Benefits of Diversity: Why Do Political Parties Recruit BME and Women MPs and What Does it Mean For the Concept of Representation?

17 March 2016, 4.00 PM - 17 March 2016, 5.45 PM

Maria Sobolewska

Board Room, 2 Priory Road

Centre for Ethnicity and Citizenship Seminar Series

Board Room, 2 Priory Road - Thursday 17th March, 4pm

This talk will be delivered by Guest Speaker Maria Sobolewska from The University of Manchester


With party diversity high on the agenda of the Western nations’ media, academia and the commentariat, few ask if voters truly care about whether the political parties' parliamentarians are white, male and stale or otherwise. Do all of them care equally? And do all parties get judged on their diversity- or lack thereof- in the same way? Can party diversity really win or lose votes? This paper answers some of these questions empirically using survey embedded experiments conducted in Britain following the 2015 General Elections. It also raises an important theoretical question: is our normative thinking about benefits of descriptive representation outdated?

 This paper will try to extend the classic theory of political representation to incorporate the changes in empirical reality of the relationship of representation. The main argument made here is that the audience of representation has been shifting away from the BME groups or women. The new audience for descriptive representation is a wider electorate, particularly floating and undecided voters, and the parties have incorporated this shift into their strategies. The main empirical change here is that the right wing parties may strategically benefit more from descriptive representation than parties on the left as has been traditionally assumed. As a result, a nexus of descriptive and substantive representation is broken and the notion of- to date largely ignored- symbolic representation assumes central stage.


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