The group of MPs recently elected to the UK Parliament is the most diverse ever. Amongst all the excitement and uncertainty that follows an election it’s important to pause for a minute to celebrate that simple fact. The UK now has more MPs who identify as LGBTQ+, more disabled MPs, more female MPs and more MPs from ethnic minorities. In other words, Parliament just got a whole lot more representative.
There are some key reasons why that is important:
Representation matters. Having a House of Commons, the composition of which better reflects wider society, adds legitimacy to the democratic process. It also enables Parliament to make decisions and provide scrutiny which better represent the experiences, needs, views and aspirations of the population it serves.
Visibility matters. A more diverse parliament offers a greater proportion of the electorate a sense of belonging, and inclusion. That is not to say that we should, or do, vote for people based simply on a shared aspect of our identity. It is however, a reminder that your gender, religion, race or sexuality should not be a limitation on your value, or your ability to contribute to society.
The diversity visible in the newly elected Parliament could help to create a more open and less intimidating space for marginalised groups to engage with the political system. I am hopeful that the increase in visible diversity amongst MPs will act as a catalyst, enabling further engagement from previously disenfranchised groups.
Deliberation matters. Involve’s think-piece, Room for a View, presents the importance of deliberative systems – the way in which diverse views and experiences are presented and interact to influence and inform the decisions that governments and parliaments make. Looked at in this way, a greater diversity of elected representatives is a significant step towards a healthier democracy. Simply having people at the table with different backgrounds and perspectives should help to facilitate a more dynamic and productive conversation – one that is critical to a fair exchange of views, and to solving the key 21st challenges facing UK society.
Progress matters. We’ve come a long way, but there’s still a lot of work to be done to make our political system genuinely representative and deliberative. While this Parliament is more diverse than ever, only 32% of MPs are female and the proportion of BME MPs remains strikingly below national proportions. Factors such as education, class, parenthood let alone experience and expertise across a wide range of industries and disciplines have not been touched on here, but are nevertheless important as we strive for a fully representative democracy.
To conclude, the greater diversity of MPs in our new UK Parliament should be celebrated. It is more inclusive in and of itself, is a potential route to further inclusion, and is a visible step towards a more representative political system with a greater capacity to work deliberatively. Improving the diversity of voices in Parliament is a good start and needs to continue, however it isn’t enough. I would urge politicians, officials and parties across all levels of government to build on this advance by seeking to include more diverse voices of the public. By doing this we can build a more representative and deliberative political system.