Home > Uncategorized > The Statistical Significance of an All-Male #libdems Cabinet

The Statistical Significance of an All-Male #libdems Cabinet

February 5, 2012

There’s been a lot said recently about Nick Clegg’s “failure”, in the light of Chris Huhne’s resignation, to appoint another woman to a cabinet or ministerial position. While we have female Lib Dems on the Government payroll, we don’t have many, and arguably we don’t have enough. However, it’s pretty obvious to me that this is a symptom of the underlying problem that we don’t have enough women Lib Dem MPs, rather than that we don’t have enough women Lib Dem cabinet members.

In statistics, there’s a concept of significance, which makes you think of how likely something is to happen by chance rather than deliberately – if you flip a coin and get a head, it’s perfectly normal. Two heads in a row is nothing to write home about. Ten is quite unusual. If you got a hundred, you’d be pretty certain the coin was rigged. If we make the reasonable assumption that all our Lib Dem MPs are equally awesome and equally suited to any cabinet post, and pick the four non-Leader cabinet slots entirely at random, there’s a 71% chance that we’ll have all four positions occupied by men.

Obviously, Nick doesn’t choose his Cabinet members at random, but it’s not unlikely that a Cabinet reshuffle will end in the Lib Dem positions being taken by men. I can’t speak for Lynne Featherstone, but in her shoes I would want to stay in post and deliver the marriage equality agenda she’s been pushing for years, rather than take on a higher-profile but less personal position.

The Liberal Democrats are a radical party. That means, quite literally, solving problems at the root. One of the things I most appreciate about the party is our ability to look the the causes of problems and treat any alleviation as at best a temporary measure. This is why we support policies like the Pupil Premium which will take a decade to show benefit – because it’s fixing the problem of intergenerational social mobility by investing when it matters most.

It has taken us a long time to reach a path for how we encourage women, BME people, LGBT+ people etc. to reach the front benches, but the policy addresses the root problems such as lack of support for people from different backgrounds, tackling equality of opportunity. This is a much better option than say Blair’s Babes, which tackled the equality of outcome and got the statistics to look right, but led to a deep lack of respect for female Labour MPs even from their own party. But it’s not a quick fix – it will take time to produce results.

I know a lot of female and BME candidates who were expected to win in 2010, but our unexpected loss of seats (despite increase in vote share) put paid to what would have been a much more representative Parliamentary party, including the loss of our ethnic minority Irish-Estonian MP. I look forward to more diverse candidates getting selected in more winnable seats, and getting elected. That’s where I’m putting my energy, not in complaining that none of our very few women MPs are in our very few Cabinet places.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 7, 2012 at 10:56 pm

    There’s a different perspective on this which I think your post misses. We don’t elect just individuals, we also elect people to be part of a group or team. MPs are not just the MP for X, they are also part of the Liberal Democrat leadership team, part of the Liberal Democrat team team in the Commons and part of the Commons overall too.

    Only to talk about whether or not we are electing or picking the best people for the job misses the question of what makes for the best team. In my experience, and looking at the evidence from academic studies and other countries, diverse teams are frequently better (sometimes much better) that non-diverse teams.

    A team of MPs that is overwhelmingly from one particular background is worse than a more diverse team – and that’s a problem. If you think that the composition of a team makes to its overall performance, then you need to look at the team’s overall balance and not just at how individuals got to be members of it.

    In many ways this is just what many people are used to doing in work every day when putting together teams for projects – you want a team that will do the best overall job and that means having people who will compliment each other in the best way.

  2. February 9, 2012 at 7:33 pm

    I don’t think the post addresses it specifically, but it is definitely a valid point, and one which I think our efforts to improve diversity will help solve – if we have a more diverse team of candidates, we’ll get a more diverse team of MPs.

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