The 2024 parliament is likely to have a record-breaking number of women MPs

By Ceri Fowler and Chris Hanretty


Current polling suggests that Labour are likely to both win the election and secure a substantial majority. The last time the country switched from a Conservative to a Labour government with a large swing in 1997, there was a substantial rise in women’s descriptive representation in Parliament to 18.2%. Since this point, the number of women elected has steadily increased, with women making up 35% of MPs after the 2019 General Election.


This increase in the number of women in parliament has primarily been driven by the number of women elected for the Labour Party, whose use of All Women Shortlists (and paired selections in Scotland), coupled with other initiatives, led to 52% of Labour’s MPs being women in 2019. Despite the Conservatives’ large majority, Labour had more female MPs than the Conservatives (101 versus 88).


Smaller parties also did better than the Conservatives on women’s representation in 2019, at 33% and 64% for the SNP and the Liberal Democrats respectively. Much of this is due to the large caucus of older male MPs in the Conservative Party who were elected to safe seats in 2005 or earlier, so the number of safe seats up for grabs by women has been small.


We can therefore expect the number of women in parliament to increase at the next election if Labour and the smaller parties increase their share of the vote at the expense of the Conservatives, and if MPs in Conservative safe seats are either voted out or have stood down pre-election.


To analyse if the ongoing trend of increasing progress towards gender parity in the House of Commons is likely to continue at this election, we need to know how many women are likely to win across the 650 constituencies of the UK. We take the predicted outcome in each seat by party from the Survation MRP model, and then use data on the gender of candidate from the winning party in that seat from the Democracy Club, supplemented where necessary with our own research.


Starting from the model

The Survation MRP model produces a large number of simulated elections. In our first plot, we show the proportion of simulated elections in which exactly 220 women won seats, the proportion of simulated elections in which exactly 221 women won seats, and so on. This histogram is shown in Figure 1.



We’ve added a dashed black line to indicate the number of women MPs in the outgoing parliament. In all of our simulations, we never get less than 225 women MPs. Another way of saying this is that the model is certain that the number of women MPs will increase. Our best estimate of the number of MPs elected in the 632 mainland British constituencies is (just over) 266 MPs. We don’t make forecasts for seats in Northern Ireland, but we note that there were four women elected from Northern Ireland in 2019, and so our best guess for the number of women in theCommons as a whole is just over 270 – or just under 42% of the 650 seats.



These estimates of the number of women MPs who will sit in the Commons after July 4th are taken from a model which is fairly bullish about Labour’s prospects in comparison with other MRP models. Generally, across our simulations, the better Labour does, the more women end up being elected to parliament, as we would expect from previous elections. If our model overestimates the Labour seat share, we would expect fewer women to be elected. That’s shown in Figure 2, which plots Labour seat tallies across all simulated elections (on the horizontal axis) against the number of women MPs elected (on the vertical axis).



Finally, we can consider the likely gender breakdown of the different parliamentary parties. Where a parliamentary party only wins a small number of seats, it becomes possible to have an entirely female or entirely male parliamentary delegation. Thus, it’s very possible that the Green parliamentary delegation (whatever size it is) will be 100% female, and likely that the Plaid Cymru delegation will be majority female. The proportion of the Parliamentary Labour Party that is female will decrease slightly to just under 50%; but Labour will be ahead on this metric of the other major parties, including the Liberal Democrats, and will continue to provide the majority of parliament’s female MPs. Reform place last by this metric: it’s possible, just as with the Greens, that their parliamentary representation will feature just one gender.


The big picture

Overall, it is very likely that the proportion of women in Parliament will increase by around 5%. Although the proportion of MPs who are female among Labour is likely to drop slightly, they will almost certainly still make the largest contribution to Westminster’s women. The upward trend towards gender parity will continue and the UK will likely move into the top 30 countries globally for women’s representation in the lower house as 40% or more of the parliament is likely to be female. With Labour so likely to win, we will also almost certainly see the UK’s first female Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rachel Reeves, and the most gender balanced cabinet in UK history, as almost 50% of the shadow cabinet is female.


However, it is not an entirely positive picture. Firstly, the proportion of women in parliament will still not match the proportion of women in the electorate. Secondly, the likely progress at this election is being driven by changes in the composition of parliament by party, in the form of an increased number of Labour MPs, rather than within-party change. Unless the Conservatives in particular improve the number of women they stand in winnable seats, this election could be a high point of women’s representation in parliament. Whilst the Conservatives can point to having had three female Prime Ministers, this analysis shows their progress in electing female MPs is likely to stall at around 25%.


We may also be concerned that women’s representation in the parliamentary Labour party will likely go backwards, and should investigate why this has occurred. The withdrawal of All Women Shortlists is one possibility. The impact of late selections is another. Many of the high-profile late selections into safe seats after the declaration of the election were male, and the central party faced significant controversy as to whether it had tried to prevent the selection of Diane Abbott for this election, who has a significant public profile as the UK’s first black female MP. The fact that Labour is making the largest contribution to gender parity in parliament does not excuse them from scrutiny of whether their processes disadvantage women or discourage them from coming forward.


This analysis also doesn’t tell us about how diverse the set of women who are likely to be elected are (although based on past research we would expect Labour MPs to have higher ethnic and class diversity), or whether this increase in the number of women will produce policies which will benefit women.


In 1997, the jump in women’s representation was accompanied by a host of policies which were either designed to benefit women, such as new laws on domestic violence, or did so because of women’s poorer economic position, such as the introduction of the minimum wage. Whether the same progress occurs following what may be an even larger Labour victory and the highest ever proportion of women in parliament is uncertain.



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