In 2008 The House of Commons agreed to establish a new committee, to be chaired by the Speaker and known as the Speaker’s Conference. The Conference was asked to: “consider, and make recommendations for rectifying, the disparity between the representation of women, ethnic minorities and disabled people in the House of Commons and their representation in the UK population at large”.
One of the Conference’s recommendations in January 2010, was that following the 2010 and subsequent General Elections the political parties should publish a statement on the diversity of their Members of Parliament. Three General Elections on, this has not happened. So what did the 2015 General Election mean for the diversity profile of MPs?
A new Briefing Paper from the Commons Library has some of the data to answer this question.
2015: Highest number of women ever
Since the 2015 General Election, there are 191 women MPs, 29% of the total, compared to 128 (20%) after the 2005 election. In 2015, the number of female Labour MPs increased by 18, the number of Conservative and SNP women MPs each grew by 19. Now, 43% of Labour MPs, 21% of Conservative MPs and 36% of SNP MPs are women.
Women MPs as percentage of total, 1918-2015
2015: Ethnically more diverse
There is no public data on the ethnicity of MPs from Parliament or the political parties, but a commonly-quoted figure is that 41 MPs with a non-white ethnic background were elected in 2015. This is 6.3% of the total and is just less than half the 12.9% for the UK population from non-white backgrounds. 56% of non-white MPs are Labour, compared to Labour’s 36% share of all MPs.
2015: Fewer from manual jobs, continued rise of the “professional politician”
Assigning an occupational background to MPs is subjective, and difficult when following a single career path is increasingly less common. The post-war series of academic studies The British General Election of … however, provides the best consistent series for the changing occupational background of MPs. The author of the 2015 analysis describes the data as “broad brush” and “as much a work of art as of science”, but the 2015 cohort of MPs does not appear to have bucked previously identified longer term trends. Notably, it is increasingly common for MPs to be “professional politicians” whose previous job was as an MP’s or Ministerial advisor, think tank employee or full-time councillor. In 2015, 107 MPs (Con, Lab, LD & SNP) were identified as having been in political or quasi-political role prior to being in Parliament.
By contrast, the number of MPs with a background as a manual worker continued to decline. In part this reflects the fall in the number of such jobs in the wider economy, but it probably also points to the continued narrowing of the occupational backgrounds MPs are drawn from.
Occupation of MPS 1951 to 2015 by party: the law, teaching, manual jobs and “professional politician”
Note: SNP included for 2015 only
For more details:
House of Commons Library Briefing Paper 7483 Social Background of MPs 1979-2015
House of Commons Library Briefing Paper SN01250 Women in Parliament and Government