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June 07, 2010



"What - apart from trivial power plays - am I missing?"
The opportunity to discuss status quo bias?

Left Outside

You're kinda discusses opportunity cost, and fallaciously at that.

You imply that by arguing for a gender balanced shadow cabinet Harman is stopping other forms of positive action. One action excludes the other.

Of course, Harman can only campaign for a limited number of campaigns, but the same is not true of politics in general.

A cabinet of half men and half women may actually make the likelihood of other forms of redress for imbalances more likely.

It may just be a starting point.


@LO - I'm not saying quotas for women exclude other egalitarian moves. Clearly they don't. I'm just wondering why quotas for women make more sense than (say) quotas for people from state schools. Why is it that some people argue for one and not the other?


Left Outside, you owe Mike Moffatt a pint. ;-)

There's another problem, this time to do with the point about the exclusion of those "with lower incomes than MPs".

But an MP in a Shadow Cabinet can't possibly ever have a lower salary than an MP. By definition.

The set of all current, past and potential future MPs who have a salary lower than an MPs salary is empty.

Big Fez

I am trying to find a perspective which makes sense of this:

I wonder if there is some sense in which being born male or being born female is or seems 'more random' than the other ways people can be different. Someone's character, race, income etc are largely determined by either genes, upbringing, or both. It is an arguable question how justified the resulatant inequalities are. But whether someone is male or female is completely down to chance. It doesn't matter who your parents are, or where you were born or anything. And so gender inequality is in some ways a much more 'clear-cut' case of our society being unfair.

I am kind of rambling here. Sorry.


I think you seem to be making the point that if this is only addressing one form of inequality, then it shouldn't be tried at all. Does that really make sense? As women are 50% of the population, whereas - although massively unrepresented - disabled and ethnic minorities are less then that, doesn't the first step towards positive equal action being targeting women's representation make some kind of sense? I don't think that precludes further action for other minority representatives.

Speaking as a female, well-educated legal practitioner who is strongly political, I would be interested in working as a local backbench MP - but unfortunately there's a billards room rather than a creche, and non-flexible working hours, and I'm physically disabled. I also dislike the masculine culture prevalent in Parliament - although some could say that's circular and actively a reason why I should stand. However, until something changes, I won't be physically able to. I'm better qualified than Osborne! Rather than "taking me away" from my current profession, surely this means that there are plenty of women who feel the same who aren't being made use of fully?


I'm not sure your take on the arguments for quotas is fair. The point isn't that men are somehow incapable of representing women, but that *in fact* they are bad at doing so, or at least worse than women. The evidence since 1997 is that the larger proportion of female MPs has stimulated a greater willingness to speak out and act on issues that affect women. There's a book - "New Labour's Women MPs: Women Representing Women" - which details significant differences in behaviour between male and female MPs.

Why women specifically? No doubt part of it is the visibility and simplicity of the measures to address the perceived inequality, in a way that wouldn't be possible for ethnic minorities or state schoolers (read: class). Political incentives also play a big part, but that doesn't make it wrong.

Your argument about opportunity cost is odd, perhaps because of the tension between two aspects of the job of MP. On one hand, it's a technical job which requires skills, talent, qualifications, but more importantly it's about representation. The value of more women entering politics isn't some Gosplan-esque function of the effective redistribution of talent, but the greater symbolic and substantive representation it secures for women.


"The set of all current, past and potential future MPs who have a salary lower than an MPs salary is empty."

Not quite true actually - Dave Nellist donated most of his salary back to charities and the Labour party, so that his take-home pay was the same as that of an average skilled worker. Quite a lot of socialist candidates make the same pledge.

But yes, in general, MPs will always have an above-average salary.

Anyway, I agree with Nic...

john malpas

Why not make it very 'fair' and just chose people by lottery?

Fred Kapoor

It is because among all those categories you mentioned: ": single people; ethnic minorities; people without degrees; people educated at state school; the under-30s, the over-60s; and, of course, the 95% of people with lower incomes than MPs" women are also there. Meaning that if men, are also part of those groups, how come women (only for being women) are not represented equally to the way in which men are represented. Married people used to be single, ethnic minorities, are minoroities and there has to be a proportion; I agree with the people with no degrees and people educated at state school and of couse also with people with lower incomes. But doesn't change the fact that women are equal to men and their representations should be like that as well.


Big Fez, your point isn't strictly true, for instance, there are transgender people.

Left Outside

"Left Outside, you owe Mike Moffatt a pint. ;-)"

True that. Next time I'm in Canada I'll see if I can track him down.

Chris, as I am thinking about opportunity costs, I think I need to make it clear that they do apply on the individual level. Harriet Harman has made a career out of her brand of feminism. That includes things like all ASL, and moves to equalise the gender mix in the cabinet. She does not have the power or time to campaign for a cabinet that is representative in all the ways which would be necessary to eliminate the odd biases you discuss above.

However, political activists in general do have the time to do so. Harman can only do so much, but I don't see her actions crowding out those of others, if anything it would probably serve to crowd in other demands to "make cabinet representative".


she doesn't really want 50%, she just wants more than we have now.



1 - it's an easily measurable metric (see also ethnicity?)

2 - potential pool of available talent...but here's the problem: Harman's repeated interventions always boil down to 'more women'. Your suggestion of 'gender specific skills' risks invoking a biological/genetic aspect to abilities, which most feminists are very sceptical of because it's been used in the past to argue along the lines of 'Girls Can't Catch'. Unfortunately, Harman's not averse to claiming/implying some kind of 'essentially female' attribute which offers a magic solution to problems apparently 'caused' by 'men' rather than by, say, free-market capitalism (see Iceland, though the out lesbian PM raises questions about heterosexuality and dodgy economic policies...or maybe not). She keeps getting caught out on this (witness her problems re. Thatcher and Sarah Palin, or defending Blair/Prescott), but she keeps making the same mistake, most likely because 'Not Being a Bloke' is her USP.

Put it another way: a diversity of representation isn't the same as a diversity of thought and opinion - a Tory/LibDem coalition comprised of 50% women is still a centre-right coalition, but an all-female Labour leadership contest consisting of Blears, Abbott, Cooper and Beckett would offer a wider range of opinions than Diane and the Not-So-Supremes currently on offer. Quotas alone won't solve the problems of New Labour.

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