I’m sceptical about Harriet Harman’s desire for the shadow cabinet to have a 50% female quota – more so than I am about quotas aiming at 50% female representation in parliament.
In the latter case, there’s a 50% female population (in fact a bit more) to draw on, so there should be no problem finding good women. But for the shadow cabinet, the pool is the Parliamentary Labour Party, which is 31% female. A 50-50 shadow cabinet would therefore have to use disproportionately many of these, leaving few on the backbenches to speak out freely and to sit on select committees –important roles in their own right.
But there is a case for pushing against this sex bias, and in doing so from the top. So maybe, if we really have to have a quota, it could be for a figure somewhere between the PLP level and the population level – 40%?
(NB Evidence suggests that voters are no less satisfied with female MPs selected through all-women shortlists than those selected against men.)
However, if we’re concerned about a disproportionately male politics, what about other under-represented demographics? If we start thinking about ethnicity, age, class, disability and so on, we could find ourselves with a horrifyingly complex quota system.
Me, I’m far more concerned about the personal qualities and political views of politicians. Could we have quotas for diligence, courage, imagination, humility, honesty and intelligence?
Oh, and if we feel like scoring a lazy point at the expense of a certain pair of parties, we could have a rule that at least 50% of the shadow cabinet have to be non-millionaires.