women selected without using AWS.

    What I don’t know, but I’m sure other here do, is if the current AWS motion had been in place how many more of these seats would of been subject to candidate selection from an AWS.

    So give how impatient people are for something to happen ie. “27% is simply not acceptable. The whole system needs a shake-up” I suggest that the only way for this to happen is for existing (white male) candidates to be deselected.. This probably isn’t going to be as difficult as some might imagine, because the 2020 election will be contested across the 600 new constituencies…

  • Paul, I was simply wanting to know what effect the policies between 2010 and 2015 had on selections. No need to accuse me of wanting to manipulate statistics.

  • Its such a comfort to me that, as we hurtle towards irrelevance and oblivion with our focus on such central and popular issues as an open door policy for ‘refugees’ and legalising dope. the gauleiters of LDN and elsewhere are busy ensuring that the PPCs we don’t get elected in 2020 will be 50% women.


  • Let’s vote for the motion, I actually think it is very sensible overall, and I am principally against any shortlisting of candidates. I think this can help the party,but those in favour must talk up benefits not talk down our current mp. We failed on diversity in 2010, a for me coalition made it worse. I hope we move to a time where we can people of all backgrounds representing people of all backgrounds, and gender, race , sexuality is irrelevant, the ability as a candidate is what matters. Finally, let’s all stay civil we have lots of work to do as party a must not turn in to labour with in fighting.

  • Let’s vote for the motion, I actually think it is very sensible overall

    Well there is one further hurdle…

    Looking at Labour, the use of AWS was part of the New Labour message, hence was done very publicly both to show that Labour was changing and to encourage a new generation of voters, especially young professionals and women, to vote Labour. Hence I suggest the LibDems have a PR mountain to climb if they are to reap any real benefit from the general electorate in 2020 from this motion.

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