Old male MPs should make way for a new gen­er­a­tion of women, say cam­paign­ers

Western Mail - - NEWS - Martin Ship­ton Chief re­porter martin.ship­ton@waleson­line.co.uk

OLD male politi­cians who hog seats for decades are a block on moves to­wards gen­der bal­ance among MPs, ac­cord­ing to cam­paign­ers for elec­toral re­form.

Re­search by ERS Cymru has con­firmed that while new MPs elected be­tween 2015-17 are rel­a­tively gen­der-balanced (40%), the vast ma­jor­ity of MPs first elected be­fore 2015 are male.

Of Welsh MPs first elected in 2001 or ear­lier, 90% are male. Some 81% of cur­rent Welsh MPs first elected in 2010 or ear­lier are men.

The pre­dom­i­nance of men among long-stand­ing MPs has been de­scribed as “seat block­ing”.

Jess Blair, ERS Cymru di­rec­tor, said: “In a month for cel­e­brat­ing 100 years of women win­ning the right to vote, it is stag­ger­ing that there is still such a huge gen­der gap when it comes to our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem.

“West­min­ster’s out­dated vot­ing sys­tem is hold­ing back equal­ity in Wales, with dozens of seats ef­fec­tively re­served for men first elected decades ago.

“Since there is only one rep­re­sen­ta­tive per seat – un­like the sys­tem for Assem­bly elec­tions – one per­son can con­trol 100% of po­lit­i­cal power lo­cally.

“The sin­gle-mem­ber, closed-off na­ture of ‘first past the post’ con­stituen­cies means there are of­ten few op­por­tu­ni­ties for women to se­cure rep­re­sen­ta­tion.

“This ‘seat block­ing’ is hold­ing back progress on gen­der equal­ity in Wales. It’s time for a more open, multi-mem­ber sys­tem that gives vot­ers real choice and di­ver­sity.”

But the idea is not pop­u­lar with some of the tar­geted older men.

Labour MP Paul Flynn, 83, who has rep­re­sented New­port West since 1987, re­sponded: “I think this is a cheap shot. They’re not all males but there are a num­ber of oc­to­ge­nar­ian MPs.

“They are punch­ing above their weight and that has been the prac­tice for some time. It’s crude to be mea­sur­ing this on age alone.”

Mr Flynn said that in the House of Lords many of the peers who have re­tired on age grounds were of­ten the ones who had made the best con­tri­bu­tions.

He named Lord Gren­fell, a pro-EU peer whose ti­tle is Lord Gren­fell of Kil­vey in Swansea, and Lord [Stan­ley] Clin­ton Davies, a for­mer EU com­mis­sioner, both of whom re­cently re­tired.

He added: “In the House of Com­mons in the last Par­lia­ment we had David Win­nick, who was one of the most in­dus­tri­ous MPs, Den­nis Skin­ner and Ger­ald Kauf­man, who made con­tri­bu­tions that were cer­tainly above the av­er­age.

“We have Ann Cl­wyd do­ing a sim­i­lar job in this Par­lia­ment.

“There are many rea­sons for get­ting a bet­ter bal­ance in the House, but the bal­ance should in­clude el­derly geri­atrics as well as young peo­ple.

“Those who are sug­gest­ing elim­i­nat­ing 80-year-olds are frus­trat­ing the di­ver­sity that they’re seek­ing. The present com­po­si­tion of the Com­mons, which should re­flect the com­po­si­tion of the pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try, is des­per­ately short and un­der-rep­re­sented by the num­ber of oc­to­ge­nar­i­ans there.

“Just as it’s vi­tal to have as many peo­ple from as many com­mu­ni­ties and creeds and sexes and ev­ery­thing else as pos­si­ble, it’s also im­por­tant to have peo­ple there who can re­call life as it was some 80 years ago, and they have a vi­tal con­tri­bu­tion to make.

“It’s im­por­tant to have peo­ple who can re­mem­ber what life was like be­fore there was a health ser­vice.”

Plaid Cymru’s West­min­ster group leader Liz Sav­ille Roberts said: “There are a num­ber of bar­ri­ers for women to en­ter pol­i­tics, in­clud­ing a preva­lence of abuse against fe­male politi­cians and gen­der con­di­tion­ing, as well as male-dom­i­nated in­cum­bency.

“It is a priv­i­lege to lead Plaid Cymru’s group in West­min­ster as the party’s first fe­male MP and work along­side many ex­pe­ri­enced and tal­ented col­leagues, but far more needs to be done to en­cour­age women to stand for elec­tion and start re­dress­ing the gen­der bal­ance in pol­i­tics.”

Lewis Whyld

> ‘I think this is a cheap shot – it’s crude to be mea­sur­ing this on age alone’ – Labour MP Paul Flynn

> Jess Blair

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