In a world where society’s needs are constantly changing, if Parliament does not change as society progresses, does that cause it to become outdated? With particular discrepancies that constantly appear when thinking about ethnicity, and age in particular, it seems as though it is.
Official statistics suggest that black and minority ethnic workers are four times more likely to occupy the worst paid jobs within Parliament. While this may not necessarily suggest any racism, it certainly suggests a divide between those from ethnic backgrounds compared to those from an English background. If London, and a large majority of the boroughs within and surrounding it are constantly praised for being so diverse and multicultural, shouldn’t our Parliament reflect this? Surely politics must reflect Britain itself in order to impact the country the way politics should.
As of 2016 it was stated that within the UK’s population 19 per cent are aged from 0 to 5 years, 63 per cent are aged from 16 to 64 years and 18 per cent are 65 and over. However, within the House of Lords, over half of the members are over 70, with 20 per cent being over 80 and only 4 per cent are under 50. There seems to be an underrepresentation within the House of Lords of the vast majority of the population that is far younger than this.
The almost ancient norms that seem to be valued are evident when you take into account that three-quarters of the House of Lords are male, and that only around 5 per cent are from ethnic minority backgrounds. If anything, younger people, women, ethnic minorities and people from growing and underrepresented sectors of the economy such as social entrepreneurs and the third sector, should be present. Not only to make the Houses more diverse than they are now, but to give the voiceless a voice.
In the 2017 general election there was a high youth turnout and more than half of those aged 18-24 turned out to vote — an increase of 16 percentage points since 2015. Many media outlets credited this towards Corbyn’s proposed policies on educational reform. However, many polls and studies suggest that young people are just as committed and enthusiastic towards current issues and causes, but that they are unable to see established political parties as vehicles for achieving their goals. Media outlets along with the public have constantly berated the youth in the past for their lack of assigning themselves to a political party and not voting in general.
However, it seems clear that there is a constant cycle. The youth of Britain don’t vote because nothing any party is saying directly appeals or affects them positively. If anything, most parties propose policies that the youth interpret to have a potentially negative effect if passed. Due to the young people’s lack of voting, parties don’t appeal towards the youth and instead appeal to those in a higher age group. This creates the cycle of complacency, where the youth feel as though they are not being aided in any way by any party and the parties don’t find it necessary to appeal to the young, seeing their efforts as creating a fickle vote.
In addition to these issues, it seems as though the policies that Parliament run by may be outdated. Recent events have raised the question of why the prime minister is still able to take military action without first casting out a parliamentary vote. In 2013, the House of Commons defeated the government over the proposal of military action in Syria. This was the first time a prime minister had lost such a vote since 1782. In 2014, MPs were consulted on and furthermore supported air strikes in Iraq against Isis. These recent years have created the expectation that MPs will be consulted before significant military action is taken.
With the initial air strikes sent out at Theresa May’s orders towards Syria without a parliamentary vote, it created the issue of MPs’ losing their ability to be consulted on for issues such as this. If MPs lose this ability, who becomes the voice of the public? Ironically, Theresa May did win the second vote on Syria air strikes. Despite this, only a quarter of the population backed the UK’s decision to launch air strikes in Syria according to recently released polls. So is Parliament unrepresentative of the population after all?
In an ever-changing society, the majority of people seem to have become passive in accepting that Parliament is unrepresentative of the United Kingdom’s population, and that it reflects only a small minority of views. Whilst the world and society moves on from old values, Parliament seems to have remained stagnant — but for how long can this be tolerated?