“All-Women Shortlists May Be Necessary, Senior Lib Dems Accept”

So reports the Huffington Post:

Senior Liberal Democrats have accepted that the party may need to resort to all-female shortlists or other tough measures to increase the representation of women and minority groups among its MPs…

Tim Farron MP … said that he was “utterly embarrassed” that only seven of the party’s MPs were women.

He said:

“Over the years we’ve had several debates on the crushing lack of women in the House of Commons, and our zero lack of representation from black and ethnic minority communities, and the debates we’ve always had are about the practical way to create equality and the liberal argument about how people should get there on their own merits,” he said. “Frankly I think we’re beyond that time.” …

Former LibDem leader Paddy Ashdown, who also spoke on the panel, said that the lack of women LibDem MPs winning election to parliament during his tenure was the “biggest failure” of his political career.

“I don’t like women shortlists or shortlists for anybody. I find them illiberal and I find them demeaning to those who are put in that position, and I find them potentially insulting.”

Interrupting applause from party activists at that point, however Ashdown added:

“The truth is that we have failed at this for too long, and if the leadership programme doesn’t work then I think we should be doing this. If this is the only way, through a temporary mechanism, to crack this nut that we have singularly and shamefully failed to crack, then I’ll be in favour of it.”

At a meeting of the Liberal Democrat History Group later in the day, Paddy Ashdown repeated his change of view, saying that the sort of measures he used to oppose would be necessary if the leadership programme did not succeed.

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20 Comments

  • If the Lib Dems dare to introduce any form of sexism or racism then I can guarantee you’ll lose my vote and almost certainly that of many hundreds of thousands of others.

    I refuse to vote for sexists or racists out of principle and a great many other people are equally anti discrimination. There is no positive discrimination, only discrimination.

    It’s little wonder that female MPs get kicked out of office when the likes of Lynne Featherstone preach their hatred against 49% of the electorate. Unless almost every woman vote Lib Dem she doesn’t’ stand a chance now.

  • I agree with Paddy – I thought at the time this was last debated that affirmative action of some sort was the only way that would succeed but was talked round by (many!) friends. However the steps taken then haven’t worked when you measure them against the ultimate standard of number of MPs.

    In 2010 we had more women candidates in target seats than ever before, IIRC 50% of seats where MPs were standing down had picked a woman candidate to replace them. And our women target seat candidates were (we were told at least) better supported, trained and resourced than ever before.

    And with one exception they all lost. In an election where we increase our share of the vote.

    Also the opportunity is now. The new boundaries will create opportunities for a fresh start of selecting candidates as there will be fewer cases of X being a long established campaigner across the whole seat.

  • Paul McKeown 20th Sep '11 - 12:43am

    Commonsense, at last. I say that as a pale male.

  • paul barker 20th Sep '11 - 1:10pm

    When My Local Party selected its PPC it did so from an all-male, all BAME shortlist. The Party Constitution may not practise discrimination, The Party Membership do, repeatedly.
    The question is, are we serious about not discriminating; if we are then we need some concrete mechanism to overide our prejudices.

  • I too used to buy the ‘liberal’ argument but after 25 years of almost zero progress I think the status quo is just untenable. You don’t end up with a parliamentary party of white men without discrimination, however subtle or unintended. Simon says party members should be free to select the best person regardless of sex, race and sexuality. But clearly that has not happened or there would be a more diverse bunch of MP’s. It’s time to take positive steps otherwise the party will rightly be seen as complacent in the face of clear injustice.

  • @Andrew
    Yes it should be done through conference

    I don’t think we’ve debated this in detail that recently. The main debate I remember was in 2001 (The Jo Swinson, “Shirley you’re wrong” debate)

  • I’d also take issue with the “male and pale” line trotted out by a number of Lib Dems. That really isn’t the issue in politics, how many working class or middle class pale males get into politics these days?

    Increasing elitism is the real issue with far too many politicians either being PPE type graduates and/or millionaires. Under gender quotas it would mean having ten privileged, sexist Lynne Featherstoen millionaires in Parliament was better than ten working class white males. If anything these shortlists make elitism worse not better.

    The reason some Lib Dems are out of touch isn’t there skin colour or their gender, it’s the fact they come from such privileged backgrounds.

    Of course the same is true in every other party, just look how Labour has changed over the years.

  • @Simon – though that section of the preamble goes on to say “and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.”

    And there have been numerous forms of positive discrimination adopted by the party over the years in other areas (the one third rule on party committees and candidate shortlists, zipping for the 1999 Euro elections to name three).

    Does the current system mean that party members actually are selecting the best person regardless and if so why are such a high proportion of our best people men?

  • @John – did coming from a privileged background mean Michael Foot or Tam Dalyell were out of touch?

  • Well, it’s about time you faced up to reality. Either, by sheer coincidence, the most able members of the Liberal Democrats are almost all male, white and of a certain age and social class. Or, institutional discrimination exists in the Liberal Democrats, as it does in many organisations, resulting in profound gender, race and class bias. Of course this type of discrimination does not mean that Lib Dems are bigots, in my experience there membership are no worse than any other mainstream party, just that the selection strategies they have observed so far are not as effective as those of all the other parties.

    The Tories managed to sort out their selection problems, as did Labour, why don’t you learn from them?

  • Sorry, Hywel, you made a good, and accurate, point at the beginning of this debate, now you, and everyone else here, more or less, has forgottenn the point was ever made.

    You pointed out that of the many (it must have been 50% or thereabouts) women PPCs in key seats in 2010, all but ONE lost. This does not speak of Lib Dem sexism at selection, it speaks either of the sexism of the wider electorate, or the weakness, of especially our female candidates, or the lack of our ability to put up a campaigning fight. Thinking about our female candidates in Cornwall (all our males won – two being reelected, one elected for the first time), the three were all defeated (one previously the sitting MP, one a third time experienced candidate, and one who had some very difficult issues militating against her election. The defeated MP had a well known expense issue working against her, and when she had won in 2005, the Tories and Labour (it is a three way marginal, both in its 2005 and 2010 shape) had both shot themselves in the foot – in 2010 they were much more competent. Both she and the experienced three time candidate were only defeated by less than 500 votes. Two of our women were defeated by Tory women candidates (one by a Tory man). Two of our male winners, admittedly, beat challenges from Tory women. But among that group, in an area which could potentially be sexist, I don’t think you have any incontrovertible evidence. Certainly no indication that positive discrimination would have achieved female wins FOR US, where we stood a 50 / 50 slate anyway.

    I suggest to you all, that you go away and look at individual circumstances, and see where your precious all women shortlists would really help, either the cause of women, or the cause of the LDs. Meanwhile, John has a much more important issue for our party – to make sure elitism, public schoolism, millionairism are all made history, in this supposedly equal opportunity party.

  • “did coming from a privileged background mean Michael Foot or Tam Dalyell were out of touch?”

    Well there are always exceptions to the rules and that’s largely irrelevant anyway. The supposed arguments for more women in politics is so we get a wider range of views and so Parliament represents the people.

    However your average privately educated millionaire (especially one who inherited it) has led the same privileged life and is totally out of touch regardless of their gender. Lynne Featherstone, Harriet Harman etc all have far more in common with David Cameron than they do with you and I. If we keep on recruiting more and more privately educated and/or millionaire female MPs in place of men we make Parliament far less representative of society, not more so (and that’s even ignoring the issue of competency).

    Labour’s all women shortlists have produced some spectacularly bad politicians, Jacqui Smith, Helen Brinton and of course Margaret Moran herself! They make the problem worse, not better and such a policy completely contradicts the core principles of the Lib Dems too.

  • Lee, as a training and development professional for many years, of course I recognise there is a need. Both my wife and I have been involved with the assessment process for PPCs over the years (we are not currently). The party has made extensive efforts to persuade and support both more women to come forward, and development of minority ethnic people. In the case of women, there is still a shortfall I believe, when compared to the number of men (there are not enough of either, and I am sure the present poll position of the Lib Dems will not have improved things). Numbers of selections have over at least 10 years been proportionate between the numbers coming forward, and most women who have been approved have no trouble finding a half way decent seat. There is still an issue in society for women of being somewhat more “family tied” than men, and therefore not been quite so free (in their own terms) to seek seats anywhere. Both sexes have this issue, and additionally there is the deep cultural attachment, esp in our party, to selecting a person with “local connections”. What all this adds up to, when you consider the serendipity of the electoral process, is that it is not easy, or financially beneficial. I know, I have stood three times – once for the Welsh Assembly, twice for Parliament (in case you ask, by the way, my wife, who I am sure would make a good MP and has never lacked for encouragement, has always maintained “Go into that life – you must be kidding!”) The perceived culture of Westminster has also been a deterrent!

    I am sure that if you decide to make the move yourself, you will find plenty of support in the party. Possibly more than for an equivalent man – I am sure everyone involved in the party feels it is embarrassing to have so few elected women MPs. We do, of course, have half Welsh Assembly seats held by women, nearly half our MEPs, I believe the numbers of Councillors at a higher proportion than the other two parties (although I haven’t looked since May).

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