"Increasing the diversity of MPs would make it a more just, legitimate and effective legislature."
Would it? Would it really? Surely a legislature is effective when it has effective people in it, regardlessof their background. Don't get me wrong. I want to see more women in parliament, but I also want to see more older people in parliament, and no doubt one or two other groups too. But I don't want them to be tokens. They need to be people of judgement, quality and effectiveness. A legislature doesn't automatically become effective just because its members are 50% women, 10% BME, or 10% gay.
Eighty-nine MPs - 13.8% of the total - have already said they will stand down at the next election. Candidates from the same party have been chosen in 49 of those seats, but there are still 40 vacancies. "If just half of the vacant and winnable seats we have highlighted as likely to arise before the next election should be filled by individuals from under-represented groups, the result would be a House of Commons which not only looks different but is likely to think differently, speak differently, and bring to its work the lived experience of a much greater proportion of society," the report said.
But what is an under-represented group? Women, BME, disabled, gay are all obvious ones, but I suspect we can all come up with others. My pet one is older people, but I could equally suggest that 6'2, West Ham season ticket holding Audi drivers are severely underrepresented too. Of course I jest, but you get the point.
If we want to get more women into parliament, we have to persuade them to come forward in the first place. And for whatever reason, they are just not doing so in the numbers that men are. At the moment, political parties are trying to impose a top down approach - all women shortlists, 'A' Lists etc. Both have been effective in getting more women chosen, but are they of sufficient quality? The experience of the Blair Babes would suggest not. What we need is a 'bottom up' approach, where women are persuaded to put themselves forward in greater numbers in the first place. As I understand it, only about 30% of the approved parliamentary candidates for each of the three main parties are women, and that figure hasn't changed much in recent years. If we are to move towards 50% female representation in parliament, I would say a first stage must be to increase the proportion of women on the approved lists. This must not be done at the expense of good men, though. You don't create a high quality parliament by decreasing the quality of the gene pool.
If there were a simple answer to this, some bright spark would have come up with it long ago. There isn't. That doesn't mean we should give up efforts to make parliament more representative. But in the meantime, we must stop coming up with headline grabbing, tokenistic measures, which I believe only serve to put good people off the political process.