There’s a question which keeps coming up: how do we get more women into Parliament? A number of groups, including the Electoral Reform Society, believe that first past the post (FPTP) is letting female candidates down.
Certainly, proportional representation (PR) can help women enter Parliament, depending on the type of list used. In a closed list system the order in which candidates appear is decided by the political party, not the voters, and so the list could contain a large number of women. Labour zipped their closed list for the PR section of the Welsh Assembly, meaning that alternate positions on the list were given to male and female candidates. Even in more open systems votes are often cast for parties rather than for individuals, resulting in the increased power of the party to get particular candidates elected.
If PR can help get women elected, the alternative vote (AV) might. Having more than one choice creates a different type of election, which may help women for two reasons. Firstly, multiple choices encourages voters to look past their normal expectations of an MP. People tend to be keen on the status quo and vote for what they know and trust, which is generally a middle-aged white man. Secondly, it is suspected that the different experiences of many women mean that they would be skilled at the type of campaigning which AV demands: communication to obtain second votes and a broad, pragmatic platform.
It’s by no means certain that AV would result in more women being elected to Parliament. So when you vote in the referendum in May, do so because you believe in one of the two systems. Vote for FPTP because it is fast and easy to understand. Vote for AV because it more accurately reflects the wishes of the electorate. Regardless of the outcome, we’ll keep trying to make Parliament more representative of the general population.