Last weekend marked the official start of the Candidate Leadership Programme, with a residential training weekend in Greenwich. For many, this Programme marks an important shift in thinking to improve the diversity of our Parliamentary Party. I write this piece to give a participant’s point of view.
Despite efforts for years to get candidates from diverse backgrounds to become approved, sadly, and not without great effort on behalf of organisations such as the Campaign for Gender Balance (CGB), the result did not show in terms of elected Parliamentarians.
The Leadership Programme is designed to focus on the steps post-approval and selection, to help participants from under-represented groups get selected and then win. Participants will receive an MP mentor, a Party mentor and a business mentor, along with specialised training that results in a qualification from the Institute of Leadership and Management. This weekend focused on the areas of advanced leadership and fundraising, selection and career progression.
I found it all extraordinarily useful. This is the first time this type of support has been offered in such an organized way, and my hope as the Deputy Chair of the Parliamentary Candidate Association is that this will develop best practice that will ultimately be available to all candidates.
However, this Programme was set up and the criteria for eligibility were set and overwhelmingly passed by Conference, in recognition of the issues that the Party faces in terms of representation in the Parliamentary Party. That fact is extremely important to me as a participant on the programme – it’s a push from the membership, not a pull from above. There is no doubt that there is significant support from the Parliamentary Party, with many of our ministers volunteering to be mentors, and Nick Clegg coming to meet us yesterday.
Vitally though, the local party will make the ultimate decision as to whether I am right for their seat. We are indeed getting extra help to prepare to lead a target campaign, but in the end it is up to us to prove we are the right women and men for the job. I would not be here if it was any other way.
Every single candidate on the Programme recognises that we are going to have to work incredibly hard to achieve our ambitions, and we are all completely committed to doing what it takes to lead a team into the next General Election. Whilst we all are proud to be part of the Programme and look forward to developing our skills over the next three years, none of us take anything for granted. I believe that the Programme will make us all better candidates and, I hope, representatives that the Liberal Democrats can be proud of.