Old male MPs should make way for a new generation of women, say campaigners
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“Westminster’s outdated voting system is holding back equality in Wales, with dozens of seats effectively reserved for men first elected decades ago.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.”
> ‘I think this is a cheap shot – it’s crude to be measuring this on age alone’ – Labour MP Paul Flynn
> Jess Blair