Are the Liberal Democrats any closer to embracing all-women shortlists?

Womens shortlistsIt’s nearly 31 years since I joined the SDP. When I was first involved, a hot topic of conversation was how to improve the representation of women in the House of Commons. At that point, there were just 23 female MPs, or 3.5% of the total.  We are still having these discussions today. Now there are 22%, but the total has only risen by 4% in the last 3 elections. The biggest leap we have ever had came in 1997 when the numbers doubled from 60-120, with more than half of the increase coming from Labour women selected by all women shortlists.  Our current 143 female MPs out of 650 leaves us languishing at a lowly 54th place in the international tables. It is not good when you consider that women make up a majority of the population.

Our own record as a party on gender balance is lamentable. We are constantly lampooned for having as many knights as female MPs and Nick Clegg has yet to put a woman in a Cabinet position.

In recent days, both Nick Clegg and Jenny Willott have gone on record as saying it might be time, if the gender balance doesn’t improve at this election, to consider, as Nick put it on Call Clegg today, “some sort of gender based shortlist.” This is a difficult issue for the party and can lead to heated debate. In fact, on Twitter this morning, I was told by another party member that by being open to the idea, I had no right to call myself a liberal. I don’t think that we’re going to get anywhere by anybody using that sort of aggressive and angry language.

The first thing to remember, of course, is that it’s not in Nick Clegg’s gift to impose a particular method of selection. It’s not even up to the Federal Party. It’s the individual state parties who have control of such things.  When the English party selected our candidates for the 1999 European elections, the first to be held by Proportional Representation, we used a system called zipping which gave men and women alternative positions on each regional list, with men leading some and women leading others. I lived through it and remember the divisions that it caused. There were dire warnings that the sky would fall in if we did this. It didn’t, of course, and in 1999 we sent a gender balanced team of MEPs to Brussels. The Scottish Party would have nothing to do with such a system and selected Elspeth Attwooll.

It is clear that we are going to have to have a long, hard look at gender balance come 2015. Even if we retained all our seats, we’d only have 12/57 women. We could end up with 23 if we won all our top target seats but we’d have another 20 men, too. So what are the options? The Leadership Programme has delivered some high quality training to an elite group of candidates with the aim of increasing diversity and in 5 out of 8 seats where MPs are standing down, we have selected women. The problem is that, as Labour found out in 2010, selection doesn’t guarantee election. As the tide turned against them in 2010, only 28 of the 63 candidates selected by this method ended up in the Commons.

In order to come up with a plan to remedy our “women problem” we are going to have to come up with a plan that looks markedly different from any other plan we’ve come up with after any other election. If we don’t, we’ll still be in this situation in another 30 years. I’m not saying that we must adopt all women shortlists, but we should be prepared to look at it with an evidence based open mind. We are feeling the benefits from Labour doing it in 1997. Lindsay Northover said at an Equalities consultation session at Spring Conference that the number of women elected in 1997 had directly affected the political agenda. We’re all talking about childcare now, which would never have happened pre 1997. I also remember Shirley Williams attributing the Norwegian Middle East peace initiative of some years ago to the fact that they had so many women – over 40% – in their Parliament.

The influx of women in 1997 is internationally recognised as proof of the effectiveness of all women shortlists as in this paper by Matthew Godwin for the Canadian Parliamentary Review.

It was the policy of one party in the United Kingdom’s FPTP post system that effectively brought about the gender watershed in 1997. While a legislated gender quota has not been passed by the United Kingdom’s House of Commons, the internal gender-balancing policies of the Labour Party have made all the difference. This will serve as a useful example for the analysis of Canada.

We know it works, but what’s also clear is that there are many people within the Liberal Democrats who oppose such a measure, seeing it as discriminatory. Sarah Brown, who has just celebrated her first anniversary as a Liberal Democrat wrote on this site that it hasn’t exactly made the Labour Party less sexist.

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.

I don’t know what the party will decide for the 2020 selections. What I want, though, is for us to conduct the debate in a calm, evidence-based atmosphere without rancour and accepting that whatever point of view you have on this, you are entitled to call yourself a liberal.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • Eddie Sammon 15th May '14 - 4:46pm

    I am completely calm, but I will explain why I am against this.

    It automatically suggests that good looking, well educated, middle class white women are more disadvantaged than say poorly educated, working class black men living in fear of both criminal gangs and the police. There seems to be a lot of university educated middle class women shouting “privilege” at working class men, which is driving mainly the white working class into the arms of UKIP whilst leaving the ethnic minority working class even more disenfranchised.
    Having said this, I agree there is a lot of abuse aimed at women, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

    I would also be against broader diversity quotas, because you don’t get to see all of the potential applicants.

    When it comes to soft positive discrimination (without the use of quotas): I change my mind regularly on whether I support this, but I generally don’t mind as long as there is not much difference between the quality of the applicants and broad diversity is included, such as class and sexuality, rather than just race and gender.

    I support feminism, but I am worried that radical feminism is demonising men and boys. We also need to tackle the abuse and demonisation of women.

    Best wishes

  • Stephen Howse 15th May '14 - 4:51pm

    “I’m not saying that we must adopt all women shortlists, but we should be prepared to look at it with an evidence based open mind.”

    What of the principle that it’s who you are, not what you look like, that matters? What of our party’s longstanding commitment to individual rights mattering more than membership of interest groups? What of the rights of local parties to select the candidates they want to represent them…?

    All-female shortlists worked for Labour because they have 200 safe seats into which they can parachute whoever they please. The Tories have a similar number (although some A-List candidates failed to get elected to winnable seats). We have no such luxury – we have selected female candidates in a number of winnable seats, some of which have incumbent male Lib Dem MPs, and if those female candidates don’t get elected it won’t be for lack of our party trying to get them elected, it will be because the electorate preferred another party’s candidate, whether they be male or female.

  • Once again, real, ongoing, centuries-old discrimination is defended (by those who belong to the benefiting class) by an appeal to an imaginary, wholly abstract, theoretical injustice that exists only in the minds of the critics. It’s the indicative vs. the subjunctive. Why does the subjunctive keep winning?

  • One of the problems Labour faced in 1997 (and I admit I don’t recall the outcome) was that there was the potential for the party to be sued under employment law where all-women shortlists were in place for safe seats. The argument was along the lines of the majority in some of the seats was so large that Labour’s selection process was equivalent to the interview for a virtually guaranteed job. I think that was the reason they then dropped this requirement in 2001 – I may be wrong.

    Eddie does have a point, though. There’s a need for wider diversity of background in the House of Commons by all parties – if for no other reason than to eliminate the “they don’t understand us” attitude. One of the things about the Scottish Parliament is that all four main leaders have very different backgrounds – a journalist, a teacher, an economist and only one person who was employed by the party before becoming an MSP (that’s Willie, btw.) In fact, of our First Ministers, we’ve had one lawyer (Donald Dewar), one former council leader and ex-footballer (Henry McLeish), one teacher (Jack McConnell) and an economist (Salmond). Looking back at Westminster, the last time we had someone who you probably couldn’t define as being a “professional politician” type was Thatcher or even Wilson. We need to attract all people from all levels into politics – we need the long-term unemployed person just as much as the Oxbridge graduate or the naturalised immigrant. How do we do that, though….

  • The zipping for the Euro list worked well and seemed very fair to me. I’d be very keen to have something similar for Westminster. Think of the excellent female MEPs we’ve had, just in the South East: Emma Nicholson, Sharon Bowles, Catherine Bearder. I’d like to see the same number of women as men turning out for campaigning sessions. But it’s a chicken and egg situation. Without more female MP role models we won’t see more women at the grassroots. We’ve also got an ethnicity shortage in our MPs.

  • Keith Legg raises an interesting point. Would all-women shortlists be legal?

    I don’t know what the figures are, but in the past the number of women who had been approved for Westminister was a lot lower than for men. Also some Local Parties still have difficulty in getting more than one candidate, let alone having at least two of different sexes.

    I thought we changed our constitution recently to remove the requirement that one third of those selected had to be of a different sex. I thought we had to do this because our policy was illegal. If I am mistaken then perhaps changing the rules so that 2/3 of people shortlisted have to be female (if enough apply) would help without de-barring men from standing.

  • Tony Greaves 15th May '14 - 5:32pm

    It was not zipping (alternative women and men on each list) that resulted in the gender balance among our MEPs, it was having an equal number of women and men in the top position in each region. The zipping was irrelevant.

    On the (unlikely assumption) that we hold all our existing seats at the coming election, and do not gain more than small handful, the only way to achieve a rapid increase in the proportion of women in the Commons party is to forcibly remove an appropriate number of men and replace them with women. This will be the same in 2020. That would of course be disastrous.

    In most seats at the moment the problem is to find one credible candidate. But in these “most seats” whether the candidate is a woman or a man is not relevant to the composition of the next Commons group.

    So the problem focuses on held seats where an MP is standing down, and the top targets. (There may also be a few locally generated unexpected gains – unexpected by HQ anyway – such as Kingston when Ed Davey won it, but these cannot be legislated for).

    The numbers of women standing in 2015 in these categories (MP standing down and the very few “top targets”) is high, partly due to the calibre of women coming forward and partly as a result of some pretty heavy arm-twisting. If most of these seats are not won, whoever or whatever will be to blame, it will not be the selection process. So the all-women shortlist argument is not relevant at the moment.

    There is a serious problem in this party, for both ideological and campaigning reasons, of the idea of top-down imposition of all-women (or any other fixed) short-lists. On the other hand it could be made possible for a local party to decide itself to have an all-woman short-list. But in practice I don’t think that would have made any difference with the current crop of selections.

    Given the preponderance of women in held/top target seats in 2015, a bad result in that election must run some risk of a backlash in the party against women candidates. This is a possible problem we should be thinking about now.


  • Eddie
    i I am completely calm, but I will explain why I am against this.

    It automatically suggests that good looking, well educated, middle class white women are more disadvantaged than say poorly educated, working class black men living in fear of both criminal gangs and the police. There seems to be a lot of university educated middle class women shouting “privilege” at working class men, which is driving mainly the white working class into the arms of UKIP whilst leaving the ethnic minority working class even more disenfranchised.
    Having said this, I agree there is a lot of abuse aimed at women, but two wrongs don’t make a right.

    It’s ironic then, that the Liberal Democrats are even worse at selecting and electing BME candidates than they are women.

    Let’s face it, UK politics is skewed drastically in favour of white men from upper middle class or upper class backgrounds. I cannot see how anyone who believes in fairness and equality could possibly object to the one, proven effective method to correct some of that advantage.

  • I have asked this question before – is it possible to see a breakdown of actual members of the party by gender?

  • Richard Dean 15th May '14 - 6:12pm

    I think Tony Greaves’ reaction typifies much of the problem – there’ll always be those who argue it’s not the “right” time to sort out this mess. I think that argument should be rejected out of hand – the “right” time is now.

    Local associations that continually adopt behaviours that discourage women from joining the party or from putting themselves forward as candidates, and who continually reject competent female candidates, are causing damage to the party, and the party has a right to defend itself.

    Stephen W’s idea is a good one, but the result can still be corrupted at the local level. How about combining it with a requirement that the selection from the final shortlist always be done on a strictly random basis? Perhaps monitored centrally or even done centrally. The two ideas together would more or less ensure an eventual equal representation by men and women.

  • Liberal Neil 15th May '14 - 6:24pm

    In general terms Tony is right. In fact, had we carried on with ‘zipping’ it would have made it harder for Catherine Bearder to advance in the South East.

    It is also correct that if we fail to get the women that are standing in held and strategic seats elected, it won’t be because of the selection process. They clearly all got selected.

    (I’m less sure about Ed Davey in Kingston. While it is true that Kingston had not been a fully fledged target seat in the run up to 1997 they did end up getting quite a lot of support and by the time the election came Kingston was far from an unexpected win.)

  • Liberal Neil 15th May '14 - 6:27pm

    And, as I’ve said previously, if Nick was sincere about getting more women into Parliament, he would have appointed more of them to join Tony in the Lords.

  • No, all women short lists won’t solve the problem with how we treat people who are not white and male without disability… Strangely I think we are better on sexual orientation… But not great!

  • Liberal Neil 15th May ’14 – 6:27pm
    “And, as I’ve said previously, if Nick was sincere about getting more women into Parliament, he would have appointed more of them to join Tony in the Lords.”

    Why not into the Cabinet?

  • Stuart Mitchell 15th May '14 - 7:25pm

    @Stephen Howse
    “What of the principle that it’s who you are, not what you look like, that matters?”

    It’s precisely because people believe in that principle that they think something needs to be done. Unless of course you believe that the number of female Lib Dem MPs is a fair reflection of the ability and willingness of women to be MPs. I find that unlikely.

    Sometimes in politics you have to choose between sticking to a principle and bending it a little to improve the outcome. Whatever objections one may have to Labour’s all-women shortlists, thus far it’s the only thing that’s been shown to actually work.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th May '14 - 7:38pm

    I may be being polite, but there is internal anger every time someone tries to iron the plight of disadvantaged men out of relevance. If Nick cared so much about diversity then he would offer his own seat for an all women short-list, but he doesn’t, because he’s just saying anything to preserve his fiefdom.

    Extreme feminists who promote anti-male prejudice are on par with racists. I still love them, but they need to re-evaluate their beliefs and think about the messages they are sending. It seems there are just as much men who adopt this extreme feminist stance as women.

  • Any selection principle must be on the principle of best person for the job regardless of gender, sexuality or race.

    We must ask ourselves many questions before jumping to gender specific candidate lists to understand what the problem is rather than the impact of the problem.

    1) What is the gender split of our membership?
    2) What is the gender split of those approved to be candidates?
    3) What is the gender split of our candidate shortlists?

    Each of these will result in what we are seeing, but each has a very different solution, and most of those solutions will be less divisive than all-women shortlists.

  • Little Jackie Paper 15th May '14 - 7:44pm

    Eddie Sammon – I used to think broadly as you do. With some reluctance though I have started to think that what you are talking about there really is symptom, not cause. It’s not identity politics or even privilege (and the lack of) that is the problem per se. To my mind what is missing is civil society. What is lost has been the sense of, ‘togetherness,’ in social institutions for want of a better term through which people could emerge into, amongst other things, politics. There is a certain irony in that for 30 years Conservative politicians have treated individualism as if it were the Holy Grail, yet now we are told that Britain is Broken and we need to manufacture a Big Society in response.

    We have seen an atomisation of our society and as we have ever more started to lose the classic civil society what has happened is that people of all identity backgrounds have become more and more remote from others. The complaints about a lack of diversity we see seem to me to be more about a sort of self-reinforcing collective group think where it is simply very difficult to break in as an outsider. Civil society used to be and could yet be again the crowbar that people could use to break in.

    Indeed there is one identity you don’t mention in your post that I think is really on the rough end of the deal – the young. Go to a planning meeting and look at how the age profile and boomer generation advantage works.

    And to save anyone saying it – no, the internet is not the saviour here. It is a poor substitute for civil society and the idea that tapping away at a keyboard or writing a comment on social media is participation is cobblers.

    I’m not here harking back to good old days that never were. Civil society did not serve everyone well in the past and civil society has to be accessible to all – often it isn’t. And of course a strong civil society is not the same thing as consensus. However Mr Sammon instead of putting all your effort into keeping your temper in check you might be well advised to just have a little think. Women’s groups are coming together in civil society and candidates are emerging from that identifiable civil society. Your concern about (for example) ethnic minority men, coping class men is reasonable, laudable even. But instead of keyboard chest-beating how about going down the working man’s club (if it’s still going) and strengthening civil society for those people.

    Privilege and patronage are hardly new and they have probably become stronger as civil society has atomised. Those that have lost out from a weakening of civil society are precisely those not able to access wealth and/or patronage. If we want diversity then we need to strengthen civil society for all.

    Oh, and to save you asking. Yes, I am a member of the working man’s club and yes we do stuff. Much weaker now as members and numbers have dwindled. But we like to think we are a bit more effective in civil society than we are simply grousing on the internet.

  • Richard Dean 15th May '14 - 8:38pm

    “Any selection principle must be on the principle of best person for the job regardless of gender, sexuality or race.”

    Determining who is “best” is an inaccurate and corruptible process. It requires criteria and judgments all of which can be seriously biased, whether consciously or not. The gender imbalance in the party representation is clear evidence that that process has indeed been seriously corrupted at local level. What else can that imbalance be the result of?

    A random selection from balanced shortlists would solve this problem. Imagine the Daily Mail headline in early 2015: “LibDems field an equal number of women candidates and men candidates”. Now that would be an earthquake! I’d say it would give us a fair chance of actually forming a government.

  • Tony Greaves 15th May '14 - 9:10pm

    “I think Tony Greaves’ reaction typifies much of the problem – there’ll always be those who argue it’s not the “right” time to sort out this mess. I think that argument should be rejected out of hand – the “right” time is now. ”

    I will not accept this, frankly. I have spent my life advancing the careers of competent women in this party, as indeed I succeeded in getting an Asian MEP elected (the fact that turned out as a disaster does not nullify the original achievement).

    What matters is (1) successful outcomes and (2) achieving them by Liberal means. Yes, there is a serious problem of our gender balance in the Commons. No, you do not solve that by screaming “all-women short-lists” without thinking through the consequences. So if you want to pursue the matter please address the PRACTICAL points I made above.

    The blunt truth is that there is no way of sorting out “this horrible mess” in the short term. It has to be incremental simply because there are not a swathe of seats waiting to be gained in the near future. If you want to help the cause of more LD women in the Commons I suggest you attach yourself to one of the defending seats (or a top target) with a new woman candidate and spend your energies getting her elected.

    Because in the end people have to be elected.


  • Eddie Sammon 15th May '14 - 9:35pm

    Mark, so how do you feel about telling a black man “sorry you can’t apply for this job”. Shame on anyone who recommends this idea. Part of the reason must be men trying to impress women.

  • Richard Dean 15th May '14 - 9:41pm

    @Tony Greaves
    Wow, I didn’t expect that kind of masculine panic! No earthquake here thank you very much, we like our privilege! Prejudice runs deep, doesn’t it? – so deep that prejudiced people can’t see it. The evidence is clear: No-one has actually spent their life advancing equality for women, and any rate, not successfully. “Competent” women, now there’s a corruptible judgment! If “successful outcomes” is what matters, why does the Asian MEP failure not matter?

    The blunt truth is that the only way that this horrible mess will be sorted is drastically – prejudiced genders will find all sorts of arguments to refuse to see their failings. Random selection done centrally, by balanced shortlists selected locally, is an effective and balanced way forward that respects both local and national groupings and which will indeed gradually correct the problem.

  • Richard Dean 15th May '14 - 9:45pm

    Random selection done centrally, FROM balanced shortlists selected locally …

  • Eddie Sammon 15th May ’14 – 9:35pm
    “Mark, so how do you feel about telling a black man “sorry you can’t apply for this job”. Shame on anyone who recommends this idea. Part of the reason must be men trying to impress women.”

    Do you mean any black man? what if that black man was an Eton-educated self-made millionaire ? Or are you assuming all black men are somehow disadvantaged?

  • Eddie Sammon 15th May ’14 – 9:35pm
    “Mark, so how do you feel about telling a black man “sorry you can’t apply for this job”. Shame on anyone who recommends this idea. Part of the reason must be men trying to impress women.”

    What about if it’s a black man who can’t stand because a black, lesbian, single mother in a wheelchair is standing for the seat?

  • Eddie Sammon 15th May '14 - 10:01pm

    Phyllis, the thread is about all women short-lists, not diversity quotas, of which I still disagree with, but don’t find them as offensive.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th May '14 - 10:05pm

    And no, I am not arguing race is the main lack of diversity, I’m just saying we can’t place one above the other, which the all women-shortlist crowd want to do. Forget about race and class. It’s not even socialism or liberalism, it’s just extreme feminist ideology that tries to scapegoat the world’s evils on the “patriarchy”.

  • Stephen Howse 15th May '14 - 10:23pm

    Eddie – I don’t think those who advocate all-female shortlists are extremists or scapegoating men. I think they have recognised there is an issue and are suggesting a potential solution.

    However, as I and Tony Greaves have said above, they are not the solution to the Lib Dems’ lack of female MPs, because we simply do not have enough winnable seats to stand female candidates in. What are we meant to do, say to a bunch of our male MPs “you’ve done a great job but I’m afraid that because you are a man you have to stand down”? That obviously is not going to happen.

    And given that so many Lib Dem MPs get and remain elected on the basis of local connections and work, not party badge, it would be an absolute folly to deny well-known local male candidates the opportunity to represent the communities they serve in favour of interloping women. Obviously, where we have hardworking and well-known local women who are capable of making the step up, we should be encouraging them to do the same rather than parachuting in young men in a hurry.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th May '14 - 10:44pm

    It’s not intentional scapegoating, but it’s how it feels to read people support quotas for parliament and boards, but no women on the front-line because “war is a construction of the patriarchy”. This sort of ideology needs challenging. I respect everyone, I just feel passionate about this.

  • Stephen Howse 15th May '14 - 10:51pm

    I have absolutely no time for radical feminists. None whatsoever.

    I just don’t think it follows that people who support all-female shortlists are radical feminists.

  • Mark Wright “It’s a shame you don’t know me Eddie, because then you’d know just how hilarious it is to accuse me of supporting “extreme feminist ideology”. ”

    He was accusing you of trying to impress us ladies 😉

    Anyway I’m going to leave you men to your cigars and port while I go and load up the dishwasher and get the kids’ stuff ready for the morning.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th May '14 - 11:20pm

    I felt bad about that criticism, so sorry about that, I just fail to understand at times. I’m also not immune to the tendency to want to subconsciously impress women and people in general. I wish I could be nice all the time, I just worry that if I do people won’t understand how I feel inside. I’ll try to improve. I’ll also try to get off here. 🙂

    Good night.

  • Caron

    “The influx of women in 1997 is internationally recognised as proof of the effectiveness of all women shortlists”

    Sadly it does not. It shows (as pointed out by Stephen Howse) that it is effective if you have a large number of safe seats that someone can be parachuted in to.

    The LibDems fight for their seats, nothing was safe. Montgomeryshire was Liberal for all but a short period for 80 years before Lembit lost it. Yeovil, a very safe seat now was in 1979 regarded as a safe Tory seat.

    Before you sing the praises of the all-female shortlists, how many produced really great female politicians. If the LibDems picked a female candidate who would have to fight for her seat having the fact that she was picked from an all-female short list is more likely to hinder her.

    How about picking equal numbers of men and women for a short list and having and having more open primaries to pick the candidate. That would probably increase the likely hood of a female candidate being selected and also give them a head start in terms of credibility to get elected (having already been choses by the locals).

    Applying a 20th century Labour solution is not the way forward, think innovatively and liberal. We don’t just want lots of female candidates you want lots of female MPs.

  • Shirley Campbell 15th May '14 - 11:58pm

    I vowed to refrain from ever posting on any political forums; in fact, I chewed my fingers when they were itching to respond, positively, to Guy Russo’s post in praise of the concept and practice of the liberal concepts of our forefathers. However, I trust that my instincts do not betray me and that Guy attends a state school and that his excellent command of the English language and his excellent command of the concept of Liberal values all bear witness to the excellence of our state education system. Take note Michael Gove!

    My attention, and passion, has now been directed to the post by Eddie Sammon 15th May’14 – 4.46pm, and, yes, Eddie you raise the relevant issue of “privileged” women seeking further advantage. I should add that I am a woman (a demob baby girl born April 1947) who abhors the concept of “classify and crucify” (a concept that many Liberals seemingly should abhor but who seemingly seek to embrace). Liberals, individuals, are free to make choices and it would seem that many seemingly able folk, male and female, seek not to chose “politics” as a career.

  • Christine Headley 16th May '14 - 12:40am

    We lost several good women in 2010, and others in seats where the MP was standing down didn’t get elected. If we had the safe seats, I would be keener on all-women short lists, but tearing ourselves apart over something we can’t deliver on is a complete waste of time.
    @ Stephen Howse – what has radical feminism got to do with this?

  • In terms of ‘bias’, when this was last looked at, the proportion of women to men in non-held seats was the same as the proportion of women to men amongst people who wrote in and asked for an application form to be approved as a potential parliamentary candidate (not people who were approved – but people who wrote in and asked if they could have a form so that they could apply to be approved). The proportion of women to men in target seats was above this.

    So if we took the names of people who wrote in and asked for an application form and drew them randomly out of a hat to select candidates for target seats (which I hope we would agree is a fairly unbiased process), we would reduce the number of women in target seats.

    The problem is that fewer women than men decide to even find out about putting themselves forward as parliamentary candidates. Once women are ‘in the system’ they are treated fairly as individuals.

    There’s a plausible case that one factor is that we have a system that is brutally biased against people who cannot dedicate themselves full-time – or near full-time – to fighting a target seat. This precludes most people without much money (although some people without commitments can manage this). And it precludes people with caring responsibilities – which throws a huge gender skew into the system among people of working age. AWS without other systemic changes doesn’t do much to address this – it just favours one group of already favoured people over another group of favoured people (although it may not feel that way) – but doesn’t do much for anyone else.

    There’s also a plausible case that the job of an MP is inherently unattractive to people with caring responsibilities. One thing that Nick could be doing now is a much more full-on approach to making work in the Commons more family/carer friendly.

    And there’s also a case that there’s a problem with lack of role models. And it’s a plausible argument that intervention in selections can help with this – although, as far as I recall, most of the case studies for its success come from countries where it was made compulsory for all parties and where there was a list system. But addressing the issue of role models is also something which lies in Nick’s hands – right now. He could, for example, go 50:50 in the Cabinet. Or in new appointments to the Lords. Or even 100:0 if he chose.

    So two of the three factors are things that Nick could be addressing now (the job of an MP and lack of role models). And one of them is a really thorny issue – because are we even able to give up our bonkers model of candidacy? And what would it take to do it and still win seats?

  • Richard Dean 16th May '14 - 1:06am

    The LibDem party is sick – its gender imbalance is evidence of that, and is evidence that other parties can use to their advantage. Maybe the electorate recognize the sickness – is that the message of the opinion polls? If so, the ONLY way forward is for Libdems to tear themselves apart until the sickness has gone.

  • Richard Dean 16th May '14 - 1:11am

    @Martin Tod
    What a lovely example of an unconsciously prejudiced male bending statistics every which way to support the unbalanced catastrophe of the status quo!

  • Tony Greaves 16th May '14 - 1:17am

    Richard Dean – you are clearly not reading what I am writing or making any rational effort to understand it. You are consumed by what you think is the appropriate process regardless of likely outcomes. But I have now realised you are not a Liberal Democrat so your crazy views (random selection!!!) are perhaps better understood. As for sickness…


  • @RichardDean What a bizarre argument! I’ve highlighted ways that the system is biased against women (and most other people) and argued for how it needs to change to address them.

    You might be happy to wait until the magic AWS fairy comes along and waves its wand – but I don’t think it would do enough to address discrimination in the party and in the system. And I don’t think the other tools that are available now – today – are being adequately used.

    When I first looked at this – women were 27% of target seat candidates, 27% of non-target seat candidates, 27% of approved candidates, 27% of people who went on assessment days and 27% of people who asked for an application form. It shows there’s an unacceptable problem. But that we need to think a bit more deeply about how to address it.

    So if you want to ignore the data. And do nothing until we get an AWS ‘magic bullet’ that will only do a small amount to address the problem – and may not event work – then fine. But I think there are things we should be doing now.

  • Richard Dean 16th May '14 - 2:00am

    @Tony Greaves
    Your argument is that change is too dangerous. No-one should seriously believe that that is not just privilege in action. You built a nice cosy men’s club, now you defend it by saying that the objective of equality should be secondary to the objective of men’s success. You characterize any attempt at change as “crazy”. I’d say that “sick” is a reasonable description.

    @Martin Tod.
    For “thinking more deeply about how to address it”, read “kick into the long grass”

  • Shirley Campbell 16th May '14 - 2:27am

    Much of the afore comments are self-explanatory. However, please, Liberal Democrats, vote in accordance with your conscience. Please do not be swayed by any “gender” preferences.

  • Shirley Campbell 16th May '14 - 3:11am

    Furthermore, Martin, a gender bias in parliament is and always will be an item for debate in whatever political colour of parliament rules the roost.

    However, as an aged person, I would seek to ask what an aged yellow looking bird (the female variety) might seek to expect from a seemingly yellowing opposition party.

    Well, what has anyone ever done for me and mine! (1947 – date) Tell me for I would like to know! Beveridge! Explain!

  • @Richard Dean For ‘not kicking into the long grass’, I think you mean ‘do nothing now. do nothing that tackles the underlying problems. do nothing that actually gets more women MPs’. Is that a fair summary?

  • Charles Rothwell 16th May '14 - 8:04am

    Fascinating fdebate and I find it stimulating that so many contributions can be made in a civilised and productive manner. I am not at all sure that this would be the case in other political fora! I have no solutions to offer, but I do believe three things; 1) as has been pointed out, this (the need to improve the profile of the Party at all levels so as to reflect modern Britain more accurately) is a key issue and will be vital in rebuilding the Party in the coming years. This is also an area in which 21st century liberal values need to be clearly and resolutely stated as the Right mobilises across the whole of Europe and groups begin to re-emerge from under their stones again after decades thanks to the persisting crisis within Europe and the Eurozone in particular; 2) I do not believe there is any “silver bullet” (short lists etc) to solve the issue of under-representation (not just of women, but also of ethnic minority groups, the disabled) but, as Caron says in the original posting, it will require detailed and thorough discussion and the evolution of a strategy which takes all the membership and the voters forward in a united manner; 3) as in other areas (women into science and engineering, onto company boards etc), the ultimate answer lies in education and promotion via role models and this is something (e.g. by becoming school governors) in which all members and supporters can get involved if they have the time to do so and, if not, need to support in any other ways they can.

  • RIchard Dean

    I’m affraid that you are advocating that would increase the number of woment candidates without increasing the number of Women MPs. AWS would undermine the candidates.

    Proportionalte short lists would be a good start and then you need to have selection that helps the candiate elected once selected.

    The HoL appointments however could be moch more easily made representative with out harming the candidate selected. That should be a priority for all under represented groups.

  • Stephen Howse 16th May '14 - 9:11am

    @Christine – It doesn’t, it was a response to Eddie. Sorry, should’ve been clearer.

  • peter tyzack 16th May '14 - 9:32am

    solution: a complete boundary review followed by elections for a two person team in each constituency, working on the basis of ‘job-share’. That way the constituency could select two people to reflect their community, two people to do a fairly demanding job enabling them to be both in the constituency and in the House at the same time. It would be left to them how they divide the time and roles, who attends which Commons debate or which local meeting, but they would work together to do the job.. But that raises the question ‘what actually IS the job?’, so we also need a job description., so that THEY know what is expected of them and don’t go off on their own agendas.

  • Martin, Caron, or any other colleagues for that matter – has anyone compiled any stats on re-standing rates? My impression, looking at my cohort of PPCs in 2005 is that many more women than men fell by the wayside and did not stand again in 2010 because of having a family, career issues, lack of campaigning support (so the PPC had to do everything) etc.

    It is just an impression – does it stand up? If it does than should we looking at doing much, much more simply to hang on to the female candidates we already have?

  • Matt (Bristol) 16th May '14 - 10:39am

    Tony Greaves is right that the fact of the party defending what is probably in reliast terms a decreasing parliamentary stake at the next election reduces the chances of a quick turnround in the percentage of women LibDem MPs; those who defend all-female shortlisting on that basis will not see immediate results; the party will probably fail by that measure for some time to come.

    The Tory increase in proportions of women MPs in 2010 came on a (slightly) rising tide (and arguably their female contingent still haven’t broken significantly and succesfully through into Cabinet thanks to a whole range of reasons which may include a male ‘elite’ clique around the leader).

    But, but, but, that doesn’t mean that structures that may include positive discimination in some form are a write-off; building the framework at a low-ebb for a potential future resurgence is never a bad plan.

    Similarly, Eddie Sammon is right that there is a risk of female shortlisting cementing class and other barriers and being taken as ‘proof’ that the party is tackling inequality ‘generally’ when it isn’t in specific in other areas; but that doesn’t mean this is inevitable or that the only alternative is what we have now.

    Given that Caron Lindsay and Tony Greaves both point to the local / regional / national party structures, the party has to be prepared for a’multi-track’ solution to this problem, with no ‘right’ answer.

  • Daniel Jones 16th May '14 - 10:49am

    Actually quite disappointed in Caron for this piece – she has always seemed like a rational evidence based person previously.

    Last time this came up, we looked at the statistics. Around 35% of our approved candidates were women, and around 35% of selections completed had selected women. The numbers we don’t have are what proportion of our membership are women – because it seems obviously from the above numbers that the failure isn’t in selection. The failure is in bringing women forward, both as members and then as activists. It is trying to mask the real problem, the culture within the party that often means our volunteering sessions are places where, frankly, I’d not want my partner to be.

    There are also issues, based on Labour’s experience, that AWS can make the situation worse for women due to the resentment it builds up and the undermining effect that ‘You just got it because you are a woman’ brings up (and hard to refute with AWS in place, as there was no fair and open system).

    The final problem is one that Caron seems to take umbridge with – the idea that it is illiberal. I am not sure I’d go so far as to put it in those confrontational terms, but there must be some moment of great pause in committing acts of discrimination that in any other field would be illegal but politicians gave themselves a special exception for. Tackle the culture, appoint more women to senior posts, deal with the sexual misconduct within the party. And frankly, I’ll take no lessons from MPs who elected Sir Malcolm Bruce over Lorely Burt.

  • Christine Headley 16th May '14 - 11:15am

    After I had been a candidate in 1992, a constituent asked me whether I would be going on to a safe seat. I said there wasn’t a vacancy in The Orkneys and Shetland.
    It would only be worth using AWS in safe seats, and that is still the only one I can think of. Huge majorities can disappear in the same way as they arose. I think you need to have had at least three successive MPs in order to class as safe. This can take many years to achieve.
    In present circumstances, I think the current rules are adequate.

  • @Daniel Jones
    “There are also issues, based on Labour’s experience, that AWS can make the situation worse for women”

    You’re not the first person to say that. Evidence, please? The Labour Women’s Network certainly think that AWS has been good for them :-

    You’re also not the first person here to suggest that there are better ways of increasing the number of women MPs.

    Obvious question: if there are better ways, why is nobody doing them? Why is the Lib Dem parliamentary party still so predominantly male, pale and stale? How come the only significant increases in female MPs came about directly through Labour’s AWS (1997) and the Tories’ A-list system (2010)?

    Just how many more decades are Lib Dems prepared to give these other failed methods before their “evidence-based” minds come to the conclusion that they’re not working?

    I don’t think anybody who supports AWS would claim for a second that they are ideal. I’m not aware of anybody who likes the principle. If anybody came up with something better, they’d be welcomed with open arms.

    Besides, this isn’t just about the principle of whether individual candidates are treated indiscriminately or not. The lack of women in Parliament affects us all, because I think Parliament would be much better if it were more representative. I’m not prepared to sit around for another 50 years waiting for Lib Dems to “change the culture”. I want to see a more representative Parliament now – and if the Lib Dems can’t come up with a way of achieving this, then I can only add this to my reasons not to vote Lib Dem.

  • Tony Greaves 16th May '14 - 12:46pm

    There is still a failure of dialogue here between people who are saying “The present position is wrong and must be changed” and people who are setting out the practicalities. Doing something that sounds good and allows you to wave a banner, but which has no effect (or even a negative effect in some places) is not sensible.

    HoL appointments. All the recent lists have been round about 50-50 men and women. The argument for quicker action is for 100% women lists until there is an acceptable level of parity in the 100-strong group which would take some time. If that had happened it would have meant the exclusion of some excellent and very useful members such as Mike Storey, John Shipley and Mike German. But there is an argument both ways. I would have gone further on recent lists and appointed on around a 2 TO 1 ratio.

    As for selections, there are more women candidates than men in the held seats where the MP is standing down, and in the realistic top targets, few as they are. Is this understood by the people here who are “ranting on principle”?

    There does also seem to be a lack of understanding that winning a LD seat is always difficult and will be very very difficult next time. If the choice is between an excellent outsider (for the purposes of this argument a woman) and a local candidate who already has a strong base of support, built up over many years – what do you do? Select the outsider woman because that is the “right thing to do”, or select the person who might hang on to the seat? (Would a woman outsider have held Eastleigh?)

    I am as anxious for progress as anyone but there is simply no point in marching behind your banners to the end of the rainbow then finding there is no pot of gold.


  • Alisdair McGregor 16th May '14 - 12:46pm

    The thing that has to be remembered is that the Labour Party Hierarchy uses AWS as a means to shut out locally popular but “troublesome” campaigners from being able to stand in the seats where they are best known.

  • Stuart

    Well which ” other failed methods” are you suggesting have been tried for “decades” exactly?

    If you are going to demand evidence from others I would suggest being specific yourself.

    I think much of what is being tried and is being suggested if incorporates would have alot in common with the Tories “A-list” system. Personally I have no problem with a varient of the A list. However I don’t think it will go far enough to get those selected candiates elected.

  • Tony Greaves

    I agree with a lot you say on this.

    However, I would say your problem of whether an excelent external candidate or a well known local candidate is best, if you were to have a balanced short list selected by open primary that may well give those areas where the excelent external candidate was seen as “too high risk” the opotunity to test that before the local community.

    I’m not sure open primary is always the best option but it could be efective in some circumstances, particularly where there is concern about if a candidate is too risky.

  • Psi

    Sorry typo

    “have a balanced short list selected by open primary ”

    Should have said

    “have a balanced short list, then selection by open primary”

  • Matt (Bristol) 16th May '14 - 1:28pm

    Psi – your proposal is good but expensive.

  • “The thing that has to be remembered is that the Labour Party Hierarchy uses AWS as a means to shut out locally popular but “troublesome” campaigners from being able to stand in the seats where they are best known.”

    This is a very good point and is responsible for a lot of the unhappiness caused by AWS. If the LDs can do AWS without doing this, it might be a different experience. If.

  • @Psi
    “Well which ‘other failed methods’ are you suggesting have been tried for ‘decades’ exactly?”

    I’m referring mostly to Daniel’s vague suggestion that we “tackle the culture”. People have been trying to tackle our male-dominated culture for many decades, but it’s had precious little effect on the representation of women in Parliament. Only AWS and A-lists have had any impact there.

    It would be nice, would it not, if those who oppose AWS but claim they want to see more women MPs put half as much energy in to putting forward alternative ideas as they do in to rubbishing AWS. Pretty much the only time this topic gets discussed at all is when somebody like Caron writes an article such as this – then gets unfairly shot down in flames for doing so. If there were other people putting forward better ideas, then nobody would even be suggesting AWS.

  • Stephen Howse 16th May '14 - 2:38pm

    Stuart – I and others have already explained why AWS worked to increase Labour’s female representation but would not have anything like the same impact for the Lib Dems.

    “It would be nice, would it not, if those who oppose AWS but claim they want to see more women MPs put half as much energy in to putting forward alternative ideas as they do in to rubbishing AWS. ”

    We have the Leadership Programme, through which people from under-represented groups have been shortlisted and then selected in a number of held seats with retiring incumbents and target seats. If they all lose, and all of our current female MPs lose, then how is that the fault of the Lib Dems for not doing enough to give women (and people from underrepresented groups) a fair shake?

    The thing about FPTP is that it’s voters in individual seats who get to decide who represents them. If we had PR then we could decide that we’d go male-female, male-female for at least the top 100 on our party list. But we don’t have PR (and a good thing too, for all sorts of reasons) so we can’t.

    We will ultimately be given the Parliamentary Party the public sees fit to give us. Blaming the public for turning down female Lib Dem candidates is as daft as blaming the party for the public’s choices.

  • That’s all well and good but the fact remains that the Lub Dem leadership is not supportive of women MPs. How else can you explain the fact that there are NO women cabinet members. The Tories have a female Home Secretary (one of the top jobs in the Cabinet) but the Lib Dems are even trailing behind those dinosaurs! And please don’t mention ‘occasional appearances’ by the Minister for Women – that just makes my point!

  • Shirley Campbell 16th May '14 - 3:15pm

    Interestingly, someone back yonder on this subject mentioned Emma Nicholson. I have a huge amount of respect for Emma Nicholson. I lived in her former constituency and I remember when she “crossed the house”, and, over the Christmas period, I listened to her EU lectures.

    It is worth noting, and I trust that Miss Nicholson will not mind my mentioning the matter, that Miss Nicholson is partially deaf. Clearly, women can and do succeed by virtue of merit. However, a first class education also contributes to success.

    Furthermore, may I cite the case of Shirley Williams, another woman who has succeeded by virtue of merit. Again, a first class education also contributes to success.

    As a member of “Liberty “, I have a huge amount of respect for Shami Chakrabarti, an extremely intelligent and able young woman who seems to have succeeded by virtue of merit.

    Should the Liberal Democrats endorse any measure of positive or negative discrimination, I would terminate my membership forthwith. Discrimination in any guise , and for whatever reason, is “discrimination”. The brains behind the Lib Dem machine would be better employed endorsing the introduction of constitutional reform, which might possibly address the issue of women in the political arena.

  • @Stephen Howse
    Ah, so it’s the fault of the electorate for not voting in enough women.

    In fact since 1997 the proportion of female MPs has pretty much exactly mirrored the proportion of female candidates. For instance in 2010 21% of candidates and 22% of MPs were women. These figures suggest to me that the electorate is perfectly prepared to vote for women when given the opportunity to do so. The figures would be even better if the Lib Dems were not so male-dominated.

    You are right however that FPTP imposes constraints that PR would not. There would be no need for AWS if we had a different electoral system.

    @Shirley Campbell
    “Should the Liberal Democrats endorse any measure of positive or negative discrimination, I would terminate my membership forthwith.”

    That’s all well and good, but it seems to me as an outsider that Lib Dems are prepared to make a stand against explicit discrimination (even of the positive kind) while happily turning a blind eye to the rampant tacit discrimination which many people believe exists within the party (scroll up for plenty of examples of Lib Dems, many of whom are anti-AWS, who believe that this is the case). Which is great news for all the patriarchs out there but bad news for those of us who would like the Lib Dems to be a more diverse and representative party.

  • Stephen Howse 16th May '14 - 6:04pm

    “… the electorate is perfectly prepared to vote for women when given the opportunity to do so.”

    I don’t doubt that at all – but I do doubt that AWS will work for the Liberal Democrats.

    I’m not sure how I’m supposed to articulate this key point any clearer. The Liberal Democrats have fewer safe seats to dole out and although we have selected female candidates in many winnable seats, we cannot guarantee they will win. We have seven female MPs – we cannot guarantee that any of them will win in 2015 either. If they lose it won’t be because they are women, any more than it will be if they win. It will be because the electorate preferred another party’s candidate.

    We have limited room for manoeuvre given that so many of our sitting MPs are male – it would be frankly disgraceful were any of them to be deselected purely on the basis of their gender. Disgraceful.

  • Stephen Howse 16th May '14 - 6:08pm

    “For instance in 2010 21% of candidates and 22% of MPs were women.”

    That doesn’t really matter to our Parliamentary representation – 80% of Lib Dem candidates could be women but if they all stood in seats where we’re not going to win, and men stood in the seats where we might, we’d end up with a 100% male cohort of MPs.

    Without having the exact figures to hand I would hazard a guess that the proportion of women standing in the top 100 winnable Lib Dem seats in 2010 was much higher than the proportion of the Parliamentary party that is female.

  • Shirley Campbell 16th May '14 - 6:21pm

    Sorry, silly me since it is “crossed the floor” and not “crossed the house”. Furthermore, whilst reading back awhile, it is “choose”,to choose, and not chose. Why don’t the hoi polloi , I am of that species, check their text before they post? What is wrong with these people?

    Moreover, the term “patriarch” has been bandied about. The term “patriarch” denotes to me a society that places undue responsibility upon senior males. It seems to me to be unfair and discriminatory. Why don’t the very able and well educated females, many of whom were educated alongside the males of the species, rise up and take responsibility for themselves and their kin?

  • Ed Maxfield 16th May '14 - 6:37pm

    We don’t have to have safe seats to dole out. What is required is a set of tough decisions about resourcing campaigns.

    FWIW, I have long believed that all women shortlists are essential. The evidence is very (very) clear – only two things have ever had a significant impact on the number of women MPs: allowing them to stand in the first place and all women short lists.

    I am also on record (somewhere) of saying that job sharing is a bonkers idea for a number of reasons (with apologies to Dinti who I still think is a friend.) As a liberal I am very much in favour of MPs doing less but the solution to that is less legislating and less government, not doubling the number of MPs.

    But the discussion is not really about that. If the last four years has taught us anything it is that major constitutional reform is beyond our ability to deliver so we should focus on what we can achieve – such as changes to our own internal processes.

    Developing Ruth Bright’s point, most Lib Dem MPs have been elected by devoting their lives to the project to the exclusion of almost everything else over a number of years. That is not a healthy approach and it is understandable that many women candidates reject it as an option. So the answer is simple enough – if we want to get more women elected – as opposed to selected – (or, indeed, more of any type of candidate who is not able to follow the ‘standard model’ we need to support them with more resources. For example, funding child care or more staff in the campaign team. And we need to accept that the consequence of that is there will probably be less resource available for middle aged middle class white men who stand as candidates.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th May '14 - 7:04pm

    I want to re-iterate that I don’t think badly of anyone, I think some are mistaken, but I’m against whipping up hatred against any groups in society.

    Little Jackie Paper, thanks for your advice, I wouldn’t sign up to any “working man’s club” or gentlemen’s club that didn’t accept women as full members, but I do plan on getting off the internet and more involved in party politics. I have just kind of been meditating whilst I let my thoughts settle.

    Shirley Campbell, thanks for your support, you sound like an honourable woman. 🙂

  • Daniel Jones 16th May '14 - 7:08pm

    @stuart – Mostly anecdotal I’m afraid, but do hang out with former Labour activists long enough (even ones who still are viciously tribal about Labour and hate everyone else) and you’ll find out a lot about the splits and disharmony it brought (We have one of the AWS seats here) amongst women, and the people it forced out – in fact I know several women who left the party over the imposition of AWS. Historically, there were several court cases fought in the 90s against AWS – and resolutions brought against it through the party processes show the disharmony and how it left rather acrimonious accusations to be thrown around. Of course, one could argue that was just the latent mysogyny coming into the open.

    In terms of tackling the culture – There is quite a lot one could speak of, but for me one of the large things we need to do – and perhaps that the pastoral care officer needs to look at – is proper training for people at all levels on how to deal with complaints of inappropriate behaviour, and how to be pro-active in tackling that. At the moment I suspect I would have to go a long way – all the way a couple of layers into our HQ – to find someone who is properly trained or in anyway trained to deal with such complaints. And yet the Local Party Chairs, the membership officers, the regional chairs, executives of all levels…they are meant to be performing a pastoral role.

    The problem is not in selection, no evidence has been put forward to say that it is – and no evidence has been put forward to show it would work to solve things if it did. Looking down at the reasons women don’t get involved is how we begin to actually solve it. Because Labour haven’t, they just hid it – as Sarah Brown’s quote above indicates.

  • Shirley Campbell 16th May '14 - 7:21pm

    Eddie Sammon, please do not let ANYONE ANYWHERE make you feel bad about yourself. Please do not fall foul of opposing doctrines. Eddie, please remember that to deny experience is to deny the SOUL.

    With sincere best wishes to Eddie in his future endeavours.

    With love 20XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

  • Richard Dean 16th May '14 - 7:46pm

    How can anyone believe the LibDems, if they don’t have at least a plan? This issue has been around for ages, the other parties have addressed it, and the LibDems don’t have a plan. They’re so far away from a plan that people are still digging around and trying to interpret statistics to make points.

    Elections are about presenting plans to electorates. A plan need to have objectives, stages, milestones, destinations, and all these are based on values. A party without a plan doesn’t have the relevant values. Is it any wonder, therefore, that Libdems do so badly in polls?

  • Stephen Howse 16th May '14 - 8:17pm

    @Richard Dean – We do have a plan, the Leadership Programme. Let’s see how many of the female candidates chosen through it get elected before deciding what, if anything, we need to try next.

  • Shirley Campbell 16th May '14 - 8:19pm

    Oh dear, a supposedly educated person who does not understand the concept of “liberalism”. Liberals cannot be pinned down to any particular view of “liberalism” because “liberalism” embraces all clans, creeds and economic models. How can a fast moving and interactive political party be pinned down to a static economic model when that model is apt to move by the minute? Modern day Liberals must embrace and adapt the capitalist model or reject it and embrace its alternatives.

  • Stuart

    To be clear I oppose AWS, they won’t achieve what people claim of them. I don’t like “the ends justify the means” arguments normally but as the representation in the party is such an entrenched problem I think solutions to it could be one of those rare exceptions where if it would work it may be worth trying. The problem is that, as explained above, it won’t work.

    As Matt (Bristol) points out my preferred solution is expensive but it is more likely to strengthen the hand of prospective female (/other represented group) candidates who are selected via this method. Someone who has been shown to be selected by the local people are strengthened in the eyes of voters, those who benefit from positive discrimination are weakened.

  • Richard Dean 16th May '14 - 8:45pm

    The Leadership Programme is not a plan to correct the gender imbalance. According to the leader, its objective is quite different from that, unless you think of equality for half the population as the same thing as “diversity”.

  • On Question Time last night there was a senior Labour woman and a Tory woman…..and another white male Lib Dem.

  • Even UKIP seem to have more prominent women than the Libdems. There was one on Any Questions tonight . Of course another white male from the LibDems.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th May '14 - 10:45pm

    The name of the person on QT who Phyllis reduced to “another white male Lib Dem” was Paddy Ashdown.

  • Yes and the chap on Any Questions was Menzies – so what? The point is that whoever comes on TV or radio from the LubDems, it is the same old faces time after time. Where is the diversity in this Party? Where is the new blood?

  • Lib Dems not LubDems – argh! Dyslexic keyboard!

  • Interestingly the Greens appear to have only women.

  • @Ruth I remember discussing it a while ago and as I remember the numbers were worse. The ‘bucket’ was leakier for women candidates – and I thought, and think, we should be doing more to encourage women to stay on. Being a PPC can be gruelling and the party’s support for people after elections is pretty much non-existent.

    Of the cohort of the “one farm down” club (i.e. those that ‘bet the farm’ on a target seat in 2010 – and lost the farm), I think I only know one that is running again – and he’s a man.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th May '14 - 12:47am

    Phyllis, the left has been down a similar path before with “positive eugenics”. It won’t work and it’s not moral.

  • Richard Dean 17th May '14 - 1:47am

    “Positive eugenics” has got nothing at all to do with what the left ever did. I can’t believe that men are so prejudiced or self-centred that they believe women’s equality has got anything to do with that. Where do you get these nightmares from? Maybe you mean the ultra-ultra-right?

  • Eddie Sammon 17th May '14 - 2:53am

    No Richard, the left embraced eugenics too. My point is that this is what an obsession with identity politics leads to. Here are some articles for you.

  • SIMON BANKS 17th May '14 - 9:40am

    Positive discrimination – as opposed to positive action – should always be a last resort. Given the number of women selected for next year in winnable seats , I’m not convinced we’ve reached last chance saloon yet. The point is also valid that if we fail to advance in this respect next year because of a very bad overall result in which we gain nothing and lose most seats where the MP is standing down (perfectly possible if things go badly – consider Cheltenham and Brecon/Radnor when their MPs stood down, compared with at the next election when the newcomers had got established) we should hold fire till after the next election.

    Reasons to be reluctant to adopt all-women shortlists? That as with positive discrimination in employment, it alienates people (men, white people. able-bodied people) who have a sense of fairness and have good reason to feel unfairly treated; that many women feel it to be condescending; that it may bar someone who would be the best candidate by a mile. The firmest opponents of the idea in our local party are female activists.

  • Simon Banks

    “Reasons to be reluctant to adopt all-women shortlists? That as with positive discrimination in employment, it alienates people (men, white people. able-bodied people) who have a sense of fairness and have good reason to feel unfairly treated; that many women feel it to be condescending; that it may bar someone who would be the best candidate by a mile. The firmest opponents of the idea in our local party are female activists.”

    While I agree, I think you miss the most important point. It would be counter productive, undermining good candidates selected by this method. Better to find a way that strengthens under represented candidates chances.

  • Eddie Sammon , I asked where the diversity is in this Party and you countered with a charge that I am promoting eugenics??

  • “Positive discrimination – as opposed to positive action – should always be a last resort”

    The positive action could have started any time in the last four years by promoting at least one woman into the Cabinet. That would have been a very straightforward thing to do. However the fact that this hasn’t happened and no-one has ever written an article questioning this on LDV, points to a systemic sexism within the Party from the leadership down. The Leader believes that none of the women within the Party are as able as the men to hold a Cabinet position. Until this is addressed, nothing else will work. That’s why we always have the same faces on QT etc – it’s only men who are given the top jobs.

  • Richard Dean 17th May '14 - 12:03pm

    @Eddie Sammon
    It’s outrageous to suggest that achieving equality for women has got anything at all to do with eugenics.

  • Richard Dean 17th May '14 - 12:10pm

    The major damage that the party has done to itself is evident in the opinion polls. Amongst its many obvious failings is its failure to live up to its principles, one of which is the idea of equality. The damage that this does – including alienation of at least half the electorate – is likely to be far greater than any minor disapproval some people in the electorate might have concerning positive discrimination or action, and the evidence from the experience of other parties is that such disapproval is more than compensated for by approval that at last something is being done.

  • Stuart Mitchell 17th May '14 - 12:10pm

    @Simon Banks
    “Positive discrimination – as opposed to positive action – should always be a last resort.”

    I agree with that totally – but for how many years has this been a problem in the Lib Dems? How much longer before we enter last resort territory?

    If you look at the history of female MPs within the Lib Dems / Liberals, it’s truly pitiful. There was at last *some* progress in 2005 – but the Lib Dems managed to go backwards in 2010, at a time when the Tories were forging ahead with their A-list scheme.

    I will likely die some time in the 2050s, and even if Lib Dem female representation is as low then as it is now, I still expect the average LDV poster to be saying “it’s not time for the last resort yet – let’s give changing the culture a little more time”. But in part this is a chicken and egg situation – what could be a more effective way of changing the culture than actually getting a substantial number of women in Parliament?

    @Daniel Jones
    I don’t question that AWS would have caused discontent and rancour in some circles of Labour. But putting that in to context, you must be aware that a great many people within Labour are immensely proud of the fact that Labour has a far higher proportion of female MPs than any other party (except the Greens of course), and consider AWS to have been a justifiable means to achieving that given the decades of lack of progress that preceded it.

    As a voter, I certainly see the high number of female (and ethnic minority) MPs as a genuine reason for voting Labour rather than Lib Dem.

  • Stuart Mitchell

    The A-List the Tories used, that you are praising, was positive action not positive discrimination.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th May '14 - 5:35pm

    Hi Phyllis, sorry I’m not charging you with promoting eugenics, I’m just saying there is plenty of diversity amongst white men and we shouldn’t focus on classifications too much.

    Richard Dean, I’ve said all I need to on this debate. There is no need to be outraged by it, especially given you were the harshest critic of Lib Dem Women last week and now you seem to be its strongest supporter.

  • Richard Dean 17th May '14 - 8:11pm

    Last week’s debate was about radical feminism, Eddie. This week’s is about women’s equality. They’re completely different topics.

  • daft ha'p'orth 18th May '14 - 12:48am

    @Richard Dean
    It’d make a nice change to see a few more radical ideas discussed on here. The nearest people get to feminism on this site always seems to start with an embarrassed cough.

    It is outrageous to start throwing the term ‘eugenics’ around, not least because it’s a complete non-sequitur; it’s also completely surreal and (to me) rather funny (sorry Eddie, but it is). The comparison invites us to take as the starting point the startling suggestion that a politician’s job can be compared to creating new life, and even then it is wholly incoherent. Eugenics by necessity considers both genders, since modern understanding of genetics requires societies to accept that it takes two to tango, so broadly speaking implementations of eugenics will have the unusually egalitarian stance that both parents are to be taken into consideration (to some extent…). Politics at high level appears to be perfectly happy to take into account views of representatives overwhelmingly drawn from a single gender, which is to say,somewhat less than one half of the population. That is: broadly speaking, we accept that the creation of babies involves eggs and sperm, whilst we appear to believe that the creation of policies only requires one of the above (unless ‘womens’ issues’ are involved, of course).

    Eddie, there is indeed plenty of diversity within the classification ‘white men’, and indeed within white women and black men and black women and Asian men and Asian women and so on and so forth. I don’t like it either when people assume that a gender or colour is indexical of any individual’s skills or knowledge or abilities or competencies or life experiences or opportunities; this is clearly lazy, stereotyped thinking.

    Still, we are talking about what in the last census is a pretty blatantly obvious group, indeed, the majority: 51% of the population. It should not be that bloody hard for a political party to involve individuals drawn from that 51% of the population, just as it should not be that bloody hard to get the odd person involved who has no posh school or City in their parentage, since the vast majority of people are in that group . Unlike ethnicity, it’s also not the case that there are many constituencies that can use the ‘oh, there just aren’t many women in our catchment area’ argument (or, when it comes to that, the ‘oh, everybody here’s rich and we all send our kids to Eton’ argument). The region where I live happens to have the ethnic diversity of a bag of Milky Bar White Chocolate Buttons. Still, 51% of the population are women. And 88% of the MPs are male.

    I don’t in the least wish for anything to stand in the way of people of colour or those who have not enjoyed financial and social privileges. Still, all other things being equal, I’d rather that people with the secondary sexual characteristics of 51% of the population showed up in political life (in some role other than ‘token person with secondary sexual characteristics of 51% of the population’, please). It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, given that they happen to be the majority and all that, that now and then a woman might be involved. By chance, it should happen over 50% of the time. In practice, it apparently happens 12% of the time in my region and around 12.5% nationally (current Cabinet composition). Probability theory says that is very unlikely to happen randomly. So tell me, all other things being equal (that is, my area isn’t suddenly going to develop a huge number of deeply disadvantaged black male potential MPs tomorrow), how’re you suggesting that we redress this balance, or when it comes to it, any other, such as privilege? The all-woman shortlist approach basically says, yeah, something ain’t right but we’re not sure what, let’s force this a bit and see what happens, maybe it will give us some insight. The ‘oh weeelll, let’s do nothing and hope the best man wins’ approach offers us no insight at all.

    Best to bear in mind that ‘women’ are over half the population. We are not talking about minorities here. We’re actually, profoundly weirdly, talking about the underrepresented majority.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th May '14 - 1:10am

    daft ha’p’orth, it’s not about equality though is it? If it were about equality there would be movements for women on building sites, oil rigs and armed forces. So it’s not about equality, it’s about power.

  • daft ha'p'orth 18th May '14 - 1:15am

    @Eddie Sammon
    Er, not only is that also a massive non sequitur, but there>i> are ‘movements for women’ in the armed forces and building sites. Dunno about oil rigs, never bothered to check.

    Amazingly, women can build stuff. They can also shoot people. Although why you would associate the question of whether women are currently permitted to put on camo and wave around guns with whether or not they appear in government in proportion with their numbers is a total mystery to me.

  • daft ha'p'orth 18th May '14 - 1:18am

    Incidentally, your use of the word ‘power’ there also amuses me, sorry. You are talking about half the human race, not Dr Evil.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th May '14 - 1:20am

    daft ha’p’orth, I have no more to say.

  • daft ha'p'orth 18th May '14 - 1:24am


  • Richard Dean 18th May '14 - 1:39am

    It’s about equality. But I can see there’s a confusion possible – after all, politicians do have a form of power, though nothing like dictatorial power.

    So, is there some reason why half the human race shouldn’t have half the power?

  • Eddie Sammon 18th May '14 - 1:43am


  • Eddie Sammon 18th May '14 - 1:49am

    Richard, you are really annoying me, it is not “half the power” unless we also have 50% quotas on things like the front line. It’s just a female self-interest group.

  • Richard Dean 18th May '14 - 1:50am

    So it’s not about power after all?

  • Richard Dean 18th May '14 - 1:51am

    “Group”? Half the human race is a “group”?

  • Eddie Sammon 18th May '14 - 1:52am

    Oh and may I add “female self-interest, plus male sell-outs and creeps”.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th May '14 - 1:54am


  • Eddie Sammon 18th May '14 - 1:54am

    or half of the population, whatever!

  • Richard Dean 18th May '14 - 2:00am

    Very amusing, Eddie. I guess many people are a little bit the worse to wear at this time on a Saturday night stretching into Sunday morning. Half the population are women. They have a right to half the power. Simples. Every true Libdem will agree, and we need to get on with having a plan to achieve that. ASAP.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th May '14 - 2:03am

    Haven’t drank alcohol for 3.5 years, so it’s nothing to do with it. Haven’t taken any drugs either.

  • Richard Dean 18th May '14 - 2:10am

    No relaxation? Here’s something to remember that will solve a whole load of uptightness problems:

    Half the population are women. They have a right to half the power. Every true Libdem will agree. We need to get on with having a plan to achieve that. Now!

    So what plan would you suggest?

  • Richard Dean 18th May '14 - 2:13am

    I wonder what made the software moderate that!

  • Richard Dean 18th May '14 - 2:18am

    Wow! Have I discovered the formula for switching off that software! I must try and see.

    Wish I could switch off the radical masculinists though. They’re messing up this party real bad. Doing it for years. No logic at all. They simply can’t see that, based on the LibDem principle of equality, if half the population are women, then women have a right to half the power.

    Why is it so difficult?

  • Richard Dean 18th May '14 - 2:28am


  • Eddie Sammon 18th May '14 - 3:03am

    daft ha’p’orth and others, sorry for moodiness and name-calling, I just get frustrated and try to show people different ways of looking at things. However, I don’t appreciate Richard asking me questions I have already answered.

  • I thought I would look at the Labour Party scheme for the 1997 election. It appears that All Women Shortlists were to be used in half of the winnable seats. I am not sure if this meant that some MPs who wanted to re-stand were de-barred from standing in their seat. It has been pointed out that for the 2015 General Election we will have women candidates in more than half of our target seats and those seats where the MP is standing down. Isn’t this better than what would be achieved if we had All Women Shortlists in only half of those seats?

    I have just discovered that in 2005 we had 16% female MPs (which is the same as the Conservatives achieved in 2010) but with our poor General Election performance in 2010 it fell to 12%. Interesting enough the number of Labour women MPs elected after an All Woman Shortlist has fallen from 35 in 1997 to 28 in 2010.

    The answer to my earlier question I have now discovered is that All Woman Shortlists were ruled to be illegal in January 1996, but became legal in 2002 and currently will remain legal until the end of 2030.

  • Richard Dean 18th May '14 - 3:15am

    Eddie. You didn’t answer this one:

    “… if half the population are women, then women have a right to half the power.

    Why is it so difficult?”

  • Richard Dean 18th May '14 - 3:16am

    … and you didn’t answer this one …

    ” Half the population are women. They have a right to half the power. Every true Libdem will agree. We need to get on with having a plan to achieve that. Now! … So what plan would you suggest?”

  • Stephen Howse 18th May '14 - 3:44am

    “if half the population are women, then women have a right to half the power.”

    You’re reducing people to their outward characteristics, not to their inner beliefs.

    If 10% of the population is gay then gay people have a right to half the power.
    If 10% of the population is of a minority ethnic background then people from minority ethnic backgrounds have a right to 10% of the power.
    If immigrants make up 5% of the population then immigrants have a right to 5% of the power.

    And so on.

    You are assuming that the 50% of the population that is female automatically sees women as being more capable of representing its interests. You are treating it as an homogenous bloc, not as 30-odd million free-thinking individuals with their own individual preferences.

    You have also still, unsurprisingly, failed to answer the point, which has been put to you a couple times now, about our electoral system meaning a party’s efforts at improving its female representation can be scuppered by the voters electing male candidates from other parties instead of them.

    “if half the population are women, then women have a right to half the power.”

    I genuinely have no idea what you are on about here. “Radical masculinists”… what tosh. Nobody here has asserted that men are, en bloc, better than women, more deserving of political power or more able to exercise it. I would be just as disdainful of radical masculinists as I am of radical feminists, and were any to be found on here I would see their beliefs as incompatible with being a Liberal Democrat.

    The Lib Dem principle of equality, as far as I can see it, means treating people as individuals and giving every individual – whatever gender, religion, race or sexuality they might be – a fair shot at achieving their potential. Liberals, as a whole, generally do not favour arbitrarily drawn up top-down targets. We still have work to do on changing our party’s practices and culture, I am sure – perhaps people on selection panels need to be given more detailed training on unconscious bias; perhaps applications for selection should be name-blind. Perhaps being a candidate could be made more female-friendly through things like paid childcare, as was suggested above. There are plenty sensible and practical steps we can take to make more women want to be Lib Dem MPs and to give them a fair shot at becoming Lib Dem MPs, and I’d like to see some more being suggested and implemented.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th May '14 - 3:52am

    Richard, I just don’t want to debate this topic on this thread with you anymore. Please take a hint and respect other users of the site. Please don’t ask me anymore questions.

  • Richard Dean 18th May '14 - 4:34am

    @Eddie Sammon. No problem, but I do wonder what you mean. If you intend making challenging contributions to the debate about equality for women, then you must surely expect that someone will challenge your ideas in return? That is what debate is all about – and is what this website is for!

    Anyway, I will let you alone now, unless you decide to re-enter the debate. Do feel free to change your mind about answering the two questions remaining: – why is it difficult? and what plan would you suggest?

  • Richard Dean 18th May '14 - 2:18pm

    @Stephen Howse

    The gender imbalance is clear evidence that the LibDems as a group have not been practicing what they preach about equality. It wouldn’t exist if they had been.

  • daft ha'p'orth 18th May '14 - 11:28pm

    @Stephen Howse
    Looks to me that typically, at national level, people do not (and are not encouraged to) vote for individuals, just as MPs are not encouraged to act as individuals. Typically people vote ‘Labour’ or ‘Conservative’ or ‘Lib Dem’ or apparently these days ‘UKIP’ or whatever. Personally I think this is a great shame. I don’t think that ‘MP’ should stand for ‘Meat Puppet’, but am capable of observing that very often it does seem to mean exactly that. European elections are even more clearly designed in this manner; on the 22nd I will be adding my little vote to some category with absolutely no idea of who would benefit if enough people happened to do the same. I’ll probably never find out who got the job, either.

    The great exception is probably incumbency. Some MPs are locally active and well-known and in those cases some of us possibly would think twice before voting to turf him/her out of his/her job. Even after the events of the last few years I would still feel mildly guilty for not placing my vote with my current MP, if he wasn’t retiring – not because I agree with him (I was horrified by his reaction to the student loans situation), not because I’ve met him, even, but just because I know it sucks to lose your job. The bloody Coalition took away mine, so I have experience to draw on here, but apparently I’m not enough of an a****** to actively seek an eye for an eye. Still, since he is retiring, I will be back to staring at a bunch of unknowns on a piece of paper. And it’s not gender that will get me to stick my mark in one box or another, nor is it life history; in practice, I will probably end up giving it to the joke candidate on the basis that my current message is, as Phyllis has said elsewhere, ‘a plague on all your houses’.

    I wish we voted for individuals to represent us in this country. I wish individuals did represent us. I wish I could vote for someone I trust to act for me, someone with whom I believe I can speak honestly. But I can’t. In general I can only vote for a representative of ‘a Party’, an amorphous corporate blob with no personal accountability at all. Does it even matter who or what represents that party, given that in essence they’re a body wearing a rosette and the decision process very clearly happens elsewhere?

    On a completely different note, you may (sadly) be right that people tend to see upperclass white males as more appropriate choices to represent their interests. It would be a sad indictment of the system that represents their interests if they think that you do have to be an upperclass white male to get anything done, but it wouldn’t be surprising, the way things are going. Still, I doubt it’s that deep. I reckon most people just vote for one flavour or another without even pausing to Google the candidate’s name, gender, status or achievements. Prove me wrong?

  • daft ha’p’orth

    “On a completely different note, you may (sadly) be right that people tend to see upperclass white males as more appropriate choices to represent their interests.”

    It is probably not that people see these groups as best but more they are precieved as lower risk. Hence we need a method of allowing the public to select the candidate so we actually know what they are prepared to vote for.

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