Tuesday, October 27, 2009

All-women shortlists lead to equally popular female MPs

After Sunder Katwala posted about all-women shortlists (and a typically ignorant Amanda Platell column on the subject), I thought I’d take a look.

Do female MPs who’ve been selected in this way tend to be worse than those selected in an open contest against men? Platell and many others would have us think so.

So, how do you determine the quality of an MP? There are many things you could look at, none clearly definitive, but I’ve contracted out this judgement to the people who hire those MPs: their constituency voters.

As Sunder says, “35 of Labour's new women MPs in 1997 were selected on all women shortlists and 30 were not”. Respectively 34 and 29 of these stood for re-election in 2001. I’ve compared how well they did (election results here, list of all-women-shortlist seats here).

In 2001, the average vote share won by female Labour MPs selected through all-women shortlists fell by 1.8%. The average change for those selected openly was a fall of 1.4%. A tiny difference, not close to being statistically significant. So perhaps the hubbub over this is just one of those Westminster issues that ordinary people don’t really care about.

(I’ve not looked at how female candidates selected in different ways did at their first bid for election. That would be harder, as all-women shortlists were only used in Labour-held or target seats, whereas women will have been selected in open contests for many hopeless seats as well. This would likely distort any straight comparison.)

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