Much more must be done to encourage local political activism and to prevent discrimination against potential parliamentary candidates who do not fit the traditional mould.
This is among the conclusions of the Speaker's Conference on Parliamentary Representation which was set up to look at ways of encouraging and enabling a wider diversity of people to become MPs. In its report published today (Monday 11 January 2010) the Conference proposes a range of measures to encourage greater participation in politics.
The Conference emphasises that political parties themselves are an important part of the future of our democracy. It warns the extent to which political parties are the subject of both contempt and general public indifference should be a cause of concern. To nurture activism at grass roots level they want the Government to consider introducing a scheme enabling local political parties to apply for funding linked to their receipts from member subscriptions.
At local level, the Conference found there are a number of barriers to the selection of candidates which include, the cost, a lack of confidence, time pressures and lack of support. The Conference also identified discrimination in the selection process against women, people from ethnic minorities and disabled people. There was also a tendency to fall back on "more of the same" when selecting or to promote only "favoured sons".
Commenting on the report, Anne Begg MP Vice Chair of the Speaker's Conference said:
"The case for equality of representation has not yet been won. We welcome the progress which each of the main parties has made over recent years towards ensuring that its selection procedures are more professional and objective then they have been in the past.
"Yet the fact is that, in most cases, it remains more difficult for a candidate who does not fit the "white, male middle-class" norm to be selected, particularly if the seat is considered winnable. Our recommendations are aimed at putting that right, and I urge government, political parties and Parliament itself to implement them without delay."