Positively discriminating?

The Labour Party in Wales are having further issues balancing sex equality and ensuring local control at the same time.

I was once so clear in my views on all women shortlists – I thought they were necessary, especially in the Labour Party, because there is a general attitude that women are less capable than men. Even if this were true, the reason is that which forms the basis of EU sex equality law, which is that women who are denied opportunity lower down the employment ladder are less likely to get the top jobs that the men who get into public office take for granted. In the Equality Act 2010, Labour put the EU’s priority to improve employment opportunities for women on par with increasing political ones. This law also allows positive discrimination in favour of people with disabilities, but no other group.

The premise I have in terms of thinking about positive discrimination in politics is that any person of merit is unlikely to get selected or elected on those merits, unless they 1) fit the mould of an able bodied man from a professional background who is middle aged, white, straight with a wife and children, or 2) is in a political hegemony where they are the candidate for the party that will get elected no matter what.

If major political parties want their candidates to represent society should they not be working towards selecting candidates on the basis of quotas so their candidates are representative of all groups in society (percentage of disabled people, ethnic minorities, minority sexual orientation, etc.) and not just on the sex of a candidate as with Labour?

The major political parties have the critical mass to place any candidate they want in their hegemonies. However, at present the law only allows them to positively discriminate in favour of women and disabled people, but why are usual suspect women being singled out over diverse background disabled people? Using the law as it stands, the number of disabled men and women selected should be reflective of the number of men and women with disabilities in society.

In terms of non-political environments I think my views on affirmative action have changed from allowing “positive discrimination” to designing out negative discrimination. Organisations – and not just their premises – as well as the legal and other systems that exist in a society are designed in ways to put in barriers to equality for specific groups. I had two women who wanted to be on my company’s board of directors – when we had a board of directors. They had to leave because benefit rules meant they would lose their benefits – including support for one of their new borns – if they did. So in essence, there should be a requirement to make “reasonable adjustments” to allow all people to participate if the reason they can’t fully participate is because of a provision that puts someone with their protected characteristic at a disadvantage. Those women with a family they want to nurture should not be put of being on boards of directors because the environment is more suited to those men who, even if they have a family, put their work first.

So, shouldn’t political parties, who already form cartels on issues like the EU president and Scottish independence, not work together to ensure that in their hegemonies those people who are elected in their totality to an elected body are representative of those in society, while being of merit at the same time – judged solely on their ability to do the job they are elected to? They would not need to be the elites one might find in the House of Lords, who should be appointed on merit only regardless of other factors. But they would certainly not be the mediocre men and women we are used to at present.

So, in essence I do not think all-women shortlists should be used in major parties, but that by changing the way these big parties elect candidates to be  based on allowing their membership to vote for a panel of candidates representative of society, who are then allocated to seats in their hegemonies by members. The local parties could vote for the candidate of their choice from this panel, meaning equality is achieved at the same time as local control being exercised.

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