Whilst I was away, I got a reminder of how I am out of step with modern politics.
Austin Mitchell complained about the feminization of parliament. This, he says, will lead to politics becoming "more preoccupied with the local rather than the international...and small problems rather than big ideas and issues." The reaction to this, gathered by Ben Cobley, has been hostile.
There is some important and interesting evidence on this point. It's this paper by Dinuk Jayasuriya and Paul Burke. They show that:
Over recent decades, higher representation of females in parliament has led to faster economic growth.
Now, "led to" does not mean "cause." It could be that this correlation exists because of an omitted variable; perhaps gender equality generally promotes growth - for example by encouraging women's education (pdf) - and more female MPs are merely a symptom of this equality.
However, this might not be the whole story. Perhaps preoccupations with local issues help promote economic growth - say, by ensuring better childcare (pdf) - in a way that bloviating about big ideas does not.
However you interpret their finding, it suggests that, at worst, a feminization of parliament would not have adverse material effects and at best it would benefit everyone (except for a few would-be male MPs).
However, as far as I can tell, nobody has cited the Burke and Jayasuriya paper. In one sense, I find this depressing. This omission corroborates my fear that politics has become a post-serious wrestling match in which scientific evidence is ignored in favour of narcissistic cheering and booing.
In another sense, though, I wonder whether it might be me that's wrong. In hoping for a dispassionate scientific debate, mightn't I be guilty of the mistake of which I accused Richard Dawkins - namely, assuming that emotion-free politics is both possible and desireable?
I'm not sure which it is. Either way, I'm out of touch.