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Julia Goldsworthy

Will fair votes help the fairer sex?

June 7th, 2010 by Julia Goldsworthy

Despite the influx of newbies this May, the House of Commons remains overwhelmingly pale, male and stale. This is nowhere more evident than in both the formal cabinet and kitchen cabinets of both Clegg and Cameron, where the majority of the pivotal roles are occupied by men.

Of course the people in charge of running the country should be those best equipped for the job. And I think that is clearly the basis upon which both the Prime Minister and his Deputy have put together their teams. But if over half the population aren’t  properly represented, aren’t we missing out on the talents that they have to offer too?

It’s a subject that is very difficult to broach as a woman, without sounding either like a 1950s housewife or a feminist fundamentalist. Not that it’s stopped people giving their opinions.

Kirstie Allsopp’s conclusion on Radio 4’s The World At One a few weeks back was that women just need to accept that our temperaments aren’t suitable for the cut and thrust of politics (presumably we’re much better at baking and cleaning). At the other end of the spectrum, Harriet Harman wants a quota system to ensure half the Labour Shadow Cabinet are women. Neither approach makes me feel particularly comfortable.

My personal view is that Parliament needs to better reflect the society it is there to represent. That means electing more women, as well as MPs with more diverse backgrounds and experiences than is currently the case.

Achieving this will take more than the measures we have seen from political parties to date – like Labour’s all-women shortlists, Lib Dem “zipping” and the Conservatives’ “A List.” It is not simply a matter of how to provide greater support and encouragement to under-represented groups, or making Parliament’s working hours more “family friendly.”

Much wider and more fundamental reform is needed – to level the playing field so all candidates can compete on a fair basis.

It’s yet another compelling argument in favour of electoral reform – to a proportional system. And the evidence backs this up:  countries with high percentages of women politicians are much more likely to have a proportional voting system. And, by the same token, first-past-the-post electoral systems are much more likely to have smaller numbers of women MPs.

Moving to a fairer voting system will not only make peoples’ votes count, it will also mean they are more likely to choose a broader range and mix of politicians too. It’s why an AV referendum should mark only the beginning of the debate on electoral reform…

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David Laws’ resignation – This brutal sport makes compelling viewing, but would you make yourself available for selection?

May 30th, 2010 by Julia Goldsworthy

As someone still licking my wounds after an agonisingly narrow defeat at the General Election (by 66 votes), I know first hand that politics can be tough. However, yesterday’s events, which culminated in the resignation of David Laws as Chief Secretary, were nothing short of brutal. It was compelling viewing for politics junkies and media hacks, but it’s hardly a great job advert to inspire Britain’s best minds to put themselves forward for the job.

I’m not going to pontificate about the intricacies of David’s personal life, and it’s for the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to decide whether or not any rules were broken. However, one thing he said in his statement certainly made me reflect on my own experiences.

In his statement he spoke of the impact of his work in politics on those he loves most.

Deciding to stand for Parliament in 2003 was something I did after talking it through with my parents. After all, they were people who had never made their politics public before, and I wanted to stand in the area where I was born and brought up – where they still live. I was happy to put myself forward and be subjected to public scrutiny – but the corollary of that was that their privacy would be impacted upon as well.

The same goes for my partner Chris as well. Spending half our time apart was tough enough – but that wasn’t the only challenge. Being the partner of an MP not only meant coming second to what I consider to an important public duty, it also meant putting the finer details of how our relationship was changing into the public domain. Like any other couple in their late twenties and early thirties, we were making decisions about how serious we were about one another, whether we would move in together, and whether we might have children. It was stuff that wasn’t massively in the spotlight, but it did make our relationship feel a bit like public property.

That sense of intrusion exploded during the expenses scandal last year. And I whilst I was happy to be considered fair game by the press, it was not fair on my family, my partner and even my neighbours, who had journalists knocking on their doors. It was one of the lowest periods of my life, and was made worse by the guilt I felt about the difficult situation I had also put my loved ones in.

Their support was fantastic, but I wish I could have done more to protect them. It seems to me that is why David wished to keep his personal life private – to protect the people he loved.

I’m now weighing up whether or not I will stand for election again. Being a candidate and an MP is a massively rewarding job. It is work that rightly should be considered an important public duty for people who wish to serve their country. But set against that is the impact that it unavoidably has on the people you love most.

Parliament needs talented people with a wide range of experiences and backgrounds. But the rewarding parts of the job never seem to get the same kind of attention as the more ’salacious’ stories. Watching a personal tragedy unfold in public may have been a great spectator sport for some – but we need to attract participants to our political process too.

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Coalition Government – a high stakes poker game for all parties

May 28th, 2010 by Julia Goldsworthy

Yesterday’s performance by David Laws in the House of Commons provides a useful insight into the dynamics of the first few weeks of coalition.

Any future stability is dependent on Liberal Democrat Ministers delivering a payroll voting bloc in support of the government. This is understood by both parties, but nothing’s more uncomfortable than being outshone by your deputies, as no doubt Osborne is now painfully aware. Perhaps that’s why he chose to stay away from the Chamber. But how long before these personal rivalries start to play themselves out in public? And will George also have to cope with continued unflattering comparisons with Vince, as he did in the run up to the election?

Much of the focus so far has rightly been on the policy framework as set out in the coalition agreement and in yesterday’s Queen’s Speech. But a lot will also rest on the relative capabilities of those in ministerial posts. Just as is the case with a game of poker, it’s not just the cards you are dealt, but also how individuals play each hand that counts.

Is this where the Conservatives have crucially underestimated the Liberal Democrats? Whilst it might help ensure success and stability for the coalition, it also leaves the door wide open for talented Lib Dems to carve out credibility for both themselves and the party in ways that could pay electoral dividends in the future.

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