A former candidate reflects on the diversity motion

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As a white, straight, able-bodied, British man who was a candidate last May and has aspirations to run again, I wanted to offer the perspective of one of the ‘over-represented’ as we approach Sunday’s diversity debate.

When I saw the text, the realisation that the motion would have significant consequences for me and my ilk was unavoidable.  The motion promises us training and support and that we will be ‘valued’.  But along with positive discrimination in general election selections we are also promised proposals on wider party diversity including in party structures and local government.  The feeling I experienced on reading the motion must be akin to turkey being offered training and support in the run up to a gender-neutral, multi-faith Winter festival.

Nevertheless I have reached the conclusion that if I could make it to York, I would vote for this motion with pride.

Let me briefly explain why.

I accept the logic that increasing diversity will not necessarily lead to electoral success for our party (though happy to be proved wrong).  Yet the pangs of disappointment and the instinctive vulnerability I experienced while I read the motion were a wake-up call as to how I should vote.  This, I thought, is what it feels like to experience discrimination.

How many people from under-represented groups have felt that same insecurity or frustration when faced with a room full of white men asking why they want to be a candidate?  Or worse, how many bright political lights are turned off before they get to a selection by a rabble of boorish males ranting at each other over a dispatch box.  Shielded deep within the security blanket of my stereotypical political characteristics, I had never given this issue enough thought.

I began to wonder whether the fact that this motion was triggering the queasy qualms of men like me wasn’t one of its best features.  This motion gives us an assertive proposal to even up the ranks of our elected representatives, and provide some sense of commonality, familiarity and support to candidates from under-represented groups.  It is also borne of the assertive, radical approach that we need to engender throughout our organisation to maintain the progress we have made since May.

If the Lib Dems are making people like me feel a little bit uncomfortable about our place in the political world, are we moving one step closer to building the fair, free and open society that our constitution speaks of?

I have concluded that if we pass this motion, we are.  So the motion has already succeeded in having a positive impact on the way I empathise.  Now I want us to pass it to update our party and address the substantive issue.

But if we do, let’s remember that diversity alone will not solve the representation deficit within our political system.  Will a gender-balanced slate of Parliamentary candidates be as valuable a prize if it does not come along with a broader socio-economic mix of approved candidates?  Will we be satisfied if this motion only succeeds in providing cover to the most affluent members of under-represented groups at the expense of males from more modest and politically disconnected backgrounds?  As two Old Etonians play parlour games over our country’s future, we need leaders with backgrounds, not just faces, that can plausibly heal the dangerous divisions that are opening up in Britain today.  Moreover, if diversity is not (in itself) a vote-winner, then authenticity certainly is.

That said, my conclusion on the motion is clear and it comes from the gut.  Let’s take this chance to challenge the orthodoxies and set out on a radical path.  Let’s make a direct push for equality with courage and positivity.   Let’s show that we can move forward together to make our politics fairer and stronger.

I fully support voting to increase diversity in our party.  If you are going to be able to make it to York, I urge you to make it happen.

* Alex Meredith is a former PPC for Wantage and writes a blog on energy and climate policy at www.brightgreendragon.com

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18 Comments

  • Bill le Breton 10th Mar '16 - 2:09pm

    Alex, as our candidate in Wantage in 2015 – for which a sincere thank you – how does this make you a turkey voting for Christmas?

  • Hi Alex, Great piece. I have similar feelings as you, and what you wrote made me feel a little better about the negative thoughts I have towards the motion. As a young (ish) white male who wants to develop within the party I want to stand for higher levels of governance in the area where I live. I feel a bit unliberal that I have not jumped at this motion with open arms, as if it would hold me back, but, I think if I was at Conference I would support it. I feel the party needs people of all backgrounds, race, gender, religion, sexuality etc, to represent the people who live in the country. Also, by having more diverse MP’s and Cllrs, it opens up the party to more people to engage in politics and creates role models.
    I would say that one important caveat should that any seat with AWS should have a majority of candidates from the local area. Important we look for inspiring future MP’s inside the areas, they are there.
    Also, this issue was here before the 2015 election, for me its not the fault of our 8 current MP’s, but at 2010 where we had a paltry 7!
    I support this motion as action needs to be take in the short term, so in ten years time we are all judged equally on our abilities and not our Gender, and we can be seen as Liberal representatives for all parts of the community.

  • Alex Meredith 10th Mar '16 - 2:56pm

    @Bill thank you! Wantage could opt for an AWS – in which case I’d be cooked!
    @Alex – glad it’s helpful and good luck to you! The debate is a difficult one for LDs as it puts some of our core values into the melting pot but everyone being honest about their feelings will hopefully help us make the right decision.

  • paul barker 10th Mar '16 - 3:05pm

    Alex, thank you for that. Of course this motion, approved or not is only the start of a long journey but thats an argument for taking the first step now.

  • Tony Dawson 10th Mar '16 - 5:11pm

    So, Paul Barker says we are only on the first step of a long journey. Presumably he means a journey started by winning less seats than last time but it doesn’t matter because those losing will be of equal genders? For the nth time may I re-iterate. Ensure that our selection systems are absolutely not racist or sexist or disablist but make very sure that we have the best individual candidate for the constituency, regardless of who they are, in our top 30 constituencies in 2020. The rest do not matter in the slightest in terms of getting MPs so you can do whatever you want there.

  • Liberal Neil 10th Mar '16 - 5:12pm

    @Alex – this fellow former Wantage candidate agrees.

  • Or worse, how many bright political lights are turned off before they get to a selection by a rabble of boorish males ranting at each other over a dispatch box.

    There’s plenty of boorish females ranting over the dispatch box these days too. And quite a lot of those ‘bright lights’ will be white males, btw. You have to have a certain kind of personality to want live in that world.

  • Peter Watson 10th Mar '16 - 7:09pm

    “How many people from under-represented groups have felt that same insecurity or frustration when faced with a room full of white men asking why they want to be a candidate?”
    So surely the problem that needs to be addressed is the reason that the room is full of white men.
    Reading some of the countless posts in umpteen threads on this topic, I wonder why I ever voted Lib Dem. Apparently, despite all of its rhetoric, the party has been worse than UKIP. And now it wants to be Labour.

  • Thank you Alex.

  • A Social Liberal 10th Mar '16 - 11:34pm

    As a disabled, working class male I should approve of this motion, given that it would help me no end to be selected into the candidate pool and then probably give me a chance of securing a candidacy in a seat which has more chance than the others of turning Lib Dem.

    But this is not about me, or about disabled men or women, or about any other candidate who is from one of the minorities. It is about liberalism. This motion discriminates against a section of the population, which is deeply illiberal. It promotes the thinking along the lines of the end justifying the means – which again is illiberal.

    The worst of this motion though, is that it is putting the cart before the horse. I wrote earlier in the week that we Lib Dems haven’t done our homework on this. We don’t know how many women are applying to be candidates, nor how many are successful. Or, if the leadership does know, it isn’t telling us and that can be only be for one reason – the figures don’t stack that well.

    Imagine, if despite the best efforts of the party we couldn’t actually get an adequate pool of women candidates and so the AWS of our target seats (57 in the last election) gobbled up 100% of the women candidates. This would mean that many constituencies would be deprived of women seriously trying to get voted in as their candidate. Far fetched, probably – but we don’t know because our leadership can’t or won’t tell us how many women candidates we have.

    So what do we need to know

    *How many of each minority ask for an application pack, and how many fail to return a completed application. What are the reasons for not returning the pack.
    *How many of each minority successfully navigate the application phase. What were the reasons for those failing not getting selected.
    *How many of each minority are in the candidate pool.
    *How many of each minority apply to become a candidate. Why did they fail in securing a candidacy.

    We know how many of each minority represented the Lib Dems in the 2015 general election, we know how many were successful. We are seeing a picture but it isn’t all of the picture and the bit we see isn’t enough.

  • Jeanette Sunderland 11th Mar '16 - 12:12am

    As a campaigner and Councillor with over 20 years experience increasing my majority in 2011 and 2015, the leader of the 2010 Bradford East campaign and looser of a deposit against George Galloway in the Bradford West by election and leader of the campaign in Bradford East I believe I’ve got a bit to offer in the debate about diversity. I will vote for the motion but don’t believe it will change the Parliamentary Party at the next election. I would prefer to limit the number of terms an MP can represent a constituency to 3 or 15 years. Along with the changes in the motion that really will make a difference. I would also be happy to apply these rules to myself.

  • Morwen Millson 11th Mar '16 - 10:24am

    As a 64 year old woman, who has served as a Lib Dem County Councillor since 1989, I used to think that the representation of women and other poorly represented groups would improve as society changed. I stood for Parliament twice in the desperately Conservative area in which I live, where incidentally, we have only had two male candidates since 1983.

    I was depressed to hear younger women help to overturn previous attempts to improve women’s representation during the 90s, having by then realised that things would not change without policy change. Sadly they were convinced, as I had been at their age, that their ability alone would get them elected as candidates in our most winnable seats.

    I am firmly convinced that the only way that we will become a more diverse party is to look as though we want to be more diverse. We have to support this motion. When we are a diverse party, we must restore the liberalism that has to be passed over in the interim.

  • Peter Watson 11th Mar '16 - 11:21am

    @Morwen Willson “When we are a diverse party, we must restore the liberalism that has to be passed over in the interim.”
    That is what many who are recommending all-women shortlists appear to have avoided saying, temporarily suspending liberalism for the greater good.

  • A Social Liberal – whatever the outcome at York the research fields you suggest are fully justified. We also need research on candidate retention.

    To give an example of the sort of thing that is being missed – I was warned in 2015 that I had to stand or risk suspension from the approved list for sitting out two General Elections in a row. I stood in 2005 and would have loved to have stood in 2010 but pulled out because I was told in no uncertain terms by my region that there is no, I repeat, no provision whatsoever for a candidate to take maternity leave.

  • Peter Watson 11th Mar '16 - 12:08pm

    @Ruth Bright “there is no, I repeat, no provision whatsoever for a candidate to take maternity leave.”
    What time period does that lack of provision cover? A year out from an election it seems wholly unacceptable, but during the election campaign, I’m not so sure.

  • A Social Liberal 11th Mar '16 - 12:39pm

    Ruth

    I sympathise entirely with your experiences, this is just wrong. However, as I said at the beginning of my post, this isn’t about me, or – with all due respect – you. It IS all about liberalism. We cannot,cannot, act illiberally – to do so would give Murdochs press another stick to beat us with, a stick which the public will happily pick up.

    We have to start today, collect the information I specified and use it to increase the participation for all minorities.

  • Ruth Bright 11th Mar '16 - 1:11pm

    A Social Liberal – I completely understand your position. I gave my own example simply as a “study” if you like of what can happen but happens under the radar because of a lack of research. What is frustrating is that if we knew more about each other as candidates we could support each other more.

    Peter – there is no allowance made whatsoever. One is at the mercy of one’s local party with no protection from the centre. One local branch chair started stirring about “where has she got to?” 6 weeks after I gave birth (with a General Election a full two years away) and was not medically fit to do anything much at all. As the party rules are silent on these things he was perfectly within his rights to complain.

  • This is a great article Alex and I hope you succeed in your Parliamentary ambitions as our Party and the country need many more MPs who have the ability to empathise with others.
    I would just like to challenge the argument made in some posts that AWS is illiberal by taking that discussion away from the supercharged atmosphere of the diversity motion. Liberalism is about finding the best arrangements of rights and entitlements for the majority of people, not everyone can exercise all their rights at the same time. For example, when I work I am paid by my employer and am entitled to that pay and to spend it as I wish. However, I cannot exercise that basic right to the full because I give some of that income to the state. I do that willingly so that the state can pay for my education and that of others, for the Health Service and also to pay benefits to those who are in need. Some of my hard earned income is given to others for them to spend as THEY wish. Is this illiberal? No. I have given up my right to all of my income to enable someone else to exercise their right to live and not die from poverty.
    This is what the diversity motion is all about. It is a temporary adjustment of rights from those who are over represented at present in order that others may exercise their right to stand for parliament. We can argue about whether that adjustment is correct but we cannot argue that it is illiberal.

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