Letter: Why women need voting reform

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Sir: We welcome any moves to make the selection procedures for prospective parliamentary candidates more open to women ("Role-play to give women that vital push for Parliament", 11 February). However, one of the main barriers to selection of women remains our electoral system.

It is no accident that countries with a high proportion of women MPs, such as Sweden with over 40 per cent or Norway with 39 per cent, use a different electoral system. Under the UK system, selection committees have to choose one candidate. In safe seats they have probably not had to make a decision like this for 20 to 30 years. Perhaps not surprisingly, they often play safe, trying to pick someone as much like their last MP as possible, only younger, and end up seeing another white man.

In contrast, under electoral systems with more than one candidate per constituency it makes sense for local parties to present a balanced slate, including candidates from a range of backgrounds, women as well as men, to appeal to all sections of the electorate. It also becomes harder to justify selecting mainly men.

We might just believe that any individual candidate selected at the moment was the best person for the job, but if we were to be presented with a list containing hardly any women, and even fewer black or Asian candidates, the discrimination would appear far more obvious.

MARY-ANN STEPHENSON

Fawcett Society

London EC2

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