Parliament subjected itself to a dose of self-analysis last week as we debated ‘representation in Parliament’.
The premise of the motion was that women, the disabled and ethnic minorities are under-represented in the House of Commons.
It is true that the gender and ethnic make-up of the Commons does not reflect that of the wider population. And it can be argued that the more closely Parliament reflects national demographics, the more our work will be not only relevant but also of a higher quality.
To my mind, this is a lazy argument unless the true problem is identified – namely, that there are not necessarily too few BME (Black and Minority Ethnic), female or disabled MPs per se, but that unfortunately too few talented BME, female or disabled people put themselves forward.
Universal access to opportunity, not diversity itself, should be our slogan. Being a white, middle-class male is not a qualification for office, but it should not be a disqualification either: and we cannot say to such people that ‘We’re sorry, it’s just not your turn’.
Similarly, I reject the concept of all-women shortlists – themselves hardly diverse or democratic. I fail to see how such a measure to tackle discrimination on the basis of skin colour or gender can be justified when it discriminates against others with a particular skin colour or gender.
Happily, when I stood for selection to become the Conservative candidate for Portsmouth North, no such constraints were placed on my local association.
Proponents of (anti) discriminatory measures might address the symptoms of the problem of under-representation, but they do not tackle the cause.
Three factors principally stand in the way of the talented but so-called under-represented candidates: money, prejudice and process. To surmount these obstacles parties should not deny local associations their freedom of choice, but offer training on how better to select candidates – and make those deliberations subject to scrutiny.