Current Affairs

Expenses exodus ‘could pave the way for more gay MPs’

Jessica Geen July 16, 2009
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A Speaker’s Conference report has suggested that the large numbers of MPs resigning following the expenses scandal could be replaced with more diverse candidates, such as gays, women and ethnic minorities.

According to the report, around half of the 89 MPs who have said they will stand down should be replaced by women and the numbers of gay, disabled, black and Asian MPs should increase.

Citing “unprecendented public anger” over the abuse of the expenses system, the report said: “We believe that the House of Commons needs to change. Increasing the diversity of MPs would make it a more just, legitimate and effective legislature.

“We believe that in the public’s eyes this would make it a more credible legislature. There is now a significant opportunity to make this change happen, as current Members of the House announce their intentions to retire before the next general election – to be held before June 2010.”

It claimed: “This is an important window of opportunity. If a more diverse group of candidates is not selected in these seats now the incumbency factor makes it likely that many of the constituencies concerned will not see another opportunity for change for the next 15 to 20 years”.

The report also recommended that parties should report how many openly gay candidates are standing for election, along with their gender and ethnic background.

The Speaker’s Conference is a cross-party group chaired by the new Speaker, John Bercow. A Conservative, Bercow has undergone a radical transformation in the last 20 years to become something of a leader for gay rights.

Speaker’s Conferences are brought to address issues in the electoral system. The last one was held in 1977-78 and there were only five conferences in the 20th century.

According to estimates, between six and nine per cent of the population is gay. Theoretically, this means there should be at least 39 gay MPs and 42 peers.

However, a Stonewall report released in April 2008 found that lesbian, gay and bisexual respondents thought they would get worse treatment on the grounds of their sexuality if running for office.

Eighty-nine per cent of those polled thought they would face barriers from the Conservative party if they wanted to be selected to run for Parliament.

Sixty-one per cent said the same about Labour and 47 per cent about the Liberal Democrats.

The research, based on a YouGov poll of more than 1,600 LGB people, found that of those respondents who are party supporters, 71 per cent of Conservatives, 46 per cent of Labour and 28 per cent of Lib Dems thought they would face barriers if they wanted to stand for parliament.

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