Women's political representation in contemporary British politics

Childs, Sarah (2000) Women's political representation in contemporary British politics. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The 1997 British general election saw the return of 120 women Members of Parliament. The central question of this thesis is whether this unprecedented number of women MPs makes a difference to the political representation of women. The research is applied political theory, in which conceptual analysis is informed by and informs the empirical research. Pitkin's seminal contribution The Concept of Representation and Phillips' The Politics of Presence are both considered. In particular, Phillips' 'shot in the dark thesis', which makes a link between women's numerical representation and the substantive representation of women by women representatives, is subjected to empirical analysis. The data are drawn from interviews with half of the Labour women MPs elected for the first time in the 1997 election. The introduction in Chapter 1 includes discussions of the research objectives and the research design and methods. Chapter 2 explores women's legislative recruitment within the Labour Party, focusing upon its policy of all-women shortlists. Chapters 3 and 4 examine Pitkin's and Phillips' ideas respectively. The next three chapters (Chapters 5, 6 and 7) utilise the empirical data to analyse in tum symbolic, microcosmic and substantive conceptions of representation. The last of these chapters centres upon the question of whether women representatives seek and are able to act for women at constituency, parliamentary and governmental levels. The analysis broadly supports Phillips' thesis. However, the intersection of party and gender identities is emphasised to a greater extent. It is also argued that women MPs may not have, at least as yet, secured the 'safe spaces' from which to act for women. These conclusions suggest both that the complexity of the concept of representation must be recognised and that combining conceptual and empirical analysis engenders a more sophisticated understanding of women's political representation.

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