Opinion: Calm Down, Dears!

It’s a great shame that so many Liberal Democrats have reacted to the political downfall of Chris Huhne by bashing his successor. Ed Davey is an immensely capable minister and will do a wonderful job in his new position. Sadly, some have chosen this news to complain because a woman wasn’t promoted instead of a man. Gender balance is an issue that seems to divide opinion a great deal in the online world, for some reason, despite being hardly as controversial in the real world, where the principle is generally accepted that talent should be rewarded rather than the accident of birth.

Unfortunately, to some my gender disqualifies me from discussion of these issues because of my ‘privilege’. Those people will likely dismiss this article out of hand because to them only a female can understand why it is so vital that half of our political representatives are of the female gender.

Of course, not every woman sees the need for her gender to be given an unfair and discriminatory leg-up . ‘Gender balance’ is not necessary – I am no better represented by our local Labour MP because he is a man than if he were a woman. I do not subscribe to this patronising belief that women are some hitherto-unknown minority in desperate need of a leg-up, that women have ‘issues’ only capable of being dealt with by a woman, or that you should promote a woman to a position instead of a man so that some arbitrary target of 50/50 can be reached.

I’m also going to be extra-edgy and not include ridiculous caveats about being male and white and therefore of less pertinent opinion. I’m not going to try and disprove some meekly-assumed reader assumption that since I don’t want women promoted for their gender alone I must hate them, by saying that some of my best friends are women (although it’s tempting!) or follow our Prime Minister’s example in the leaders’ debates  and tell you a story of how I met a woman (forty years old, in the navy for thirty years, etc.

See, it may be uncommon in an apparently liberal party, but I don’t believe that women are better than men or vice-versa, I look at people as individuals and judge them on ability. So if I compare Ed Davey and, say, Lynne Featherstone on the basis of suitability for a job, and choose Davey on this basis, he is, therefore, better than Featherstone – not because he is male, but because his experience and talent suits the position better than hers. Nick Clegg clearly agrees with me, as the position went to Davey. Those arguing that Featherstone should have got the job therefore seem to believe that Davey was only chosen as part of some vast, devious male conspiracy to keep women out of the top jobs of politics (despite the glass ceiling of female party leadership and female Prime Ministerhood having been smashed many years ago by a certain grocer’s daughter!).

Face facts – our party’s political troubles are not going to be magically solved by replacing our leadership with a cadre of working-class women headed by Jo Swinson. I say this in the quiet certainty they would perform exactly as well as our current leadership, no better, no worse. After all, when individuals are brought together to work as a team, the makeup of the team matters less than the personalities – if clashes happen, it will be because of said opposing personalities, not because of an extraneous factor like gender. I do not believe that people will work together any better or worse just because they are a mixture of genders, deliberately picked to fit into some politically-motivated notion of ‘balance’. Look first and foremost for their individual talents and for what they can offer to a team, not for balancing a quota or ticking boxes, and certainly not for choosing artificial ‘equality’ over the solid evidence of talent. That’s the kind of thinking that leads to putting Jacqui Smith in the Home Office, and that’s disastrous!

So, ultimately, the answer to the issue posed here is simply that Nick Clegg should stop talking about diversity and get on with getting the best people to do the jobs, regardless of gender or background. This doesn’t make me a hater of women or some defender of stereotyped southern privilege over northern austerity – quite the contrary, those who would see women promoted on the basis of their gender are the sexists, if they would but realise it. Women don’t need to be catapulted anywhere, they need to be treated the same as men would be; as individuals, given the same chances to shine and given the same rewards for their skills.

And yes, that title is ironic!

 

* Zadok Day is a Lib Dem activist based in Bury, and is co-Chair of Liberal Reform.

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47 Comments

  • Foregone Conclusion 7th Feb '12 - 5:50pm

    It’s funny how the ‘best person for the job’ nearly always seems to be an Oxbridge-educated white male, isn’t it?

  • We tend nowadays to consider people for who they are not, not for who they are. Why stop at complaining about Mr Davey for being male? He’s obviously not under 40, not over 60, not gay, not single, not non-white, not working class, and together all his “nots” make him a bad Cabinet Minister. Voilà.

  • Richard Shaw 7th Feb '12 - 6:20pm

    @Foregone Conclusion

    Maybe they are. If you could suggest a better candidate (based on ability) from those available who don’t match those characteristics then you’d have a point.

  • Foregone Conclusion 7th Feb '12 - 6:27pm

    @ Richard Shaw,

    In this particular case, you may well be right – it makes sense to move Davey, who’s been in a ‘business-regulatory’ department for 18 months, to Energy and Climate Change, rather than Sarah Teather or Lynne Featherstone who have been involved in rather different areas. I was talking in more general terms – we are always told whenever a man is chosen over a woman in the party that he is the ‘best person for the job’. It stretches credulity that this is the case all the time…

  • Liberal Neil 7th Feb '12 - 6:48pm

    Zadok, absolutely people should be promoted on the basis of merit rather than gender (or race, or sexuality, or class).

    The problem is that, unless you believe male people, white people, straight people and middle class people have intrinsically more merit, the system doesn’t seem to work that way.

    In this particular instance I am more than happy that Ed has been promoted. He is a fine chap, Lib Dem to his fingertips, and a committed green.

    In general though we have a major problem as a party, and in politics as a whole.

    What Nick should do is use every other lever he has to redress the balance. Every time a further batch of peers is appointed, for example, he should promote a diverse group of capable people and at the same time help redress the balance. Sadly he has chosen not to do so thus far.

  • Zadok, if you think that the allocation of roles in politics is primarily about assigning the best possible person to each job – then it strikes me that you are a bit naive. The clue is in the word “politics”.

  • I disagree with Zadok’s post. If we are serious about being a party which represents the society we live in then we should be doing a lot better about making politics a more balanced environment. As LiberalNeil and ForegoneConclusion have said, unless we all accept that white, male, upper middle class people happen to be overburdened with all the talent in the UK, then we are not doing very well at accessing those with ideas, backgrounds and experience outside the “norm” but who actually represent the majority of the population. If nothing else this is illogical and shortsighted. It also puts off a great many people (male and female) from getting involved in political life. And if we believe in equality (which according to our constitution we do – we shall not be enslaved by conformity to the status quo in terms of representation) then we have an obligation to support, promote, encourage and help women and other under-represented groups. Otherwise we look like we are all talk about equality, and no action. That is unacceptable in my view.

  • Thanks to all for comments so far.

    Louise – fascinating report! And indeed, my only get-out is the implication that my specific imagined team of Jo Swinson-headed women aren’t *automatically* going to be better when compared to the current team… 🙂

    Dave – Assuming that men and women in general are equal in skill, fine. I’m not sure that I agree that there are no barriers to entry, for various reasons. Eg there was an interesting piece the other day (http://markreckons.blogspot.com/2012/02/is-lib-dem-mp-gender-balance-problem.html) suggesting that there may well be a barrier in the form of FPTP. I’m not suggesting that everyone on every selection committee would be as talent-focused as I argue for here, either. I do disagree that having a certain percentage of women in the party means automatically that there has to be a certain percentage of female MPs, however, as outlined above.

    Geoffrey – I hope Ed Davey pleases you on all points.

    Foregone Conclusion – As Richard Shaw suggests, the pool of available talent is what matters. You mention Sarah Teather, a good example of our female talent, and I’m sure she’ll continue to rise higher in the party with time.

    Liberal Neil – Hopefully you’ll be proven wrong when our peers are elected! 🙂

    Alistair – I don’t believe that roles always are always given to people on the basis of talent – I mentioned Jacqui Smith, and there are other examples of people that could be raised, Sayeeda Warsi, for example.

    Agreed, Neil M.

  • Lee Chalmers 7th Feb '12 - 7:40pm

    Oh dear, oh dear, what an unfortunate and ignorant post this is. The title is patronising and the content is little better.

    Meritocracy. Yes, we all want that. How do we ensure we live in a meritocracy? Many studies have shown that people are much more inclined to see skills and behaviours matching their expectations in people that look just like them. When you have this effect, which has been explored over years and years of rigorous academic study, you do not have meritocracy, however much you might say you have. We do not have a meritocracy in the UK because we still believe that leadership takes the form of white men. This view is held by men and by women, in politics, in business and in the media. This is not a man hating issue, it’s a matter of us seriously engaging with the question of what it takes to recognise the value of difference and to create structures to allow for people to bring all they can to the table.

    We have not managed to appoint a woman to the cabinet. Why did we chose the men we did? Why Danny Alexander not Jo Swinson? Both were elected at the same time. What valid, measurable criteria were used? Please provide this for your defence of meritocracy.

    This post is weak and whinging. This is not an enlightened view, not an educated view. It’s unexamined bias masquerading as common sense. It’s a defence of a perspective that has kept us locked in our extremely poor record of electing anything other than white men. No wonder we are polling at 9%. We deserve to when we hold views like this.

  • Julie Pörksen 7th Feb '12 - 7:56pm

    “…..So, ultimately, the answer to the issue posed here is simply that Nick Clegg should stop talking about diversity….”

    No. He should not stop talking about diversity until our politicians truly represent Britain.
    We do need more women Ministers (there is more choice than mentioned), but we also need more women MPs.

    It is however a disgrace that we cannot even have the debate “Should the new Minister be white?”
    Nick should not stop talking about diversity, even if some stop listening.

  • Jo, I do respect your view – one held by many – that a modern political party should represent modern society, and I am quite happy for women and other minorities to be encouraged to enter politics. There’s no reason that there should be barriers to entry, that non-white males should be discouraged. Where we disagree, I think, is in regard to the help that they should be given to get there, and whether this should include factors other than talent being taken into account.

    Lee, the title was, ironically enough, suggested by a female friend! I hope it’s obvious that I am not literally calling the women of this party ‘dears’ and telling them to calm down, Dave-style. Of course, I personally can’t answer the specifics of your comment, such as why Danny was elevated and Jo wasn’t – I assume that when the time came to choose between Danny and whoever else was considered for the job, talent was the chief factor. This seems to be a more reasonable assumption than one of blatant sexism on the part of our leadership… In terms of having more female MPs, see my point above to Dave re electoral failings. And I simply disagree with your final point re our polling improving if we to have more female MPs, as I mentioned in the article.

  • Lee Chalmers 7th Feb '12 - 8:11pm

    Zadok, the title is poorly chosen and part of the nonsense that women have to deal with. Blaming it’s choice on a female friend is rather sad. You ‘assume’ that talent was the factor in the choice of Danny and this is the problem. We have no data. It may have been sexism, you don’t know. It’s only a more reasonable assumption because you want it to be.

    In order to attract more female MP’s we need to be a party of inclusion and this means getting an education on what that means.

  • Lee, I certainly didn’t mean to shed blame in the choice of title, what is sad is that my sense of humour doesn’t travel as well as I thought. (Interesting that you assume I target “dears” at women, however; I have male friends I’ve addressed as such. The choice on whether to refer to any friend – male or female – is wholly dependant on individual circumstances, me not being the sort to address random strangers by terms of endearment.)
    And yes, I assume that Danny was chosen for his talent, because otherwise the implication is that our leadership are sexist. Obviously I don’t want our leadership to be sexist, you’re right there. But I’d like to see more evidence for an accusation like that than a man getting a job.

  • Rebecca, thanks for the full response! Going straight to the meat: (and please believe me, attributing paranoia, inferiority, or hysteria over the issue is the last thing I’m doing!) I don’t mean to deny the existence of sexism anywhere with this piece, and can understand that a structure of female support is helpful. I really do think that our point of disagreement, and mine with Lee and others, is less significant than it at first might appear – on the point of democratic representation, and whether it’s necessary for women to represent women, whether the problem of female representation is so acute that running the risk of promoting untalented individuals is necessary in order to achieve full balance… As Oranjepan says, a forced balance would not be ultimately helpful to anyone. I’m happy to try the experiment you mention in the final paragraph, however, and found your LDV post interesting – in both cases despite my being a man! 😉

  • I had half a mind before submitting this to ask if it could be submitted anonymously, but I don’t think the resulting debate would have been any different, really. Indeed, it’s a shame that electoral conditions resulted in so few women being elected, as a share of the woefully small amount of LD MPs elected.

    Just in case it isn’t obvious, because from comments made here and elsewhere I fear it isn’t – this piece wasn’t written directly as an attack on WLD’s existence, but as a response to those who were critical of Davey’s promotion rather than a woman’s.

  • Oh, indeed. And the debate’s a good one to have, pleased it’s been so polite so far (if slightly concerned that I haven’t made any friends at WLD, but hopefully have made no enemies either…)!

  • euan cameron 7th Feb '12 - 9:56pm

    the issue at heart isnt women getting elected its women standing and being selected (and remaining in place) too often good women candidates stand in one election only often because of the way they are treated by the party and its elected representatives particularly in local govt,we should and must be better,until we proper;ly encourage and nurture talent from all stratas of society nothing will change…….

  • Elzbieta Vine 7th Feb '12 - 10:04pm

    The title of this article are actually the same fameous words that David Cameron said recently to a woman parliamentarian. Sorry, I don’t keep up with your speed of writing, as I have to do my ‘gender biased’ tasks; you know, the childcare, cleaning, washing up and other very boring, but necessary things. I didn’t stop since 6 am this morning, as I am full time working mother. So I am out of your discussion. But this is only a one informal discussion. Where there is a space for doing ‘big’ politics?

    I hope that this example is clear enough for ZAdok to understand women’s situation. Sorry, Zadok, but I simply don’t have time, and energy, to argue that your post was not right.

  • Ruth Chenowetth 7th Feb '12 - 10:08pm

    Meritocracy versus democracy is a false dichotomy. There is no possibilty of a meit based system in the absence of democracy, since being able to express one’s merit depends upon democratic freedoms. In any case, a pure meritocracy is neither possible nor desirable. See Iris Marion Young’s ‘The Myth of Merit’ for the former, and Michael Young’s ‘The. RIse of the Meritocracy’ for the later. Young was the first to coin the term ‘meritocracy’ and as founder of the Open University he probably saw the irony in its being taken up by New Labour as a a political value and policy objective. Given that a pure meritocracy is impossible and undesirable, then we have all kinds of interesting altenatives at hand to tackle gender inequalities, of which quotas are only one. How about lottery, rotation, or draft? In Norway, boards must be at least 40% women or men. Their experience is that such boards produced well-balanced, stable and more effective decisions. Sounds both democratic and meritorious.

  • Lee Chalmers 7th Feb '12 - 10:09pm

    Here are some useful points to keep in mind when a discussion on this topic is in full flow:

    Women constitute the MAJORITY of the UK population
    Women constitute the MAJORITY of graduates from UK universities

    So, the claim that the absence of women from positions of power is down to them not being the most talented in the land is logically false. The fact that power is largely held by a minority group, men, suggests that some other factors are at play. We need to be curious about these factors and develop strategies to bring about true meritocracy. That starts with respect and engagement.

  • Zadok, I believe your response to mine shows the difficulty. You assume that when a man is promoted it’s all down to talent, but when a woman is promoted it may be down to trying to make up the numbers. Not so.

    Additionally, you suggest there are no signs of sexism. Let’s examine the facts. Of our 57 MPs 7 are women (that’s 12%). Of our 18 Ministers / Cabinet members 2 are women. That’s 11%. So we cannot even match in government positions our own shockingly bad figures for the group which represents over half of the population.

    I do not accept, by the way, that women only represent women, any more than I believe that men only represent men. However I do believe that the composition of our party in parliament (and the other parties too) shows a genuine democratic deficit which is unsustainable and an embarrassment to our party.

    I don’t believe the status quo is fair, democratic or in line with our party’s core beliefs. It is a demoralising and humiliating state of affairs which reflects badly on us and how seriously we take the society we aim to represent. I welcome initiatives like the Leadership Programme. I think it is right and proper that we should seek to attract, encourage and nurture talented people who want to make a contribution to our party. We should celebrate that, not denigrate them or the party for their ambition. However, the Leadership Programme makes little difference to the situation within parliament now.

    While we are in government it would be unforgiveable, in my view, for our party to take the opportunity to engage with the half of the population who really doesn’t get much of a look in to power and how it is exercised. That includes things like appointing women as Ministers (my objection to last week’s reshuffle wasn’t just that a woman wasn’t appointed to Cabinet, but a woman wasn’t appointed as a Minister), improving the diversity of our members of the Lords, tackling the inequalities women (and men) face every day. If we don’t tackle issues because they are too difficult or not where the argument normally is then it is shortsighted and irresponsible.

    And as for the title of your post, I presume you recollected the furore when the Prime Minister used the phrase, what he was criticised for, and therefore how it would be viewed. I’m afraid it made David Cameron appear like a juvenile bullish fop who was failing to engage with the argument.

  • Jo, I don’t think did say either that sexism doesn’t exist, or that when women are promoted it’s only for their gender. I haven’t denigrated anyone’s ambition, I haven’t even mentioned the Leadership Programme, and don’t disagree that we should attract, encourage and/or nurture talent like you say.

    I am regretting the title, I think it’s coloured people’s perception of what I meant to write here. At the end of the piece I mentioned that it was ironic – I am very much aware of the title’s origins, and yes, thought that it might be received differently to the original. My mistake.

  • If MPs are to “truly represent Britain” (as one contributor demands), should 50% of them be of below average intelligence?

  • Elizabeth Jewkes 8th Feb '12 - 7:41am

    I just found this really naive. It reminded me of a conference debate a few years ago in which we tried to improve the representation of women in parliament. A young girl declared ‘I don’t need help. I’m going to do it all on my own’. She was hugely applauded and the vote was lost. Afterwards, I said to her ‘In 20 years time, when women’s representation in parliament is no better than it is today and a girl who today is not yet born, gets up and says ‘I’m going to do it all on my own’, you will feel as angry with her as I feel with you today’. A couple of years later, she came up to me and told me I was right. Sadly, we have no shortage of men and young women who prefer to keep an unrepresentative system rather than accept that the system is not fair. Does anyone really believe that the behaviour in the House of Commons, the shouting and cat calling would exist if there were more women MPs? And that’s not the only change. Zadok claims that the ability to represent people is not gender related. As a women, I know that male MPs do not represent me. No country has achieved gender equality in parliament without positive discrimmination. Why should the UK be any different?

  • Matthew Harris 8th Feb '12 - 10:32am

    Well done, Zadok, for pointing out that the challenge of gender balance is a complicated challenge – if it was easy, we’d have ‘solved’ it ages ago. We live in a society that for centuries was built on traditional male elites. Does anyone think that it will be quick and easy to adapt such a society to the modern world?

    As I have pointed out at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/blackberry/p.html?id=894432, this is not a numbers game. Please do not use White Oxbridge Male as a term of abuse. My paternal grandfather was a railway worker who left school aged thirteen. His son, my Dad, passed the 11-plus and (against the odds) went to grammar school and university and got a white-collar job. I then went to a comprehensive school and, through a lot of hard work, got into Oxford University. I am now, therefore, a White Oxbridge Male. Am I (and for that matter Ed Davey) to be condemned, rather than congratulated, for getting into a very good university? Were I to get a big job, would people say that it was unfair that yet another White Oxbridge Male had got this job? My maternal grandparents, incidentally, were refugees who came to this country as asylum seekers.

    When the Tories had their A-list, the Guardian’s example of a new candidate who was, apparently, excitingly different from the Tory norm was a (white) woman who had been to a major public school, gone to Oxford University’s poshest college and been an officer of the Oxford Union! The person concerned actually being excellent, but hardly from a different mould from generations of privileged male Tories – and here she was being touted by the Guardian as evidence of how progressive the Tories now were in candidate selection!

    Another brilliant person I knew slightly at Oxford narrowly missed a First and so went into the BBC rather than embarking on a planned academic career. He has since been a successful journalist. He entered the BBC under a recruitment scheme that was exclusively for black and minority ethnic people. For commendable reasons, the BBC then had a graduate trainee scheme that was reserved for black and minority ethnic people, who had been severely under-represented on past general trainee schemes at the BBC. This guy, who was brilliant and very able, had been to a major public school and Oxford. Was he really the sort of person who the BBC was intending to help when it set up a trainee scheme for under-represented black and minority ethnic people? I don’t know.

    @Geoff Payne, the idea that the role of Lib Dem Cabinet Ministers is to ‘stand up to’ Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg is frankly bonkers, and I say that with affection, respect and disappointment that you would write such a thing. The role of Lib Dem Cabinet Ministers is to govern the country to the best of their abilities, always telling the truth and remaining true to their deepest principles. That’s not about ‘standing up to’ their Cabinet colleagues. It’s about working with them to reach agreement on what to do for the best.

  • Jo and Rebecca have made some excellent points that I don’t think I can add to. But I wanted to mention a general point about the gender imbalance being present in many areas of society not just politics and why it’s so important that our party and others take a lead on this issue and work to get many more women elected to public office. And also support them through the selection and election process.

    In my own profession (nursing) women outnumber men at a ratio of about 9:1, despite this men are still promoted faster and higher than women: http://www.nursingtimes.net/whats-new-in-nursing/acute-care/top-hospitals-show-bias-for-male-nurse-directors/5018275.article; http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/146098.stm (apologies that link is quite old but it is still very much the case).

    Childcare is very often cited as a reason for women finding it difficult to get into politics and to progress professionally but presumably these children have fathers too? Why are men never (or at least very rarely) questioned about their childcare arrangements in the way women are?

    On a separate note, what is the Jo Swinson/Danny Alexander thing all about? I have always found Jo a far more impressive speaker than Danny when I have seen her speak at party conferences and fringe events. Also she comes across much better in interviews than Danny does. Frankly, I often find it embarrassing watching Danny being interviewed. If you compare their CVs, they have very similar backgrounds in terms of education and experience. I suppose only Nick Clegg can explain that one…

  • Mrs Paddy Beck 8th Feb '12 - 10:42am

    I should like to add a little historical perspective to the debate. There is no doubt that the Liberal attitude to women during the Women’s Suffrage movement and afterwards has had a long term detrimental effect. I was alerted to this by the late (Lord) Conrad Russell when we were discussing Josephine Butler (born Grey and a cousin of Lord Grey) and the Liberal attitude to her efforts to repeal the notorious Contagious Diseases Acts. He directed me to a book by Martin Pugh called “The MARCH of the WOMEN” OUP 1999 and in particular the 2 chapters:- Conservatism: The Unexpected Ally and then Liberalism: The Unexpected Enemy. I don’t even regard myself as a feminist but as an equalist nor do I think women are inherently better or even different from men (I have been happily married to a surgeon for 50 years and one who did his best to encourage women into surgery). BUT I realise that women on the whole bring different priorities, have different agendas from most men and that their contribution will produce a much more balanced view/outcome. The prime example of this is that there were NO Bosnian women involved in the Dayton Peace talks – had there been they might well have recognised the dangers of a huge growth of a sex industry in that unfortunate place where there had been none of significance before.

  • Ruth Chenoweth 8th Feb '12 - 2:39pm

    I think the comments and stories support my contention that merit is a fiction. We none of us do anything on our own, but depend upon our resources and social connections. And whilst we continue to spend precious political time and capital failing to deliver equal political representation for women (which can be solved tomorrow with quotas or whatever institutional mechanism is acceptable), then we delay the moment when we turn our attention to the far more difficult but profoundly important matter of the gendered division of labour. That is, the clustering of women in poor quality, low paid jobs. Equal representation in politics and in the boardroom should not be seen as separate from making sure that all the work women do is decent work. A dual strategy of equality of representation and decent work is how we can start to close gender gaps across society.

  • Lee Chalmers 8th Feb '12 - 3:25pm

    Mrs Paddy Beck, feminism is just the notion that men and women are of equal value. You can proudly call yourself one. 🙂

  • Taking Huhne and Clegg out of the equation on the grounds that they pretty much drew for party leader, the men the Lib Dems have put in the cabinet have been, I think:

    David Laws: majority 13036
    Vince Cable: maj 12,140
    Danny Alexander: maj 8765
    Ed Davey: maj 7560
    Michael Moore: maj 5,675

    Average = 9435

    Now the women MPs that Clegg could choose between are:

    Lynne Featherstone: maj 7,875
    Jenny Willott: maj 4576
    Jo Swinson: maj 2184
    Sarah Teather: maj 1345
    Tessa Munt: maj 800
    Annette Brooke: maj 269
    Lorely Burt: maj 175

    Average: 2460

    Could it be less about sexism or Boys Club nonsense and more about people needing to work in their seats to defend their majorities? With the exception of Lynne, who seems to have really got her teeth into her particular portfolio and I’d hate to see moved somewhere else!

  • @Jen – I don’t think it’s down to defending majorities. Besides which if anything being in a Cabinet / Ministerial position raises the profile of the person nationally and locally so their battle for name recognition (one of the most key things) is made easier.

  • The problem is that only artificial mechanisms such as positive discrimination are really able to satisfactorily correct systemic bias. You can spout hot air as much as you want but if there is a systemic bias against women in politics the only way to really change this will be via positive discrimination.

    Placing ‘positive discrimination’ up against ‘meritocracy’ is a self-serving false dichotomy. If the positive discrimination is correcting a systemic bias, then it will be making the selection more meritocratic, not less so.

    The argument then should be whether such a systemic bias exists and, if so, to what extent it might exist and should be corrected for.

  • Another thing to note is that we are not talking about an ordinary profession where selection should be based around finding the best person to undertake a similar set of tasks, but rather a political position which is about a lot more than just this.

    Now whether Ed Davey may well have been selected for his intellect etc. But, being part of a political team, being a representative, and being an advocate, he was almost definitely selected for other reasons also (such as his personality, etc Charisma).. Now, the same was true with Clegg… he wasn’t just selected for his brains or ability but also his looks an charisma because this is politics and part of his job relies heavily in his presentation.

    Bearing that in mind, that presentation is an important part of politics (although not one that should override other considerations) then I believe it is not at all unreasonable to ask the question of whether appointing a woman candidate might help the party politically. After all, the men in the cabinet did not get to where they are simply through their brains, but rather their natural characteristics, their identities and their personalities… So why should we simply turn around and say that candidates should be selected on artificially defined ‘ability’ alone, when this is clearly not the case for most male candidates as well as female ones?

  • Lee Chalmers 9th Feb '12 - 7:10am

    Hear hear Rob.

  • Sue Doughty 10th Feb '12 - 9:54am

    The idea that Nick promotes those who have less work to do in their seats just doesn’t fly. In particular some of those strong seats such as Twickenham are under threat due to the boundary review.
    If it were the case those MPs including Nick whose councils have lost control should not stand but should be shoring up the vote locally.
    Annette Brooke’s main crime I suspect is being an older woman. Her academic and personal qualities qualify her, and the contributions she has made in so many areas also do. Indeed I would argue that as well as recruiting from the generation of hugely talented young women, we should also be looking harder at those women whose children are older, and enthusing them (as I ultimately was) with the idea that they are MP material.

    It is truly ironic that this debate is continuing while even Cameron is recognising that without more women in top
    positions we lose access to half the talent available (in board rooms). Yes, women operate a little differently and may seem strange, not having gone to the handful of schools that our leading male politicians attended. But I don’t see Theresa May or Justine Greening struggling with the job. Every way you look at it this party is a disgrace in terms of women in senior positions. We don’t have the advantage of safe seats to help reduce the injustice of the situation but without recruiting more women and electing them we don’t have access to their talent and this is badly needed.

  • Jennie Rigg 20th Feb '12 - 7:37pm

    I’d like to point out that my major problem with Ed Davey is not that he is male, but that he has stiffed the industry I work in while in his previous job. His maleness has knack all to do with the fact that I think he has been overpromoted and will be rubbish; I bash him on his record, not his gender.

    Just in case anyone else fancies painting me as a harpie feminazi like Neil Monnery seems determined to do.

    Also, a word to the wise, Zadok: saying “it was only a joke” just rubs salt in the wound when you have hurt somebody, and I have never understood why people think it is a defence.

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