Rosie Campbell is Professor of Politics at Birkbeck, University of London. She has recently written on what voters want from their parliamentary candidates, attitudes to MPs’ roles, the politics of diversity and gender and voting behaviour. She is the principal investigator of the ESRC-funded Representative Audit of Britain.
Sarah Childs is Professor of Politics and Gender at Birkbeck, University of London. Her research centres on the theory and practice of women’s representation, gender and political parties, and re-gendering parliaments.
Just because MPs don’t job-share at the moment doesn’t mean they never will. We think it’s worth asking why the practices of flexible working, which have helped many people access to the labour market, don’t yet apply to our democratic institutions.
Job-sharing is an arrangement where typically two people are retained on a part-time or reduced-time basis to perform a job normally fulfilled by one person working full-time. One of the benefits of this arrangement is that it could make Parliament more accessible to groups currently under-represented: parents, carers, those who wish to continue with their profession or trade, and those for whom working full-time is impossible. For some disabled individuals the lack of job-share opportunities for MPs effectively negates their democratic right to stand for election.
What do we know about job-sharing in general and at Westminster?
- Job-sharing works at senior levels in business, industry and the civil service. A successful job-share is about collaboration not competition, shared values and vision, clear communication and speaking with one voice.
- The legal situation means it isn’t possible to stand as a parliamentary candidate on a job-share basis. The law would need to change to allow for it.
- The public are agnostic rather than hostile towards job-sharing. Research shows that when the reasons for allowing job-shares were given to survey respondents, support rose from 37% to between 42-48%. Women were more supportive than men.
- Among MPs and candidates who stood in the 2015 General Election, there is not a majority in favour of job-sharing, but party and gender differences are apparent. Women in Labour, Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and Green (and all Green men) were all in favour.
Some principles and practices
Applicants should identify their partner in advance of seeking selection by a political party and stand for selection as a job-sharing team.
- Both should be individually judged by their party as meeting the qualifications of parliamentary candidates.
- At the point of selection – and again at election – they should present a comprehensive and clear statement of shared beliefs, priorities and goals.
- Job-share candidates should detail the procedural rules that will determine their working arrangements on a day-to-day basis:
- There is no need to be prescriptive; they might work for different parts of the week; different times of the parliamentary year; work in the constituency or at Westminster; and share weekend constituency work on a rota.
- Job-share MPs should be thought of as akin to job-sharing elsewhere (there are established examples of job sharing GPs, civil servants and even political editors of newspapers); two people sharing the act of representation.
- Job-share MPs would have one vote. This maintains legal clarity. Parties and the public must be clear about who will be voting and when.
- Job-share MPs would rise and fall as one; ultimately, they would be held to account by the ballot box.
There is always the possibility of unforeseen issues about which job-share MPs might find themselves in disagreement. This will likely be rare but it is still very important and so we need a procedural resolution. This won’t be too dissimilar to current practice (as described in the Fawcett Society’s Open House? publication):
“Whilst an MP may have presented – first to their selectorate, and then to their electorate – their original policy position and beliefs, they may later find themselves facing a vote where they are in ‘two’ minds. On these occasions, the individual MP may very well decide to abstain.* The constituents of the job-share MP are, in analogous fashion, in no way disadvantaged, because currently a constituent will not know for certain that their individual MP will definitely vote, or vote in a particular way. British MPs are, importantly, representatives and not delegates.”
* There is no official system of abstention in the UK parliament, although MPs have been known to walk through both division lobbies to register an informal abstention.
Political equality and good representation
We are not naïve enough to imagine the introduction of job-sharing for MPs will be easy. Nor will it revolutionise Parliament overnight. Nevertheless, parliamentary composition would almost certainly change and for some people it would constitute a transformation in their individual political rights.
The Fawcett Society is on the lookout for a popular sitting MP – one that is prepared to take the next step towards opening up Parliament by initiating legislative change and standing as one part of a MP job-share at the next general election.
P.S. This is a job share blog – written by one of us, but signed off by both.