UCL Debates: This House supports the use of all-women shortlists

UCL Debates: This House supports the use of all-women shortlists

Pi Media summarises the debate on the motion ‘This House supports of the use of all-women shortlists for UK elections’.

This Monday the UCLU Debating Society hosted a debate on the motion ‘This House supports the use of all women shortlists for UK elections’. To contextualise the debate, a mere 455 women have been elected to Parliament since 1918. There are currently a total of 650 MP’s in Parliament at any given time. All-women shortlists were originally permitted by the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002, an amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act 1975, and are permitted at parliamentary and most governmental elections. The Act permitting all-women shortlists was set to expire at the end of 2015, but was extended to 2030 by the Equality Act 2010. The permission of all-women shortlists means that when a party selects their shortlists for a constituency seat, they can can choose to put forward only female candidates. Evidently, the aim is to increase the number of women in a male dominated Parliament, however, all-women shortlists have only ever been employed by the Labour Party.

Before the debate, a vote on the motion was taken. Three people voted in favour, one in opposition, and seventeen people abstained.

First to speak in proposition of the motion is Daniel Berman, an avid debater and a PhD student at the London School of Economics. Daniel argues that simply having women around, indeed having different kinds of people around, influences how you behave. People are more inclined to care, be aware of, and respect the issues faced by those they come into regular contact with. With more women there are in Parliament, male MP’s will become more sensitive to and aware of the issues women face.

An important and contentious point Berman goes on to raise is that when men recruit women because they are told there needs to be more women in Parliament, they seek out women that agree with them and support things as they are. Theresa May represents the Conservative Party. She is not a beacon for women’s rights simply by being a woman.  His point is that ensuring Parliament increasingly reflects the demographic of the general population will in turn ensure that the interests of the country as a whole are more adequately tackled, and understood, by the government.

[kopa_blockquote]‘Organic change’ is occurring too slowly – we need women in Parliament advocating for women’s rights as soon as possible[/kopa_blockquote]

First to speak in opposition is Charlotte Norton. Charlotte is currently editor of Anticipations, the Young Fabians in-house magazine, and studied Law at Oxford. She argues that the proposition are presenting an argument for the ‘cosmetic’ presence of women. Women are not one homogenous group. Women being in any position simply because they are a woman means that they were not part of a fair fight which saw them chosen because they were objectively the best person for the job, they were just the best woman for the job.

The idea that we can solve the lack of women in Parliament simply by introducing policies that make sure women appear there rapidly is not solving the underlying issues. Providing things like adequate childcare, good pay, a comfortable working environment, and mentorship programs is necessary if women are to be attracted to politics over the long haul. As Norton argues, the job is not done simply by filling a quota of women for a while. In addition, women are sometimes told they are only in their position because they are a woman. All women shortlists ensure that a women elected from one is in her position first and foremost because she is a woman. Do we want women in Parliament primarily because they are women, or because some women are genuinely better choices for their jobs than some men?

[kopa_blockquote]Waiting around for women to ‘naturally’ increase in number in Parliament means that women’s issues risk not getting the attention they deserve[/kopa_blockquote]

Second to speak in proposition is Aria Dinakara Babu, a UCL student who also acts as Communications Officer for Liberal Youth, the student wing of the Liberal Democrats. Her case largely revolves around the idea that ‘organic change’ is occurring too slowly – we need women in Parliament advocating for women’s rights as soon as possible. Waiting around for women to ‘naturally’ increase in number in Parliament means that women’s issues risk not getting the attention they deserve. She says that ‘organic change’ involves people overcoming their own internal biases and this takes time, time that we can’t afford to waste. Also, women are told they are put in positions of power for simply being women all the time anyway.

Aria believes women must be the ones fighting for women’s issues: men don’t have the same kind of first hand insights into the problems faced by women. Young women also need role models in government. All-women shortlists, whilst artificially placing women in Parliament, help speed up the rate of ‘organic change’. When young women have the role models and mentors they need, change has the potential to happen faster. Whilst in these roles, women can facilitate the kinds of changes the opposition deem essential for this problem to be solved in the long haul. If there are larger numbers of female MP’s the likelihood of provisions that women require specifically, such as childcare, will have to be implemented. All women shortlists get women into parliament to pave the way for women in the future. There is no guarantee that this will happen otherwise.

[kopa_blockquote]MP’s exist to serve their constituents and the best person for the job, be it a man or a woman, should be getting the job[/kopa_blockquote]

Last to speak, in opposition, is Katie Heard. Katie opens by using the analogy of Brexit to prove that people easily buy into the short term benefits sold to them, disregarding or without considering the long term impacts. She contextualises the debate by mentioning that plenty of female MP’s don’t actually support all-women shortlists. She then goes on to address what is arguably the crux of the issue within this debate – MP’s exist to serve their constituents and the best person for the job, be it a man or a woman, should be getting the job. Why are we wasting time talking about shortlists? We should be paving the road for women into politics, not temporary laying down a carpet and escorting them along it with plans to remove said carpet when some arbitrary ‘woman quota’ has been met, she says in essence.

We live in a meritocracy, Katie also points out. When people perceive that an ideally meritocratic process is being hampered, it is problematic. Of all people, MP’s need to be skilled at their jobs. If in a given constituency the most popularly supported and qualified person is a man, then he should not be prevented from winning the job because a party has introduced an all-women shortlist for the constituency. This is undemocratic and risks impeding the will of the people.We can improve the number of women in politics by supplying women with the support, the skills and the environments they need to thrive, which are currently lacking. This issue is not necessarily tackled by simply ensuring some women are present in Parliament, creating the illusion that the problems faced by women in politics have been solved. Indeed, ensuring a woman is in Parliament because she was the best women for the job, rather than just the best person, is arguably inherently wrong.

Following the debate, another vote was taken. Twelve people voted in favour of the motion, seven people against, and four in abstention.

This article includes summaries of arguments presented during a debate. The opinions presented do not always represent the personal views of the speakers. Most often they do, but this is not always the case.  

UCLU Debating Society holds public debates open to anyone every Monday. To find out more about the society and the debates each week, please visit their website at or join the Facebook group at

Featured image credit: Wikimedia 

Beatrix Willimont