A recent interview with Jeremy Paxman, who fronted Channel 4’s Alternative Election Night coverage, argued that this campaign was a choice ‘between one man who was at primary school with Boris Johnson and one man who was at secondary school with him – both of whom did PPE at Oxford’.

Paxman’s quip returns to a long debate in British politics about the representativeness of the political class—do the people elected to represent us, bear any resemblance to the public they represent? The Parliamentary Candidates UK project from UCL and Birkbeck has been collecting and analyzing data on 2015 candidates and here looks the parties’ records on gender and race.


Women MPs

There are now 191 women MPs in Parliament—a new record—and 48 more than were elected in 2010. Women make up 29% of newly elected MPs, an increase from 22% in 2010.

Women MPs by Party

Party Number %
Conservative 68 21
Labour 99 43
SNP 20 36
LibDem 0 0
Green 1 100
UKIP 0 0
Other 3 15
Total 191 29%

(Source: Parliamentary Candidates UK; percentages are rounded)


The Green party had the highest percentage of women candidates selected (38%), but with chances in only a handful of seats, they stood little chance in affecting parliamentary gender balance. Labour has the highest proportion of women in their parliamentary party. Their record number of 99 women MPs results from their continued use of all-women shortlists and that they placed 53% of women candidates in their marginal/winnable seats in 2015. Labour’s conversion rate was higher, despite their poor performance in the polls.

With 26% women candidates selected, the Tories have 68 women MPs, up from 47 in the last Parliament. Although there was no equivalent of the ‘A-List’ Cameron used in 2010, the Tories did place women in 38% of their retirement seats. One of the key reasons for the increase in the number of women MPs is the performance of the SNP. The SNP were second and tied with Labour in terms of percentage of women candidates selected (34%), but their takeover of Scotland resulted in 20 new women MPs, and the youngest in Mhairi Black.



The vote on 7 May saw 41 BME MPs elected to Parliament, constituting 6% of all MPs and an increase from 2010, where just 27% BME were elected.

Prior to the election there was discussion that the Conservatives had closed the gap between it and Labour on BME representation. Our data show that the Tories led the way with 10% of BME candidates selected to stand in 2010, compared to 8% for Labour and LibDems. Perhaps surprisingly, given claims of racism within the party, fuelled by former candidate Robert Blay’s claims to ‘put a bullet’ in his Tory rival, UKIP had more BME candidates (6%) than the SNP, Greens and Plaid.

BME MPs by Party

Party Number %
Conservative 17 5
Labour 23 10
SNP 1 2
LibDem 0 0
Green 0 0
UKIP 0 0
Other 0 0
Total 41 6

(Source: Parliamentary Candidates UK; percentages are rounded)


But the story with selection and outcomes is more complex. When we look at winnable seats, the data tell a different story: 13% of Labour’s BME candidates were placed in winnable/marginal seats compared to just 5% for the Tories. Labour had 16 BME MPs in 2010 and so their increase to 23 in 2015, again despite their poor polling, shows the importance of where candidates are placed. The Tories have 17 BME MPs, an increase of 6 from 2010. So how did the Tories increase the number of BME MPs? The story here is the selection of seven BME candidates in very safe retirement seats, including Rishni Sunak in Richmond (Yorks), a 44% Tory majority seat, and Suella Fernandes in Fareham, a Tory seat with a 31% majority.


Progress on diversity?

So was this this election the big breakthrough on diversity that some had hoped for? It is a success worth celebrating, but we should be cautious not to lose sight of the big picture. Paxman’s general premise—that there isn’t a great deal of diversity amongst the candidates of the different parties—still holds.

Women MPs make up just 29% of the new Parliament, that’s less than a third for a country where women make up 51% of the population. It also puts Britain behind many of its European counterparts (Germany, France, Sweden), and well behind countries like Rwanda, Cuba and Kazakhstan. And, BME MPs make up just 6% of Parliament, despite being 13% of the population.

To put the 2015’s progress in perspective, we would need to elect more than 130 women and to double the current number of BME MPs to make Parliament descriptively representative of the population it serves.


–Chrysa Lamprinakou, Marco Morucci, Sally Symington, Sam Sharp, David Ireland, Rosie Campbell & Jennifer Hudson

This post originally appeared on The Conversation on 13 May 2015; cross-posted with permission. 

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