Friday, 14 October 2011

Getting trans people elected….

The UK is supposed to have one of the most trans-friendly legal systems in the world these days, yet we seem to be a long way behind the rest of the world in terms of having trans people elected. We represent 1% of the population and so there should therefore be at least 6 trans MPs in the House of Commons, one trans MEP some of the time in the UK section of the European Parliament, and a massive 200 trans local councillors across the country.The current total representation of trans people in elected positions is however, way below that; we have just one local councillor; the wonderful Sarah Brown, who sits as a Lib Dem on Cambridge City Council. Sarah’s achievement is particularly good when the treatment of trans people generally is considered, however as a country we are doing much less well than many other countries. The news that Poland elected its first trans MP was particularly pleasing since there appears to have been trouble with homophobia and transphobia in the recent past in Poland. However there have also been trans people elected to national governments in Italy and New Zealand, there has been a senior trans politician elected in Hawaii, and there is a long-serving Tokyo City councillor for Setagaya ward in Tokyo; a city with a population greater than that of Holland. Indeed Aya Kamikawa, is currently the longest serving elected trans official, having been first elected in 2003, and subsequently re-elected, something which no trans politician has ever achieved to date. So how why is our representation on elected bodies so low in the UK when trans people in other countries are being elected to more senior political positions? The answer lies, I believe, in the electoral systems. The UK mostly relies on First-Past-The-Post for elections, which means that people vote for individuals rather than parties. With the exception of Hawaii (where trans people are accepted to a much greater extent than most countries) Poland, Italy and Japan all use party list systems. This means that people vote for parties rather than individuals. The problem with voting for individuals is that, especially in closely-fought electoral contests, where the result really matters parties are reluctant to put forward candidates who might alienate enough voters to give the seat to a competitor. Parties are therefore likely to be much less willing to have a trans candidate where a cisgender candidate is available. Where a contest is likely to be personalised, where people are voting for a candidate as much as a party, the personal becomes more important, and even if only a relatively small number of people change their votes as a result of transphobia, that would be enough to make a difference in a large number of cases. The personalisation of politics also results in the media taking a greater interest in individual candidates rather then their policies and party lines, which could mean that electoral contests attract unwelcome attention from the Daily Mail, the Express, the Sun and other sensationalist right-wing media, which could have implications for the party across the country. The solution then, to getting more trans people into elected positions in the UK, is to concentrate them in the small number of elections where party lists, or top-up lists are in operation; the London Assembly and the European elections, here total party votes count and the direct link between a candidate and a particular seat extends through their party rather than a particular geographical area. The First-Past-The-Post system has not only saddled the country with a corrupt, incompetent, dishonest and destructive government, but also has the effect of reducing diversity in elected positions; this is particularly the case for minorities, like LGBT people, who tend not to be concentrated in particular geographical areas in the same way that ethnic minority populations are. The result is a government drawn mostly from wealthy male privately-educated Oxbridge graduates, and the disastrous policies which have flowed from such an out-of-touch group of people.

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