Hundreds of seats are ‘reserved’ by men at Westminster

Big Ben and Houses of Parliament

Hundreds of seats are effectively ‘reserved’ by men at Westminster, according to new research.

According to research conducted by Electoral Reform Society, gender equality in Parliament is being held back by Westminster’s voting system.

Figures show that although there is near gender parity among current MPs first elected in 2015, 170 seats are being held by men first elected in 2005 or before – with few opportunities for women to take those seats or selections.

Key findings show that of the 212 currently-serving MPs first elected in 2005 or before, just 42 are women. Of the 44 current MPs first elected in 1992 or before, only eight of them are women.

Yet the current levels of women’s representation rely on much better performance by parties in recent elections. Of the MPs remaining who were first elected in 2015, there is near gender parity with 45 per cent women. 37 per cent of MPs first elected in 2017 are women.

The problem stems from the fact that long-held seats were first elected in much more unequal times. However, MPs can hold on to their seats due to the one-member, closed-off nature of First Past the Post constituencies, as well as the incumbency effect in Britain’s many ‘safe seats’.

The ERS is calling for multi-member seats under a proportional voting system to be introduced, to ensure all seats are properly contested, including by women.

Jess Garland, Director of Policy and Research at the Electoral Reform Society, said, “While we’ve seen progress on women’s representation in recent elections, gender equality is being held back by Westminster’s broken voting system, which effectively ‘reserves’ seats for men.”

“Over 80 per cent of MPs first elected in 1997 or earlier are men, with the one-MP per seat one-person-takes-all nature of First Past the Post leaving few opportunities for women’s representation once a man has secured selection.”

“Sitting MPs have a huge incumbency advantage, and since open selections are relatively rare, we face a real stumbling block in the path to fair representation.”

“Parties have made significant strides, with near gender parity among current MPs first elected in 2015.”

“But without change of the system, further progress will be extremely slow.”

“Westminster’s single-member seat system is widely regarded as the world’s worst when it comes to achieving gender balance.”

“Proportional multi-member systems – used in democracies around the world – mean there are always real opportunities for improving women’s representation.”

“As parties evaluate their progress towards equal representation, they must consider a proportional voting system that puts real democracy and dynamism at the heart of our politics.”

Alison Simpson
About the author

Alison is the Digital Content Editor for WeAreTheCity. She has a BA Honours degree in Journalism and History from the University of Portsmouth. She has previously worked in the marketing sector and in a copywriting role. Alison’s other passions and hobbies include writing, blogging and travelling.

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