Despite voting rights of foreigners in the UK, political representation is not a success

Despite voting rights of foreigners in the UK, political representation is not a success


To amend the inequalities of the political representation of women, minorities and disabled people, the Speaker’s Conference, a committee of members of the House of Commons, was entasked in 2008 to make recommendations

An extraordinary enquiry: a parliamentary commission provides responses

The latest Speaker’s Conference, held on 12 November 2008 at the House of Commons, focused on the theme of how to reduce differences in the representation of minorities to combat voting abstention. A Speaker’s Conference is presided by a speaker and its members are drawn by lots from all the political parties represented at the House of Commons. It is a form of enquiry that is rarely used: the first was organised in 1917 and since then only five have been held.

The Speaker’s Conference states that the integration of these currently under-represented groups at the House of Commons would make a positive contribution to British democracy. If the House of Commons were more diverse, it could base its work on more diverse experiences. This would enable it to resolve problems and propose more effective new laws. The Conference expressed concern about the situation, and fears that Parliament might lose its legitimacy.

The objective of the Conference was not only confined to ethnic minorities, but dealt with all minorities: women, the disabled, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender OR TRANSSEXUALS? Its aim was to define the reasons why these groups were under-represented and find a solution to the problem. Thus it was essential that dialogue between MPs and the people they are supposed to represent be reactivated.

The difficulties of true representation
The Speaker’s Conference identified two types of problems. The first, termed “supply side barriers”, inhibits under-represented groups from stepping forward, mainly because of the high cost of electoral campaigns. The Conference recognises that ethnic minorities are more likely to occupy jobs with low pay, and consequently cannot afford the costs of standing for election. The Conference made an appeal to launch a Democracy Diversity Fund at party level to fund the costs of campaigning for members of under-represented ethnic groups, a fund which was hitherto non-existent.

In the rare cases when promotion effectively took place, the Conference noted that it in no way promoted the candidate to a position of responsibility. This obstacle was identified as a “demand side barrier”. The Speaker’s Conference advocates a policy of mandatory quotas that political parties would have to respect, firstly for women and then for ethnic minorities.

It is clear that since 2008, there has been no progress. Preoccupation with the legitimacy of the government with respect to under-represented groups has been expressed, but the solutions put forward by the Speaker’s Conference are inadequate. Recognising that ethnic minorities are gaining more advantage from their influence on conventional politics now than 20 or 30 years ago in no way precludes the fact that the Labour Party can do more to take into consideration both the concerns and the promotion of interests common to all minorities. In fact, the minorities tend more and more to participate in less conventional ways. The Speaker’s Conference provides pointers and recommendations, but has given nothing substantial to improve fair representation.

Lamia Dzanoun