An election review from the front line

I downed tools and stopped almost all my usual work as a videographer for five weeks this winter. Here are some of my observations from the frontline…

I’ll say this first so that anyone with a short attention span understands the root cause of all our problems. It really is very simple and everything else I mention after this one cataclysmic issue, is a significant order of magnitude less important.

The reason this country is utterly broken is First Past the Post.

Sadly you can’t change it until you take power and you will only take power if the system works for you, in which case you are unlikely to change it when you get into power!

That’s the ‘exciting’ bit out of the way, the two other bits that I want to focus on here are Messaging and All Women Short Lists.


At conference I told anyone that would listen that claiming to Revoke Article 50 was seriously toxic, and what a terrible error of judgement it turned out to be. We just looked undemocratic.

You can rationalise it out a million different ways, but that is ‘nuance’ and any political campaigner worth their salt knows that the moment you have to start explaining your position you’ve lost the argument.

I also wish the leadership of our party would stop using conference as a giant rubber stamp. This insane policy was pre-briefed in the press and came as Jo’s first masterstroke as leader. It was very hard for influential voices to take a contrary stance for fear of undermining the top dog. Our democratic forum should have been treated with more respect.

All Women Short Lists (AWSL)

For background, and not that I am in anyway bitter you understand, I must explain that I was excluded from running as a Parliamentary Candidate in Eastleigh, where I’d moved with the express desire to do so two years earlier.

The experience certainly brought me closer to understanding the unfairness that is a daily occurrence for women and BAME candidates. Do I understand completely what it is like? No of course not, I’m a white middle class man.

But do I think positive discrimination works? I am afraid not.

What I am emphatically not saying is that a woman can’t be the best candidate, but if you exclude men from the contest and restrict yourself to half the available candidates you open yourself up to accusations that that has happened. We should be changing the structure of that process so that the barriers that clearly exist are broken down.

I’ve sat in rooms where aged members, women included, have backed the male candidate because they look and sound more suitable for the job! If most companies have professional training for HR staff doing the hiring and firing, why do we still throw the process open to the vagaries of an unreliable membership? Until we address those systemic issues rather than putting an AWSL sticking plaster over the problem we won’t actually fix the issue. That will need investment in a Candidates College which must start now.

This is a short extract from a much longer article on my facebook page; if you’re up for a lengthy read you can find it here.

* Tim Bearder is a former BBC Journalist from Oxfordshire. He was the South Central Campaigns Officer from 2012 to the general election in 2015. He fought in campaigns including the Eastleigh by-election, the successful South East euro election in 2014 and is now serves as a West End Parish Councillor, an Eastleigh Borough Councillor and an Oxfordshire County Councillor. He has stood in the West Midland Euro Region and as the Banbury PPC in 2019. He runs a film and video production company.

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  • Sorry – no one no matter how talented and hard working should be a borough councillor in Hampshire and a county councillor in Oxfordshire.

  • Richard – Don’t forget Parish Councillor as well…… I’m not one to judge, but I generally believe that power and influence should be spread and doing three peoples jobs doesn’t really do that.
    Having said that, I think Tim is spot on in his other observations.

  • James Belchamber 21st Jan '20 - 3:50pm

    Revoke wasn’t toxic – amongst our target voters it was popular, and amongst people who wouldn’t vote for us anyway nothing short of capitulating to the Brexiteers would have been enough (we were attacked on largely the same lines for wanting a People’s Vote).

    Positive Discrimination works – demonstrably. But you need to value diversity, in and as of itself, to see it working – and to believe that having diversity of experiences is more valuable than technical merit, in groups with an excess of the latter and a paucity of the former.

  • Tim, my apologies. It was not my intention to offend and I would rather focus on the excellent points you made in your piece. However, I don’t think there is anything illiberal about suggesting that we need the widest possible distribution of power and influence in local government, rather the opposite.
    I a not a lover of AWS, though as Ruth has often argued, we have to act on the structural impediments, such as an absence of maternity leave or child care, which prevent women from entering the political fray. The existence of AWS was probably neither here nor there as far as the result on Dec. 12th was concerned.
    James, “Diversity of experiences is more valuable than technical merit”. Interesting perspective. Do we apply that to ALL experiences ? Are all experiences equally valuable (eg. a spell in Wormwood Scrubs is equal to a period working in a major corporation or studying the workings of modern economies). Are you arguing for a complete reversal of the “technocratic” view of government, or have a misunderstood ? The role of government is wide and there are indeed many people who can (and should be allowed to) make a meaningful contribution, but it is almost impossible to ensure that the electorate gives us a parliament that is a perfect microcosm of society IN EVERY ASPECT ?
    Ruth, if, as you suggest, too many candidates had limited political experience and had only recently joined the party, then I would be interested to know why you think these people were chosen ?

  • Graham Jeffs 21st Jan '20 - 6:00pm

    The trouble with AWSLs and that sort of approach, is that it can lead to the best candidate for a particular constituency not being selected.

    ALL candidates should be chosen on their merits, not their gender.

    What is important is ensuring that the pool of candidates available to apply to constituencies is reasonably balanced in the first place. If, for example, the pool only consists of 15% female it shouldn’t be expected that the result in actual candidates selected shall be 50:50 be they target seats or wherever. It certainly doesn’t follow that the best person(s) available shall be on any specific shortlist.

  • Positive discrimination is discrimination against others and is therefore unacceptable. The best candidate available should be selected regardless of race, gender or any other characteristics unless they affect the ability to do the job.

  • @James – We had a people’s vote in 2016 and Leave won. Why should we have another one?

    You want another one because you lost the first one. It is as simple as that. As I used to explain to my children, that is how democracy works, we don’t do best out of three.

  • marcstevens 21st Jan '20 - 6:23pm

    All women shortlists discriminate against men and other genders. The referendu in 2016 was undemocratic as 16/17 year olds and EU nationals were excluded. If 16/17 year olds could vote in the Scottish Independence referendum then the rules for who can and cannot vote in any referendum should be uniform across the UK. That’s what you call being inclusive although the leave lobby prefer exclusion.

  • The evidence is that if anything all-women shortlists *increase* the quality of candidates a party ends up standing overall:

  • The referendum was perfectly legal. There is a question about what the minimum voting age should be. Most people think that 18 is when most youngsters can be considered mature enough to be adult. There are other thresholds which complicate things, for example old enough to go to war, old enough to give sexual consent, drive, drink alcohol, etc. Political maturity is another question.

    Young people tend to be idealistic, a tendency that left wing people are keen to exploit. The ultra left Labour Party would advocate votes for nine year olds if they thought they would get away with it.

  • @Mark Pack – That research finding sounds very dubious indeed. Unfortunately, an alarming proportion of academic research in most disciplines turns out to be worthless. The majority of published papers cannot be replicated. Academia has been downgraded, devalued and over commercialised but I’m afraid that is a characteristic of our times.

  • James Belchamber 21st Jan '20 - 7:52pm

    “James I get the ‘Target Universe’ idea, which works well in low turn out local elections where you need to hyper mobilise a core chunk of the electorate and then use differential turn out to win the day, but in first past the post elections where the turn out in our key seats is closer to 70%, you can’t tell half the electorate you’ll unilaterally ignore them.”

    The problem with that analysis, Tim, is that Boris Johnson did just that (and won a “stonking majority”).

    We can’t be the party of everybody; in trying, we become the party of nobody.

    “James, “Diversity of experiences is more valuable than technical merit”. Interesting perspective. Do we apply that to ALL experiences ? Are all experiences equally valuable (eg. a spell in Wormwood Scrubs is equal to a period working in a major corporation or studying the workings of modern economies).”

    Yes, we should apply it to all experiences – there’s a lot of merit to having someone from a corporate background and someone who went to prison in your team, rather than two people from a corporate background.

    That said, you did misquote me – cheeky 😉

    The key point to remember here is that women have _so many experiences_ that men, generally, don’t have – it’s no coincidence that “womens issues” only started being taken seriously once women had the vote, and accelerated once there were women voices in parliament. Recognising this is important; and, once recognised, the Liberal path forward is clear.

  • Peter

    Mark has referenced something and cited a report in a peer review journal (well actually several things. To which you say:
    “Unfortunately, an alarming proportion [How much?] of academic research in most [what percentage?] disciplines turns out to be worthless. The majority [how many?] of published papers cannot be replicated.”

    For which you offer no references in support of your claims. Could you back them up – or answer the paranthetical questions above?

    I think you’re right though. My taxi driver last night said it was true.

  • The vision of a liberal society that inspired me when I joined the party, many years ago, was of a society where everyone got an equal chance and issues such as gender, sexuality or disability didn’t matter at all.

    Somehow the party has been led astray and we now seem to think that identity politics and quotas for every identifiable special interest group is the way to go. I agree with Tim that we have taken a wrong turning. The way we elect our internal party decision makers is now an exemplar for a society that we should precisely NOT be wanting to inhabit.

    When rumours were circulating that Chuka might have been interested in standing for Twickenham, the fact that our self-imposed rules would have prevented him doing so because of his gender, when he might have had the chance of becoming our only Black MP, exemplify what a nonsense our discriminatory selection procedures have become. Sadly we have allowed groups within the party to make both candidate selection and party committee elections a battlefield to advance their special interests, and we have lost sight of the fundamental principles of equal opportunity, free and fair elections and best person for the job.

  • James Belchamber 21st Jan '20 - 10:08pm

    “Sadly we have allowed groups within the party to make both candidate selection and party committee elections a battlefield to advance their special interests, and we have lost sight of the fundamental principles of equal opportunity, free and fair elections and best person for the job.”

    “Special interests” like ensuring equal representation for people who are poorly represented?

    A liberal without a will to fix under-representation in our party and our society is like a label without a banana.

  • Ian. Spot on. But unfortunately for some in this supposedly Liberal party your view will not count as you are a man.

  • Thank you for your article, Tim. I too don’t support all women shortlists. We should focus on selecting the best candidate for the job. However because of prejudice and stereotyping I think women can be at a disadvantage. I think a way forward could be extensive training of interviewers making them far more aware of their prejudices and holding of false assumptions so that they are able to adopt a far more objective approach.

  • Innocent Bystander 22nd Jan '20 - 9:02am

    I don’t accept the term “peer review” as a guarantee. Depends on the peers. I followed the link. Utter drivel.
    The assertion that AWS increases the “quality” of candidates hits an immediate buffer. So obvious I won’t bother to point it out.

  • Graham Jeffs 22nd Jan '20 - 9:24am

    This discussion is intertwined with that relating to our President’s post “How you can get involved in running the party”. An almost unhealthy preoccupation with diversity, rather than actually getting things done, seems to be apparent.

    • He writes: “We’ve never had a BAME council leader in the Lib Dems (as far as I’ve been able to find, despite a lot of asking around), even though we’ve run councils that have had very diverse populations. Likewise, the proportion of female councillors – for example – has been stalled at around one third for several decades, even though nearly every ward we’ve ever represented is majority female.
    Your point about referring to the communities we represent rather than the country overall doesn’t shift the underlying point – which is that the make-up of our elected representatives doesn’t reflect either population.”

    To which I have just replied:

    • Mark Pack – I’m afraid that your piece about the lack of BAME council leaders and the gender of councillors merely underscores an apparent detachment from the realities the rest of us face in simply getting organised, finding (any) candidates and campaigning.

    The priorities for our electorates are neither of these things. The party’s epitaph seems likely to read “Diverse but Dead”.

  • James Belchamber 22nd Jan '20 - 9:32am

    If the party cannot represent the diversity it seeks to help then it does not deserve to exist.

    If Liberalism does not demand that we prioritise diversity in our ranks then it is a dead ideology and we should not mourn it’s passing.

  • Graham Jeffs 22nd Jan '20 - 9:47am

    Here in the real world prioritising “diversity in our ranks” may enable some people to hug themselves and think “Oh, I am so virtuous” [fine if that is what turns you on] but in itself it won’t focus the electorate on us.

  • Innocent Bystander 22nd Jan '20 - 9:52am

    But the party is passing. LibDemVoice has become a giant obituary notice. There is no resurgence dynamic here, just post mortems (and you have to dead to need one of those).
    AWS may engender a warm, virtuous feeling (even though it is discriminatory) but it won’t be worth a single extra vote.

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd Jan '20 - 10:23am

    On messaging, I do think the author makes a strong point. I wouldn’t say it happens all the time, but I did feel that the last conference did rather seem to be treated ‘as a giant rubber stamp’ on the Stop Brexit motion which allowed the Revoke policy to be adopted. The policy should certainly not have been pre-briefed, and the motion should not have been worded in such a way, and debated in such a way, that those of us who immediately thought that the Revoke policy was wrong did not in my view get a sufficient hearing. I assumed that the leadership of the conference did not want to have the policy strongly advanced by our new leader contradicted, but I do believe in the supremacy of conference decision-making. It is notable that those backing Jo in this are not admitting their involvement; I have been unable to find out from the chair of the Federal Conference Committee who drew up the motion, and nobody who actually backed the policy at conference has written defending it here on LDV.

    I believe firmly that the Revoke policy was completely wrong and, not surprisingly therefore, did turn off some voters. I would like to see some research among Tory-leaning Remain voters as to why fewer of them than expected eventually voted for us in our target seats.

  • Graham Jeffs 22nd Jan '20 - 10:40am

    Ruth Bright “not a single one of them empowered to stand”. But maybe they simply didn’t want to?

    AWSLs are not the answer to this (I’m not suggesting that’s what you are saying}

    It isn’t either/or re resurgence/diversity. But a preoccupation with the latter won’t trigger the former!

  • Peter Martin 22nd Jan '20 - 11:15am

    Speaking as a relative outsider I would say that the Revoke policy didn’t make much difference. The alternative would have been to suggest another referendum. That didn’t do Labour any good. Everyone knew the Leave side wouldn’t accept whatever the Labour Party put up as a Leave option and therefore it would have been an easy win for Remain and at the same time there would have been a political crisis. Revoke would have sidestepped that problem.

    Prof Curtice has made the point that Jo Swinson didn’t come across well. She didn’t. And you need to think about why she didn’t. She’s been accused of being gender obsessive. We all want equal rights for women but at the same time you do need to take into account that half the electorate is male. So there is a right way and a wrong way to tackle the issue. Rightly or wrongly, many would say she does it the wrong way.

    She also spent a lot of time apologising about her time in coalition. That didn’t look good. Most voters want their leaders to be confident and decisive. So she should have either defended what she’d done or never have stood for leadership in the first place. It’s not that she wasn’t warned at the time that austerity economics was counterproductive. Government can’t cut its deficit by raising taxes and cutting spending. Cuts to spending means its cutting its revenue too. It can cut its deficit by lowering interest rates to shift some of the borrowing requirement to the private sector. That bit worked well enough. At least temporarily. It wouldn’t work now though, because interest rates can’t reasonably go much lower.

  • Well done Tim for posting this, can’t have been easy to post these thoughts online. I knocked on 1000s of doors with Tim during this campaign in Winchester and since the 2015 GE in OxWAb, Winchester and Eastleigh. He is a stalwart campaigner and has put aside much of his professional work to help the party in several key seats. We need to start listening to people like Tim who have vast campaigning experience because truth be told – we aren’t winning. Recommend reading his whole Facebook post for a more rounded view.

  • Maurice Leeke 22nd Jan '20 - 12:00pm

    I thought we liberals were in favour of equality and opposed to discrimination. All Women Shortlists are discriminatory (as All Male Shortlists would be) and so I do support either.

    Tim is not the only PPC to have been treated very unfairly by those implementing AWS.

    I am just a “foot-soldier” and I help in by-elections and target seats where I can – but try to avoid going to ones where the candidate has been selected under AWS.

    Our last leader was a woman. Nearly two thirds of our MPs are women. Can we go back to standing up for basic principles, such as equality, and scrap AWS please ?

  • Maurice Leeke 22nd Jan '20 - 12:02pm

    Oops. Should be “do NOT support either.

  • Phil Beesley 22nd Jan '20 - 12:10pm

    Ruth Bright: “When I stood down as PPC for East Hants (sick of pleading for more maternity leave from a VOLUNTARY role) there was effectively an all-male shortlist of five men to replace me, four from outside the constituency. Plenty of female councillors and activists could have replaced me. Not a single one empowered to stand.”

    ‘Money, money, money’ as Abba once sang… Lib Dems and no doubt other parties need specific funds, ring fenced from general campaigning, to support candidates and party officers with low incomes or in need of extra assistance (professional drivers, child care, braille translation etc). It should be a separate fund raising process to back people outside the norm for candidates.

  • Isn’t it time we heard more to the good about Jo? I voted for her youth, her energy, and her boldness. And I very much hope she will return to the fray, a sadder (short-term) and a wiser (permanent) woman.

    I believe that one blameless point against her, from the recent electoral point of view, was that she was the third woman leader in recent political months with an assertive Scottish voice and accent. One is Good; two is notable; but three . . . ? I intend no disrespect at all, to any one of the three, nor to scotswomen in general — my wife is one, while her husband is southern sassenach. But, seriously, I fear a third may be one too many for the nationalist English among the fierce Brexiteers — and they are many alas.

    I hope to see Jo in a Lib Dem Cabinet before 2025.

  • Innocent Bystander 22nd Jan '20 - 5:04pm

    I stand with Roger and wish you would stop criticising Jo. I have the highest regard for her intelligence, honesty and down-to-earthidness (forgive that).
    I also thought the Revoke policy was bizarre but came to understand it. Lots of you share the blame. Haven’t most of you been telling Jo, and anyone else who would listen, that the “polls” were undeniable and the population was now strongly in favour of remain.
    If that was true, Revoke is a fair test and gamble for the party and a chance that would never come again. The “people” could now vote, in their millions, for LibDem and a guarantee of Remain.
    Of course, it wasn’t true but many of you, even if you didn’t vote for revoke, bear some of the guilt of creating the myth it was based on.

  • Katharine Pindar 22nd Jan '20 - 6:30pm

    Discussing why Jo didn’t apparently come off well with the voters would be a painful subject without any certainty of agreement. My own view which I wrote here last month was that she, as it were, fired a rocket into the sky on November 5, which burst into a thousand stars, but ultimately hurt her who had lit the blue touch-paper.

    On the Revoke policy, whether it harmed us with the voters is still I think debatable. Maybe it didn’t in fact weigh heavily with those who denied us their vote whom we had expected to turn to us this time. But I think it will have contributed, because it harmed our image. We were the steady, consistent, reliable party who had backed staying in and a People’s Vote to allow the people to make a final decision now that time had passed and more facts were known about the likely outcomes of Brexit. But in accepting the Revoke policy if we were to win a majority at the GE, with the consequent promoting of Jo as the next Prime Minister we entered a fantasy world. We were no longer sensible, no longer consistent, and probably worst of all we were suggesting two different policies at the same time, just like the Labour party really. We have given the voters new reasons not to trust us. and that is something that may have counted against us, and unfortunately, may continue to do so.

  • @Katharine Pindar – I agree with your comment. Also, I think that Jo’s “Head Girl” style sounded immature and put off many people, especially when coupled with an aggressive Revoke policy and fantasy ambition. But Jo paid a high price so I don’t want to dwell on her contribution. The party has other unattractive features.

    Almost everyone supports equality for all. Discrimination on certain grounds is illegal. Human nature is diverse and unfortunately there are many who do not live up to these principles as much as we would like. Some in this party take support for diversity to an extreme, where their obsession leads to a sort of reverse discrimination, perhaps illustrated by the absurd notion that white, middle aged men are on a par with the devil. Ordinary voters regard such thinking as leftie lunacy. It turns them right off.

    Another thing that voters dislike is often proclaimed hatred of political opponents. This behaviour is often associated with extreme parties at both ends of the political spectrum. The extreme left loathed Thatcher and describe Tories in ways that would get this post deleted by the moderator. Parties on the extreme Right do the same. Conservatives, as far as I can judge, do not do this, though there is a genuine fear of Corbyn and Momentum and much black humour about them.

    However, many supporters of this party are voluble in their vitriolic criticism of the Conservatives despite the fact that this party chose to enter a coalition with that party.

    Yes, I know all the arguments. They fill almost every page of this web site. But the reality is not fair, not pretty , it turns people off and is yet another piece of Lib Dem baggage that is unattractive to both sides. Get over it.

  • Katharine Pindar 23rd Jan '20 - 10:25am

    Thanks, Peter. That’s an interesting comment. I agree that sometimes we do tend to dwell rather a lot on diversity issues, and we should perhaps comment more on the brighter future our party offers, which Sir John Curtice apparently thinks we haven’t put over enough. I agree also that showing vitriolic hatred to either major party is undesirable.

    On the AWSL issue, perhaps it should not be applied too rigorously, and perhaps it isn’t. I am thinking of North Devon, where the woman candidate unfortunately had to withdraw, and if the former Lib Dem MP Sir Nick Harvey had been willing to stand again, perhaps he would have been chosen despite the AWSL policy. Because in the end the GE candidate was in fact a man, a worthy local figure.

  • James Belchamber – You say “If Liberalism does not demand that we prioritise diversity in our ranks then it is a dead ideology and we should not mourn it’s passing.”

    I say “If Liberalism does not demand that we prioritise getting the best Liberals possible elected then it will soon be dead ideology, guilty of death by suicide, and we should not mourn the passing of those who persuaded it to kill itself.

  • John Barrett 23rd Jan '20 - 2:48pm

    The time has come to scrap All Women shortlists.

    Saying to 50% of the population that they are not allowed to apply for a seat, even though they; are disabled (a large under represented group), are from an ethnic minority group (a large under-represented group) are working class (a large under-represented group) or from the many other under-represented groups that exist, but if you are a man, the Liberal Democrats think that the under-representation of none of these groups matter as much as your gender.

    If we carry on like this, many people will think we are bonkers.

    It is time to say goodbye to All Women Shortlists and to let people compete on a level playing field.

    In the final of the 100m at the Olympics all the competitors are usually black. It would be mad to include a white competitor just to make it more diverse. Those who can run fastest are in the final. If they are all black, does it matter?

  • Graham Jeffs 23rd Jan '20 - 3:07pm

    John Barrett – exactly, gender shortlists should be no part of the way in which we select candidates.

    But what shall it take to get this changed?!

  • Peter Watson 23rd Jan '20 - 5:11pm

    @John Barrett “Those who can run fastest are in the final.”
    Though there will be a separate final for female athletes who are not as fast as their male counterparts. It’s stretching the analogy, but it does suggest that an “all women shortlist” could be counterproductive if it risks giving the impression that however good the candidates are with regards to each other, they might not be as good as a man would have been.
    Ultimately though, voters probably won’t know how any individual candidate was selected and will be more concerned about the quality of a candidate and with seeing diversity – in all of its forms as mentioned above – across all of the candidates and other representatives of a party.

  • John Barrett 24th Jan '20 - 12:18pm

    Peter – I appreciate that there is more to this than one simple comparison.

    I just wanted to emphasise that there are many reasons for a wide range of different groups of people asking not to be in the same race, or election.

    One difference in the Olympics is that there are separate categories for a range of other issues. There are ten disability categories in the Paralympics, including physical, visual, and intellectual impairment.

    In an election there is only one ward or constituency where we select candidates, so my analogy has failings, but it still holds true that many other groups are spectacularly under-represented and this can be made worse by all women short lists. For instance, if people are prevented from applying and they are black or disabled, but are also men.

    We should remove barriers, where they exist and help support potential candidates when required, but we should not imagine that discrimination exists just because the numbers are not equal. I notice in another thread that the question of discrimination is mentioned because far fewer posts and comments on Lib-Dem Voice were from women.

    Maybe they just have better and more productive things to do with their time.

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