Jo Swinson writes…Dissolution honours make the contribution of women look invisible

Congratulations to all of the new Liberal Democrat Peers announced today.  They will strengthen our existing excellent team in the Lords, fighting for a democratically elected second chamber while in the meantime using their power to provide a check on the government and its worrying assaults on the poor, on our civil liberties, and on the environment.

It’s also good to see recognition for those in our party who have served our communities and our country so well – Sir Vince Cable, Dame Annette Brooke, Ben Williams OBE and others.

What is depressing and wearily familiar, however, is the missing women.

But surely our Lords list is balanced?  5 out of the 11 nominations (45%) for the peerage go to women, which is progress I suppose – of the 40 people nominated to the Lords under Nick Clegg’s leadership, just 17 (43%) were women.

And 45% women wouldn’t be so bad if the existing Lords group was well-balanced, but of our 101 Peers, just 35% are women – so we’re still far from equality.

If in 2015 when we have a 65% male Lords party and a 100% male Commons party, we can’t even appoint 50% women to the Lords, what message does that send about how seriously we take equality?

Personally, the last thing I’d want to be doing right now is joining the House of Lords, but I’m delighted that Lynne, Dorothy, Sharon, Shas and Lorely will be, and we have loads of talented women in the party who would make a brilliant contribution there.  Any argument suggesting we just don’t have the women to nominate is complete nonsense.

The picture is slightly better on race, but still a missed opportunity.  1 out of 11 (11%) on this latest list is not white, which is an improvement on the 8% figure for our Lords group currently, but behind the 13% in the general population.  It is worth noting recent progress on ethnic diversity in our Lords group – under Nick’s leadership 15% of his 40 nominations went to people from BME communities.

Turning to the rest of the honours, where women are just 4 out of 15 (27%) on the Lib Dem list, I’m at a loss to understand why, for example, the utterly brilliant Polly Mackenzie, Lena Pietsch, Jo Foster and Hollie Voyce go unrecognised.   It’s as if the contribution of the women is invisible.

If most of our MPs are men, and they surround themselves with male advisers, and then our House of Lords nominees are drawn from that pool, we will just reinforce and entrench the inequality that is so morally wrong, damaging for our party, and at odds with our fundamental values as enshrined in our constitution.    We need to change all of these things – create a diverse Parliamentary party, with advice from a wide range of viewpoints, and complement our Lords team with experience from outside the political bubble.

I’ve spent the last three years in Government working with business to increase the number of women on boards, tackle the gender pay gap, and solve the challenge of getting more women into senior executive roles.  Sorting out gender inequality isn’t easy in any organisation – whether it’s a FTSE 100 company, public sector body or a political party.  You have to start with the data, analyse and understand the problems in your own organisation, and then take action.

There’s much we need to do to change our culture, nurture talented women, improve succession planning, and learn from our mistakes.  Improving the gender balance of our party in the House of Lords is only one piece of the jigsaw, but it is actually a fairly straightforward one to get right.  We’ve got the data here, and it’s sadly a missed opportunity to take action.

I’m heartened by Tim’s promising start.  By appointing a truly diverse team of spokespeople for the first time in our party’s history he sent a very clear signal about his commitment to using all the talent in our party.  We need more fresh thinking like that, to make the steady stream of male-dominated appointment lists a thing of the past.

* Jo Swinson was Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire from 2005-15 and was a Minister in the Department Business, Innovation and Skills and Equalities Minister from 2012-15

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55 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Aug '15 - 6:15pm

    Lib Dem women hold a nuclear button over the party, as do the men, so we always need to make sure that they feel valued. Plus it is right, but if you want to take the morals out of it then it is pragmatic too.

    I think we should hear Nick out or whoever it was that decided that only 27% honours for women was acceptable.

    Personally I will always broadly argue for merit, but we should have a roughly 50-50 gender split for national honours. I hope that the Queen’s advisors, or whoever decides these things, will sort it out. Women provide just as valuable contribution to society and it shouldn’t need saying, but maybe sometimes it does.

    Personally I really want national honours for long-standing Lib Dem Voice editors. Caron works very hard and I don’t think she gets enough recognition in return.

    I don’t want to say too much on this site, but silence over such topics is sometimes damning.

  • Liberal Neil 27th Aug '15 - 6:17pm

    Spot on Jo.

  • david thorpe 27th Aug '15 - 6:56pm

    the balance is 50-50 male to female-as ming campbell as a foimer party leader is appointed automATICALLY BY THE pm NOT by Clegg…just as all exiting labour and tory leaders are offered a PEERage-I had hoped a former minister would know this……

  • George Potter 27th Aug '15 - 6:58pm

    If we’re talking about merit then, on merit, 51% of people honoured should be women as any other result means that either merit wasn’t the primary factor or that women are inherently less capable than men.

    Since I refute the latter I’m going to strongly suggest that this is a case of the former.

  • George Potter 27th Aug '15 - 7:01pm

    @david thorpe

    Sorry, but Menzies Campbell doesn’t singlehandedly account for the marked gender disparity across all of Nick Clegg’s appointments during his time as leader, especially in the Lords.

    Even on his final go he still couldn’t manage to make it gender balanced.

  • david thorpe 27th Aug '15 - 7:02pm

    george on hisw final gop it it is 56 men and foive women-which is gendcer balanced-I am only comnmenting on that-not on his overall record..

  • david thorpe 27th Aug '15 - 7:03pm

    sorry that should of course read 5 men and five women-so it is gender baalnced-cognitive dissoanance and ignorance of thew facts are not attractive qwualioties-though they will vget you far in left wing circles so-braxvo!

  • Eddie Sammon 27th Aug '15 - 7:03pm

    George, I’m happy to accept 51% honours for women, but I still don’t believe gender roles can be ended with a stroke of a pen.

    Women are not less capable, they just live different lives and have different interests.

  • david thorpe 27th Aug '15 - 7:05pm

    george-one of the problems with the merit argument is that no one knows what the job desxcription for a peert is-not to mind a lib dem peer-so jusdging meroit is didfficult-and then you have the fact that nsome of the women of merit may not want peerages-whereas mnore of the men might…so simplistic numbers games argum,ents-whilst of course the preserve opf the left fall down on deeper analysis-just like our recent manifesto actually…

  • Phil Rimmer 27th Aug '15 - 7:39pm

    Very well said Jo.

  • Simon Foster 27th Aug '15 - 8:17pm

    Spot on Jo, as Neil and others have said 🙂

  • Meral Hussein-Ece 27th Aug '15 - 8:23pm

    @Jo Swinson, well said. Male white advisers appear to have had disproportionate influence. Like it or not, with all white male MPs, we in the Lords are being asked to represent Lib Dems in Parliament.

  • George Potter 27th Aug '15 - 8:47pm

    Also worth noting that our peers at least are meant to be elected – but that concept appears to have been allowed to die a quiet death.

  • David Buxton 27th Aug '15 - 8:51pm

    I welcome to what Jo said
    May I add that no disabled person was given a peerage since 2010. We saw a number of EMLD past executive members given peerages, none of LDDA since it was formed in 1992. Yet I still appreciate how difficult for any party leaders to choose right people for right reasons in spite that they have a long list of excellent people for the Lords
    We should still press for the House of Lords reform – elected by people! Tories don’t want that!
    Again my warm congratulations to 11 new peers today

  • How many are working class? Non-Oxbridge or Russell Group?

  • No Jo, what’s wrong is that we participate in this farce in the first place. We have no business even participating in an unelected second chamber.

  • George Potter 28th Aug '15 - 1:11am

    The SNP have boycotted the Lords for years. It has done absolutely nothing to improve the situation – either legislatively or in terms of Lords reform.

  • @George Potter
    Until the recent role reversal, the SNP were a minor party and wouldn’t have got much public exposure. Even now they won’t get much exposure in the majority of the UK (or should I say, the right kind of exposure).

    You’re probably right in that it won’t make much difference as you are now the minor party, but in the future that unwillingness to boycott the Lords due to political expediency may come back to bite you.

  • Richard Stallard 28th Aug '15 - 3:30am

    Looking at the MPs, it’s obvious that deep down the LDs don’t have any time for women. It’s all just fine words and posturing.
    Eight middle-aged, white men raking it in as they strut about at the House of Commons. Why are they there? They made sure they got the safest seats, that’s why!
    And not one of them with the decency to stand down and let a woman (or an ethnic minority) stand in their place.

  • John Tilley 28th Aug '15 - 6:06am

    George Potter 28th Aug ’15 – 1:11am
    The SNP have boycotted the Lords for years. It has done absolutely nothing to improve the situation – either legislatively or in terms of Lords reform.

    George
    What you say is true. The second sentence which you forgot to add is that boycotting The Lords does not seem to have had a deleterious impact on support for the SNP. 🙂

    Liberal Democrats could have dozens of peers working their socks off and most members of the party and more importantly most voters will never know. For folks in The Bubble it might have some relevance, some importance, for the other 99% of the population it is an obscure corner of the constitution that will seldom if ever concern them.

  • John Tilley 28th Aug '15 - 6:45am

    Pink News has an interesting perspective on this
    http://www.pinknews.co.uk/2015/08/27/founder-of-gay-rugby-club-heading-to-house-of-lords/

    From the pictures it would seem the sooner that man gets his ermine the better, in my opinion.

  • Alison Monk 28th Aug '15 - 6:46am

    Whilst Jo makes a very valid point and highlights that the Libdems suffers from the same institutionalised sexism as other parties, not sure that rebalancing gender in a flawed system is worthwhile. We should be pushing for reform, what is the alternative we want? Not sure I’m clear?and absolutely certain Jo Public doesn’t.

  • Richard Stallard:

    I don’t disagree with your point that its shocking we have eight white male middle aged MP. However sadly it’s the electorate who voted out some absolutely great female MPs like Jo and Lynne Featherstone and chose not to elect the likes of Christine Jardine. It’s also hardly fair to say the current MPs were given the safest seats – Tim Farron’s seat was held by the Tories for 90 years before he won it by 200 votes in 2005!

    Does anyone know what Jo is planning to do? I really hope she’s back ASAP.

  • I agree. Nothing against those honoured but another missed opportunity to reward some fantastic women and BME LDs. A shame. Can Jo tell us what she is up to currently and if we can support her?

  • John Tilley 28th Aug '15 - 8:48am

    ANMAW 28th Aug ’15 – 6:47am
    “…..it’s the electorate who voted out some absolutely great female MPs like Jo and Lynne Featherstone and chose not to elect the likes of Christine Jardine. ”

    All very true. But itis not just down to the electorate. It is down to the resources we use to convince the electorate of our case and convince them of our candidate’s suitability to be their MP. I can think of a number of seats with women candidates or sitting MPs where we were within touching distance of winning or holding on.

    One example —
    our woman MP got 36.3% of the vote in 2015 which was only 2.4% down on what got her elected in 2010.
    Unfortunately her 19,926 votes were not enough and an SNP man got in with 22,093.

    Compare this to —
    our male MP got 40% of the vote in 2015 which was a massive 19.7% reduction on what he got in 2010
    His 22,215 votes got him re-elected holding off his opponent who got 19,862.

    There is a remarkable similarity.
    In both constituencies the winner gets just over 22,000 votes the loser gets just under 20,000 votes.

    What central party resources were made available to our male MP ? I don’t know. But yesterday’s lavender list providing numerous rewards for people connected with a certain Sheffield seat might give us a clue. Does anyone in LDV know the answer to this question?

  • How many are party donors?

  • Helen Tedcastle 28th Aug '15 - 11:40am

    Jo Swinson: ‘ If most of our MPs are men, and they surround themselves with male advisers, and then our House of Lords nominees are drawn from that pool, we will just reinforce and entrench the inequality that is so morally wrong, damaging for our party…’

    Spot on Jo.

  • I think that it is uncharacteristically picky of Jo Swinson to object to the composition of a list containing six men and five women on the ground that it should have contained 50% women (where human beings are concerned, eleven is not a total easily divisible by two !). Leaving gender questions aside, it is of course regrettable that there are not as many BME Liberal Democrats in the upper echelons of our party as there ought to be, but where we most need them is the House of Commons, and a definite downside of elevating the best of our BME activists to the House of Lords, if we were to do so, is that they would not be able to stand as parliamentary candidates in more favourable circumstances in the future.

  • Richard Underhill 28th Aug '15 - 12:25pm

    John Tilley 28th Aug ’15 – 6:45am
    “Former Lib Dem MP Lynne Featherstone, the architect of the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples Bill) that brought same-sex marriage to England and Wales, will also head to the Lords and keep a role on the Lib Dem ‘frontbench’.”
    This is ambiguous, applying one adjective to two facts. She is a former MP, but not a former Lib Dem.

  • John Tilley 28th Aug '15 - 1:00pm

    Richard Underhill
    Thank you. I understand now. 🙂

  • George Potter 28th Aug '15 - 1:16pm

    The reason that not boycotting the Lords matters is because the Lords is our upper chamber. Laws are made there and laws are altered there. I’d rather have a strong liberal presence working to improve our laws in a ridiculous chamber rather than still have the ridiculous chamber with no liberal presence in it.

  • ” I’d rather have a strong liberal presence working to improve our laws in a ridiculous chamber rather than still have the ridiculous chamber with no liberal presence in it.”

    This, exactly this.

    Also echoing Eddie Sammon (first time for everything 😉 ) in expressing the thought that Caron deserves a peerage – and would be great in the chamber too. Also the divine Ms Duffett.

  • Richard Stallard 28th Aug '15 - 3:16pm

    I take it, bearing in mind the LDs opposition to the House of Lords and to “oppose entrenched privilege and inequality”, that none of the new peers will be claiming their 300 quid a day?

    Oh, look – what was that pink oinking thing that just flew past the window? Oink, Oink!

  • Martin Hunt 28th Aug '15 - 3:17pm

    I don’t want to be drummed out of the Cubs (or Brownies) but surely Dissolution honours are given to people who have made a hopefully great contribution to the Government in this case the Coalition Government or had a long and distinguished career which has been cut short by the result of the election. It matters not whether they are male or female or of a particular race or creed, but is entirely based on what they have done.

  • Tony Dawson 28th Aug '15 - 3:22pm

    Although I have sympathy with those who press the gender equality issue here, my main concern is in respect of the overall quality of those enobled. Not wishing to embarrass any individual, all I will say is that it is not consistent.

    It is a funny old Parliament where people sweat blood to ensure that a handful of Lib Dem MPs who we can get the people of their constituencies to support hang on in the elected chamber. But all you have to do is have the eye of the former Leader to be dropped in to the upper chamber. 🙁

  • Tony Dawson 28th Aug '15 - 3:25pm

    @Meral Hussein-Ece:

    ” Male white advisers appear to have had disproportionate influence. ”

    . . . . in our electoral downfall? 🙁

    Don’t shoot the messenger. Promote him!

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Aug '15 - 3:33pm

    Thanks Jennie! I think I’m in the “boycott the Lords” group, but yes big honours deserved indeed.

  • Richard Stallard 28th Aug '15 - 3:38pm

    @ Martin,
    Heresy!
    It matters not what someone has done or not done. What matters is their gender, race, religion, sexuality and level of disability.
    (Unless they’re male, white, Christian, straight and able-bodied).

  • Helen Tedcastle 28th Aug '15 - 4:22pm

    Richard Stallard

    I understand your point and generally dislike grouping people by gender, orientation, race etc… leave that to Harriet Harman. On this issue, croneyism is the key factor and the people involved happen to be male. Jo is right to point out however, that when given the opportunity to balance the list between male and female contributors to the Lib Dem cause in the HOL, the opportunity is not taken.

  • Helen,

    Richard Stallard appears to be a UKIP supporter – someone who should understand claiming expenses from an institution you don’t believe in and hardly ever attend very well indeed!

    I don’t think he is really looking for a debate with Liberal Democrats!

  • I have always assumed that any Lib Dem appointed to the House of Lords is asked to sign an agreement that they will vote for its dissolution and replacement by an elected chamber as soon as a proposal acceptable to the party is made. I have just realised that this may not be the case. Can anyone tell me?

  • Richard Underhill 28th Aug '15 - 4:58pm

    AndrewMcC 28th Aug ’15 – 4:38pm Maybe, or maybe he is just having a laugh, or trying the patience of the moderators.
    Please will commentators use full names for clarity?

  • Richard Stallard 28th Aug '15 - 5:08pm

    “Richard Stallard appears to be a UKIP supporter”
    Yes, someone else made that assumption a while back. Had me rolling in the aisles!

  • Peter Hayes 28th Aug '15 - 6:37pm

    What a load of nonsense. With 11 slots available if there were 5 men and 5 women what sexuality should be chosen for one place to balance the gender and sexuality? As for the other awards it is not the gender it is that MPs get almost all the top awards and they tend to be men that is the real problem; lack of female candidates in winnable seats and the loss of some great female MPs, did they get sufficient support from the centre?

  • david thorpe 28th Aug '15 - 9:38pm

    herew were ten places availbale not 11-campbell was automatic choice-but how many of our peers were first choice-if i were an enemy of the lib dems i would point out that hughes cable and davey and alexander declined peerages and laws was declined by the adhjudicators-so around half our new team were on the b list before appointmentdeemed not good enough-and now have to use them!

  • Fjo has already pointed out that there are plenty of women to choose from. It should have been ten women, to balance the distortion which already exists.

  • David Evershed 29th Aug '15 - 12:46am

    People should be chosen on merit not gender or race.

    It is not liberal to discriminate on gender or race.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 29th Aug '15 - 9:16am

    @ David Thorpe,

    I must correct you, there is no obligation for former Party Leaders to be given a peerage. Therefore, Ming’s peerage would have been granted by Nick Clegg, not David Cameron.

  • Neil Sandison 29th Aug '15 - 10:56am

    So glad you didn’t go to the Lords Jo .That would have been a terrible waste of a gifted member who should be re-standing for public office at the earliest opportunity. Once you go to the Lords we the Liberal Democrats will have lost able and competent persons able to promote the liberal cause through the ballot box regardless of gender we still need our front line troops and generals.

  • SueS 28th Aug ’15 – 4:48pm
    “…I have always assumed that any Lib Dem appointed to the House of Lords is asked to sign an agreement
    …… I have just realised that this may not be the case. Can anyone tell me?”

    SueS
    On recent evidence it would seem not — the biggest unresolved disciplinary matters for members of our group in the HofL seem to have been —
    Lord Ashcroft in 2014 saying that unless we did something to change political direction before the General Election we would be toast (he was proved right)
    Baroness Jenny Tonge two years earlier speaking the truth on Palestine.
    Opposition by our Peers to Nick Clegg’s botched reform was tolerated by the leadership. So one can assume that there is no such requirement to sign up to reform as you had hoped.

  • Please can people remember whenever we are challenged on gender balance and BME representation that we support STV for all elections which will produce automatically better balance.

    The election of male MPs is nor necessarily indicate bias in constituency parties. For example the three elections prior to Stve Webb’s election we had female candidates for the Northavon Constituency. The one woman to put herself forward for selection stated that she only put herself forward to meet the requirements that there had to be a woman on the shortlist.

    When Cheltenham became vacant again there was a shortage of credible women putting themselves forward for nomination.

    I remember Leslie Abdella campaigning for better oportunities for women to become PPC but she was selected for seats that were reasonable propects but instead of staying around after a defeat and building on her campaign she would flit of to find a “better” seats.

  • @Mike Drew
    “whenever we are challenged on gender balance and BME representation that we support STV for all elections which will produce automatically better balance.”

    How do you come to that conclusion?

    I’ve just looked up Leslie Abdella on Wiki, it only mentions one attempt at being an MP and that was in 1979 for the Liberal Party – is this the person you’re talking about?

  • It is a real shame that Annette Brooke wasn’t in that list, even if they did, at last, make her a Dame. There is a big tendency to ignore the contribution of some of the older women who started their Westminster career later. An excellent councillor who became a hugely respected MP, with expertise on economics, micro finance, and local government it is hard to see why she was left out in favour of some others. There is little reward for some people who work hard and intelligently but seem to have the bar set higher for them than it is for some others who were elevated.

    I appreciate that dissolution honours is completely outside the control of the party but we miss out on so much talent by rewarding the efforts of a small circle of insiders.

  • Richard Underhill 3rd Sep '15 - 9:59pm

    Jo Swinson | Thu 27th August 2015 – 5:20 pm
    Please get elected to Holyrood.
    i quoted you to a Glasgow taxi driver, who was silenced.

  • Neil Jerram 9th Sep '15 - 2:07pm

    For what it’s worth, 1 out of 11 is 9%, not 11% as the article says.

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