In both Parliament and Congress women and ethnic minorities are underrepresented. 19.7% of MPs are women and 13.8% of those in Congress are women. 2.3% of MPs are from an ethnic minority, while 14.4% of Congressmen are from ethnic minorities. The majority of MPS and Congressmen are white men, the majority of whom being well educated with degrees from the top universities. They are also on average much older than the minimum age for the office (only in America where there is a minimum age for positions in Congress). However, much has been done to change this, with all-women shortlists and the use of positive-discrimination legislation. Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero was in the news recently for being the first leader in history to have a female majority in his cabinet. Silvio Berlusconi was under fire quickly for calling the Spanish cabinet “too pink”.
In the UK the governing party has a majority in the House of Commons and a plurality in the House of Lords. However, the cabinet, made up of just over 20 people is a minority within the government. With political theorists suggesting that the cabinet is losing its power and the Prime Minister gaining it to the point of being presidential it can be said that in the UK at least the government is being dominated by a smaller and smaller elite. However, there has been a female Prime Minister who went to a Comprehensive School, against all the trends of previous Prime Ministers. In the House of Commons, the governing party almost always has a majority (sometimes it has to gain this by forming a coalition.) By using this majority and by using the Parliament Acts and the Salisbury Convention the governing party can force through pretty much any legislation it wants. The number of people in the Houses of Lords and Commons who do not belong to the governing party in the House of Commons will outnumber the total number of MPs in the governing party in the House of Commons. Here a minority of MPs can force any legislation through, in theory. This is not helped by the pay-roll vote, made up of the 100+ ministers who will always vote with the government.
Since 1945 in the UK there has not been a single elected government which had a majority of the vote. In 2005 Labour had the lowest return vote in political history for an incumbent government. In 2001, the ‘Non-Voting Party’ gained 15% of the vote more than Labour. Hailsham would call this ‘elective dictatorship’.
Insider Pressure groups have a great deal of influence in government. Liberty, a human rights group has only 5000 members but was consulted regularly when the Human rights act was going to be proposed. Insider groups which represent doctors and teachers (such as NUT and BMA) are particularly powerful because if they do not agree with relevant government policy they can seriously undermine the government. This can be very effective if they speak to aspects of the media. While insider pressure group may have a very large number of the people they represent in their ranks, they by no means will have many members or represent a wide range of people.
In the US money plays a huge role. From state to national government, elected officials raise millions of dollars at every election. Some money comes from ordinary voters who may donate a small amount of money, e.g. $10. However, a huge amount of money donated comes from a very small number of wealthy people and businessmen. These donors have a great deal of influence. Typically top businessmen fall into the same category as many congressmen, white, male and middle-old aged. John Kerry, while sitting on a telecoms legislation committee, received $50,000 from a telecoms company; he tried to ease regulation that put price limits on cable television. George Bush, while governor of Texas received money from a construction company. He made it more difficult for home owners to sue construction companies for damages to new homes successfully. He dealt with a total of seven pieces of legislation which massively helped construction companies.
David Miliband, Jacqui Smith, John Hutton, Ed Balls, Ruth Kelly, Geoff Hoon, Ed Miliband, Andy Burnham, James Purnell, Shaun Woodward, Yvette Cooper, Sir Mark Malloch Brown and Paul Murphy all went to either Oxford and Cambridge, and many of them knew each other there. 85% of the judiciary went to Oxbridge. In 1998, 66.5% of civil service members had arts degrees; 43.5% were from Oxbridge and 50% from public schools. However, within the civil service significant improvements have been made. A report from the late 1960’s claimed that 85% of the mandarins (a class of civil servant) were from a middle-class background, 71% had arts degrees, mainly in history and classics; and 73% were from Oxbridge.
Overall, it seems that certain groups in society are over-represented in government, whether it be in local/state government through to national government. However, over the past fifty years this has massively improved. This are still improving and it will take time. Berlusconi’s response to the Spanish cabinet that views that may be considered undesirable are still around and it will take time for those to disappear. The Spanish cabinet however also proved that these kinds of views are becoming less and less prevalent. In both Parliament and Congress there are record numbers of women and people from ethnic minorities. Is making Congress and Parliament more representative actually making things better? In the House of Lords the remaining hereditary peers turn out more regularly to votes and debates than many of the new peers replacing hereditary peers in order to make the House of Lords more representative.