The XX Factor

The U.K. Sets New Records for Representation of Women and LGBTQ People in Parliament

Mhairi Black, a 22-year-old gay MP in the Scottish National Party, was re-elected on June 9, 2017.

Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

The U.K. elected a record number of women to its House of Commons on Thursday night in an election that cost Prime Minister Theresa May her Conservative majority in the legislature. A total of 207 women will serve in the 650-person body, up from the current 196.

The country set its previous record during the last election, in 2015, when 191 women won seats in the House of Commons. (The other five won subsequent elections held to fill seats that later became vacant.) It wasn’t until that year that the total number of women who’d ever been elected exceeded the number of men serving in the current parliament, 454. With Thursday’s election, the female proportion of the elected parliament has climbed from 30 to nearly 32 percent. For comparison, women make up 19 percent of the U.S. Senate and 21 percent of the House of Representatives.

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That still puts the U.K. behind many of its European peers in terms of legislative gender representation. This week’s election moved the country up from 46th to 40th place on the world’s list of most-equal legislative bodies. Rwanda currently tops that list with the help of a system of electoral gender quotas; of countries without quotas, Iceland has the most gender-balanced federal legislature, with 48 percent of seats filled by women.

On Thursday, female members of parliament made significant gains in the Liberal Democrats, where they used to make up 11 percent of the party’s tiny delegation and now make up one-third, and the Labour Party, where they comprise 45 percent of the party’s 261 MPs. One of Labour’s new members is Preet Gill, the country’s first Sikh woman to serve in parliament. The Conservatives lost three women, though their 21-percent proportion remains the same, and the Scottish National Party lost six.

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But while U.K. voters elected a record number of women into the House of Commons, their swing away from the Conservative Party can be read as a referendum against one woman in particular: May, who will now face major difficulty leading the government through Brexit negotiations and getting any governing done without a parliamentary majority. May took office after Brexit under circumstances often described as a “glass cliff,” wherein women only gain leadership positions after male leaders have made a big mess. (See also: Yahoo’s Marissa Mayer; Baylor University President Linda Livingstone.) Thrust into post-Brexit chaos with the whole world watching, the prime minister then hurled herself off that cliff by calling a snap election and then blowing a 20-point lead. After Thursday’s election, Cambridge University politics professor David Runciman assessed May’s situation thus: “She had nothing.”

One other demographic won big on Thursday: gay men. U.K. voters elected eight new gay male MPs, setting a new record for out LGBTQ people in parliament. The 45 LGBTQ MPs, 36 of whom are men, make up one-fifth of the Scottish National Party delegation and 7 percent of the entire House of Commons, the largest proportion of all the world’s legislative bodies.

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