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In-person event

Electoral reform and diversity in parliament: lessons from New Zealand

This seminar reviews the influence of these changes to the electoral system and wider issues surrounding parliamentary diversity.

Following the adoption of the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) representation system in New Zealand, its parliament has grown increasingly diverse and representative of modern New Zealand society.

What is Mixed Member Proportional Representation?

MMP meant that, in addition to directly elected representatives, supplementary seats would be allocated to parties on the basis of their share of the vote chosen from party lists.

It was the same system brought in for the devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales in 1999, both of which subsequently elected a higher proportion of women MPs members than the UK parliament.

About this seminar

This seminar with Professor Margaret Wilson, former Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament, reviews the influence of these changes to the electoral system and wider issues surrounding parliamentary diversity.

For Professor Wilson, MMP has meant "the opportunity to select members who may not attract constituency support" and that "political parties have adopted selection practices that consciously select diverse candidates".

The introduction of MMP addressed acute problems of public confidence in the country’s political systems and politicians.

Professor Wilson also identifies some of the other factors that have made a difference to NZ diversity and to the public’s confidence in its political system, including:

  • the role of political parties and candidate selection
  • cultural and historical trends
  • developments in direct participation through social networking and mass communication tools.

With a referendum on MMP set for New Zealand in 2011, Professor Wilson also raises the question of the effect which the abolition of MMP might have on parliamentary representation.

Relevance to the UK

The UK is currently going through its own issues of confidence in politicians and about to have its own debate about future electoral systems. It is, like many countries, experiencing a longer-term decline in political party membership.

The 2008-9 Speaker's Conference on Parliamentary Representation identified a number of factors affecting diversity in the UK Parliament. It is worth considering how representative our own parliament is and how it could be improved. The lessons afforded by New Zealand in this are particularly pertinent and valuable.

Speaker: Professor Wilson

Professor Margaret Wilson has been:

  • the first woman Speaker of the NZ Parliament (2005-8)
  • first woman President of the NZ Labour Party (1984-87)
  • a prominent MP throughout her parliamentary career (1999 - 2008)
  • appointed a Minister on her entry into Parliament and between 1999-2004, and held a number of portfolios including Attorney-General, Commerce and Labour.


  • Trevor Phillips (Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission)
  • Baroness Parminter of Godalming

About the New Zealand - United Kingdom Link Foundation

The New Zealand - United Kingdom Link Foundation is in conjunction with the School of Advanced Study, University of London, sponsoring the first Visiting Professorship to the United Kingdom and a series of lectures and seminars.  

The Foundation's purpose is to make a substantial and ongoing contribution to the intellectual, educational, vocational and academic underpinning of the bilateral NZ/UK relationship in a changing World.

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