Who Are Our MPs and Why does it Matter?
Updated: Mar 1
Representation in Parliament and in the corridors of power, is truly important for everyone who is a citizen in the UK. Not only is Parliament the highest and most powerful political body in the country, but it must also act to effectively represent all those people that make up the country. The UK has a democratic political system; therefore, everyone deserves a voice or representation.
MPs can either serve their constituents as a delegate, representative or trustee. However, all 3 forms of representation by an MP (whether closely relating to their constituency or not), means they properly represent the constituents that elected them.
Therefore, why is it so important that we have representation through our MPs?
In short, representation is important because it means that MPs can effectively sympathise and efficiently represent constituents
Furthermore, having representation allows many MPs to vote in favour of policies which reflect the wishes of their party and constituency. For example, with the recent passing of the abolishment of the Tampon Tax, many women urged their MPs to be in favour of supporting its passing. However, many male MPs did oppose the abolishment of the tax, therefore making female representation in Parliament even more critical to pass the vote. It must be noted that the 2019 Government is the most diverse to date, marking a successful progression.
So, let's break down some key areas of representation and see how closely our MPs relate to those who elected them.
From 1918, when the first woman was elected and took her seat in Parliament, to 2020 there has been a total of 552 women elected to the House of Commons. In 2020 alone there are 220 women currently sitting in Parliament. Although not a clear 50/50 divide, this is the highest number of women to ever be elected to the Commons during a term.
"In 2020 alone there are 220 women currently sitting in Parliament."
Currently, the UK population is around 51% female, but the most powerful body of the country only has 34% of its members as female. Although access to positions of power is increasing for women, there does appear to still be a significant difference. What is even more critical about this figure, is that this is the most representative Parliament has ever been.
The Labour Party has been the most successful at assisting women MPs in winning elections. Since the 2019 General Election, there are more female labour MPs than there are male MPs. Why is this?
The answer lies in the All-Female Shortlists. Greater access to Parliament by women has been ensured through All-female shortlists Introduced in 1997 by Labour, the process ensures that only female MPs are allowed to stand in certain constituencies. Labour creates a list of potential candidates able to run for election for a particular constituency. When the party votes for who will stand in that particular constituency for Labour, options of candidates only include women.
Race representation in Parliament has always been a particular concern, as it appears the legislative body is dominated by white people. The proportion of MPs who come from ethnic minority backgrounds does not reflect the proportion of those in the population as a whole. Race representation remains important due to 14.4% (in 2019) of the population coming from an ethnic minority background. Therefore, there is a need for MPs to be able to represent their grievances properly.
"1 in 10 MPs elected in 2019 were non-white."
1 in 10 MPs elected in 2019 were non-white, with 3 cabinet members, who are from ethnic minority backgrounds. 2019 also saw the first Chinese MP elected, Sarah Owen (Labour).
There is also a high diversity of ethnicity between those who were elected, such as many MPs of Indian, Black and Pakistani ethnicity.
Although there is much more diversity needed in Parliament, it is good to see that at least diversity is increasing in Parliament. The result of this could lead to a more effective legislative process as the grievances and concerns of ethnic minorities could be better addressed.
Education remains to be another issue where representation of MPs does not successfully reflect the education of the population. The most noticeable being those who received an independent school education. Currently, there are 173 MPs (around 26%) who attended fee-paying schools, however, only 7% of the British population have attended private schools.
With the recent rejection of the passing the free school meals over school holidays, many questions regarding representation of Parliament were raised. Many MPs have not had to face the difficulties of providing for children on a low income, and do not realise the extent to which some parents have to rely on free school meals in order to feed their children. This is why effective representation in Parliament is even more important, to gain MPs which sympathise and represent constituents, considering thoroughly what may affect them.
21% of MPs attended Oxbridge
University education is another area of disproportionate representation in Parliament. Most MPs have received a university education. In fact, 21% of MPs attended Oxbridge, with an additional 33% of MPs attending Russell Group Universities. However, only 20% of the population have actually attended university. It is clear that regarding education, MPs and ministers of Parliament do not truly represent the access to education of the country.
The problem of the underrepresentation of age sees many issues regarding younger people wiped from the agenda. With youth representation being the most significantly affected. The average age in Parliament is around 50 years old. The oldest MP, at the age of 80 is Sir Bill Cash, a Conservative MP who has served as a Member of Parliament since 1984. The average age of the House of Lords is even higher at 70, mainly due to the issue of Life Peers.
The average age in Parliament is around 50
The lack of young MPs becomes a significant issue when we consider access to Parliament. Is the average age of MPs so high due to the funds required to be elected, and does this therefore call for a significant change to the election process? The youngest sitting MP is Nadia Whittome, elected for Nottingham East, at the age of 23. She seeks to help the youth representation in Parliament.
Do we need a more diverse Parliament?
Some will argue yes. It is true that the current Parliament has made substantial progress towards being more representative and diverse. However, it remains that the current MPs typically tend to be white, male and university educated. The over-representation of this section of society means that some constituents are left under-represented and can feel like their voices are left unheard in the decision-making process.
As a society we must question how a more diverse Parliament can be achieved. Do we need to change the election process, to make them more accessible? Or do we need to turn our focus towards schools, creating a more integrated relationship between schools and Parliament?
For more information about the UK government, head to our dedicated UK Politics section.