The Independent reported on Sunday that Nick Clegg 2ould consider imposing all women shortlists for the 2020 general election if the party did not select enough women in winnable seats.
I defected from Labour earlier this year and I want to share my experiences of a party that needs to use all women shortlists to select female candidates for parliament and councils.
Earlier this year, Mark Fergusonrightly pointed out on Labourlist that no women had been selected in open shortlists since before the general election. It pointed out that when local labour parties had the choice between a man and a woman they tend to chose a man. That’s why Labour needs all women shortlists – an inability to select a woman on merit.
When I first joined the Labour Party I was a strong opponent of all women shortlists I thought it to be unnecessary and fairly insulting that a so called progressive party needed to have shortlists just for women. The implication was that women weren’t good enough to be selected on merit. Oh how my opinions changed! I saw that local parties were mainly made up of old men, that the environment wasn’t very welcoming and that women weren’t really taken seriously. I heard comments about women I wouldn’t expect to hear from a so-called progressive party. I saw how vicious a local party could become when all women shortlists were mentioned. These people were never going to select a woman out of choice. I spoke out when the topic came up. I spoke out in favour. I wanted my constituency to be an all women shortlist, and I wanted some of our council selections to be all women shortlists because it seemed like the only way a women would get selected and elected. I even spoke on women’s representation at Labour Conference (after my speech was vetted naturally…
So I moved to the Liberal Democrats who, despite not having all women shortlists have managed to select women. I know we don’t have enough women elected but we are taking steps in the right direction. I don’t think it’s necessary to introduce them. I haven’t come across anything like the sexism I saw in Labour.
For me though, it’s not just about getting more women in Parliament or Council Chambers, it’s about increasing the diversity in politics overall. We need politicians from a range of backgrounds and with a range of different life experiences to make politicians seem more real. What we have now is an electoral system that is male, pale and stale and this has to change. So let’s make the changes, but because we want to, not because we have to.
* Sarah Brown is a Liberal Democrat activist who lives in Manchester.