Signs of hope for job-sharing MPs campaign


theweek120by150Activists who want disabled people to be able to become job-sharing MPs are pushing the deputy prime minister to reopen a parliamentary inquiry, so that it can discuss the idea again.

Campaigners want parliament to introduce new laws that would allow two people from the same political party to stand together for election to represent a parliamentary constituency.

They believe such laws would open parliament up to disabled people who might not be able to work full-time for impairment-related reasons.

The historic Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Representation reported three years ago on how to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.

Many of its recommendations have since been introduced, but the committee steered clear of recommending job-sharing.

Now Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, a group of disabled activists campaigning to change the law to allow job-sharing MPs, is pushing the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, to reopen the Speaker’s Conference.

She has already raised the issue with him on his weekly call-in show on London’s LBC radio station.

He told her then that “any creative ideas about getting more people with disabilities into politics has got to be a good thing”, although he warned that it would be “tricky” to “work out exactly how it would work”.

Clegg promised to examine legal advice from a leading human rights barrister, commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which suggested that the Electoral Commission could be breaching both the Equality Act and the Human Rights Act by refusing to provide guidance permitting job-share MPs.

The Liberal Democrats are set to discuss the idea of job-sharing MPs at their spring conference in Brighton next month, with a vote on it becoming official party policy likely to take place at the party’s annual conference in September.

The Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt, who job-shared when she was working in social services, before she became an MP, said: “My view is why on earth not! You get the value of two heads instead of one. You would have different sets of skills.

“It would be a great opportunity to reflect a wider section of the population.”

King, who has set up a petition to call for a change in the law, helped shape a job-sharing bill introduced by the Labour MP John McDonnell, which should receive its second reading in the Commons on 1 March.

She has also raised the issue on Labour’s Your Britain website, which calls on the public to provide suggestions for new party policies.

King said she believed the Electoral Commission had been in breach of the law. And she said that introducing job-sharing for MPs in the UK could lead to other countries such as the US, Canada and Australia following its lead.

Among those MPs backing McDonnell’s representation of the people (members’ job share) bill are the disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, who was vice-chair of the speaker’s conference; the Green MP Caroline Lucas; Tim Farron, president of the Liberal Democrats; Conservative MPs Robert Halfon, who is himself disabled, and Dr Sarah Wollaston, who job-shared as a GP; and Jon Cruddas, the influential MP who is heading Labour’s policy review.

A spokeswoman for the Electoral Commission said it had considered the legal advice commissioned by the EHRC and had “concluded that the Cabinet Office should be the body considering the matter in the first instance”.

A Cabinet Office spokesman said Clegg had made it clear that changes to the law were “off the table during this parliament, but in the future anything that would help disabled people get into politics should be approached with an open mind”.

When asked if Clegg would ask for the Speaker’s Conference to be reopened, he said: “The government is committed to widening the base of who can be elected to parliament.

“The Cabinet Office is aware of the views provided to the EHRC on job-sharing. The government receives legal opinions regularly on a wide range of issues, all of which are carefully considered in the normal process of formulating policy and legislation.”

He said the EHRC’s legal advice was still being considered.

21 February 2013