Governments in Europe are lacking in diversity but what are their plans to change things and where does the lack of diversity come from? Do the public feel represented and how are they changing the ways in which they are politically engaging? This article explores the lack of diversity, public reaction and the Government’s response to the issue of equal representation.
Within the governments of Europe there is a huge lack of diversity, take a look at the UK government for example: old, white, cisgender men, with 144 seats in 2019 taken up by those who have a degree from either Oxford or Cambridge.
Speaking with MP Luke Pollard who is the elected member of parliament for the Plymouth Sutton and Devonport constituency, he acknowledges his privilege as a white cisgender man. However, Luke Pollard is the first openly gay member of parliament Plymouth has ever elected.
“Most of the LGBT+ debate in Westminster is actually a G debate. It’s a white gay debate…therefore it is my job to provide a platform for other people’s voices…The problem is, it’s not enough just to have one person because there’s always an element in the equality debate around tokenism. Oh, yes, we’ve got one of them, they’re over there. It’s not so much about having a person that we can say, yes. You know, here’s an example of equality. It’s about how you can lift up and remove the barriers”Luke Pollard, MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport
Although there is a lack of diversity in other aspects of the UK government, the UK has the world’s gayest parliament which is of course an incredible achievement, but as mentioned by Luke Pollard, there is still room for improvement.
“We haven’t yet had our first trans MP. I do hope that we will see someone from the trans community elected because I think many of the discrimination that that the LGBT community faced in the eighties and the nineties and the early two thousands is where many of our trans friends are now.”
Hate and discrimination is still present.
When asked if he thought of himself as a role model, Luke explained that he never thought of himself much as a role model but that he knew he had some sort of responsibility as a part of the LGBT+ community.
“I knew that when I was elected in 2017, that I would be the first ever openly gay MP that we had ever had as a city. I might not be the first gay one, but certainly the first one that was open when they put themselves up for election. My view is that it gives a special responsibility and an added responsibility to be a voice for the LGBT+ community. I think some of the stuff that’s happened to me in the four years since I’ve been elected, I think has helped focus that quite a lot.”
Admirably, Luke recognises his privilege as a cis white man and understands his repsonsibility to be a voice and platform for others. Unfortunately his openness about his sexuality has often been met with hate.
“So, my office was attacked and I had a troll pile on, because I said something nice about my boyfriend on Valentine’s day and all these weird things that wouldn’t happen to a straight MP.”
Pollard, explained that this hate is unnecessary and described the way in which he would approach these situations.
“I think that’s where you’ve got that moment where your actions and your words are most profound. So instead of responding with hate, which is in human character to do, if you get attacked to respond with a bit of grr, but I should say, actually, there’s no place for this. You know, let’s have a conversation, let’s sit down and talk, let’s rise above it. I think it is a really important part of what the job is.”
Minorities and tokenism: is this really diversity?
Aside from the lack of equality and the hate that members of the LGBTQ+ communities receive within governments there is also a huge disparity with other minorities. After the 2019 UK general election BBC news claimed that the 2019 British Parliament was ‘Britain’s most diverse Government’. The numbers highlighted that in England there were 13 more non-white MPs than in the previous parliament but that there were no ethnic minority MPs in Scotland or Wales.
Speaking with Angeliki Konstantinidou, researcher at the Centre for Ethnic and Migration Studies (CEDEM) of the University of Liége (Belgium) for the ERC-funded project “Migration, Transnationalism and Social Protection in (post-) crisis Europe”, it was clear to see that there is a huge lack of representation for minority groups across European countries.
“In general, there is a big diversity gap when it comes to political representation. This gap can be traced in different areas not only in terms of ethnic and racial backgrounds, but also gender, and even when it comes to people with disabilities…this diversity gap that exists skews the social composition of the elected offices”. Explained Konstantinidou.
This gap in diversity cannot be fixed with only one individual of a diverse background as this does not accurately represent the actual composition of the society which is more layered. Angeliki went on to further explain what the lack of representation for minority groups, specifically those of immigrant origin, means for Europe.
“Ideally in every society, in every context, in every country, the composition of the elected officials needs to mirror the composition of the socio-demographic image of the country. By havingrepresentatives of all backgrounds it is ensured that all the different and diverse voices and needs are being heard and represented in the day-to-day policy- making. Hence high levels of diversity (ethnic, racial, gender, etc.) in the composition of the elected offices, will not only have a practical impact of having all paths of life being represented in politics and normalising the existence of diversity in the society, but also this amplifies the democratic functioning of the countries and promotes egalitarianism throughout all the layers of the society.” Reports Konstantinidoou
Misrepresentation is still ever present within Europe
With regards to other governments within Europe, Belgium has a huge percentage of women who have seats in parliament, one of the highest in Europe, with reportedly 42% of seats taken up by women in 2019. What makes the Belgian government’s statistics so interesting is firstly because Belgium is at the heart of Europe and the central point for the European Union and secondly due to the infamous lack of government that the Belgians had both in 2010-2011 and more recently in 2018-2020.
There is unfortunately a huge diversity issue and disconnect between the different parts of Belgium and the political parties that are popular within the areas. There are three official languages spoken in Belgium- Flemish Dutch, spoken by about 60% of the population, French spoken mostly in the capital Brussels by about 40% of people and German which is spoken primarily in Liege and has the lowest percentage at 1%.
Speaking to Dr.Nicolas Baygert, expert in political communication I learned that there is a huge divide between the political parties of each area in Belgium and therefore there is a lack of political representation for both main languages and the main parties. For example, there are both French and Flemish speaking Socialist parties within the country however they have different socialist views.
Dr. Baygert explained to me that the Green party in Belgium was once a coalition between the French speaking Greens and the Flemish Greens and although they are no longer a coalition they share many of the same political views as opposed to other bilingual parties.
‘The Greens are way closer [politically] so they really try to form one unity’.
With regards to representation and diversity, Baygert brought up the term ‘woke-washing’ as an explanation for governments and their attempts to seem aware of injustice and inequality. Examples of woke-washing include when an institution uses a minority figure to advocate that they are aware of the injustices they face but they then never act on it. In a way this is similar to tokenism as it doesn’t address the problem and seems as though it is just for show.
Although the political parties have a divide between languages in Belgium, I discovered that there are quite a few Flemish people who speak French living in Brussels. Walking through Brussels the level of diversity amongst the public in the city was a refreshing change of tone compared to the binary approach that the governments represent. It is clear that governments within Europe still have a long way to go when it comes to accurately representing their populations.
“I don’t think that there is a solution that fits all countries and contexts because each case is different,hence we need to hear the voices around us and adapt. But overall, the society needs to open up so that all people irrespectively their backgrounds can walk in the same line together with everyone, on equal grounds and with equal opportunities.” Describes Angeliki Konstantinidou
There is still a long way to go when it comes to diversity and representation in European governments and the recognition of what governments are and are not doing needs to be highlighted.