The Liberal Democrats have become the first major political party to endorse the idea of allowing MPs to job-share, a measure which would make it easier for many disabled people to stand for election.
Disabled activists and other 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 single 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.
At their spring conference last Saturday (8 March), Liberal Democrats endorsed a package of political and constitutional reforms, which included a proposal to introduce job-sharing for MPs.
This means that legislating to allow job-sharing MPs is now Liberal Democrat party policy.
The proposal had been included within the party’s Power to the People policy paper, which points out that “disproportionately few” MPs self-identify as disabled people, while male MPs outnumber women four to one, and only four per cent are from minority ethnic communities.
It also says that a Liberal Democrat government would aim to improve the representation of such groups by introducing legislation in the next parliament that allows candidates to “put themselves forward for election on a job-share basis”.
Deborah King, co-founder of Disability Politics UK, a group of disabled activists campaigning to change the law to allow job-sharing MPs, welcomed the Liberal Democrats’ decision.
She said: “This is the first time a party in government has adopted job-sharing for MPs as policy.
“I would encourage the Labour and Conservative Parties to pay attention to this and follow suit.
“Everybody is making plans in case there is another coalition. The Liberal Democrats’ policy is a lever for getting things changed.
“The Green Party started by adopting job-sharing for MPs as policy, now the Liberal Democrats have followed their lead. I hope that the two [other] main parties will see that this could help disabled people get into politics.”
Last year, King raised the issue with Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, on his weekly call-in show on London’s LBC radio station.
Legal advice from a leading human rights barrister, commissioned by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has 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.
12 March 2014