All Women Shortlists – identify the problem before looking for the solution

There has been an increase in debate recently about the lack of diversity amongst some groups within the Liberal Democrat candidature, with the spectre of All Women Shortlists (AWS) once again rearing it’s head.

Whilst I am not at all in favour of AWS (or AWCS, ADS or ABAMES) I think we are getting ahead of ourselves and looking for a solution before we have identified the problem. Simply put, do we know the numbers of under-represented groups throughout the selection process? I suspect not, given that no-one has up to now used hard figures to point to the reasons behind our shortcomings. If we do – I’m sure I am about to be put right.

So I propose the party takes the time we have before the next general election to carry out a root and branch survey of the process, getting figures all the way: From the regional candidate recruitment team to the constituency committees in charge of selection. If we do not have the information then we need to start collating it in order to adequately change the process. Why should we do this? It would be rather silly bringing in an all-working class shortlist system if it turns out that only 1% of our candidate pool was from a working class background. It would be similarly silly if it turned out that we had a decent amount of working class candidates but we were failing to get them elected. So, in order to correctly identify where we are falling short Ipropose the following analysis (I will use women as an example only – I am not identifying them as more worthy than the working class or any other grouping).

First, we need to know how many women are applying to become candidates, how many return the application forms and how many are successful in becoming prospective candidates. If too many are not returning their application packs we need to know what is putting them off, similarly if to few women are applying in the first place. If too few are successful in navigating the process then we need to know what is going wrong and how we can put this right.

We also need to know how many women are in the pool of candidates in order to identify if the problem starts here.

Second, we have to find out how many women are applying for seats, if not enough of those successful in getting into our pool of candidates are applying for them, then we need to know and we need to know why. If it turns out that this is the reason for the shortfall of women MPs then we have to devise ways of encouraging those women to come forward and submit applications for constituencies. If enough are applying then we need to know the figures to understand if this is where we are falling down and work out how we can change it.

Third, shortlists. We have to know how many women are being shortlisted. If not representative, why not. Is there a valid reason for the shortfall and how can we alleviate the problem.

Finally, we have to know how many women are successful in representing the Liberal Democrats in parliamentary elections. If not enough, then we need to understand what went wrong and again, what we can do to change it for the better.

Until we know that everything is being done to identify and correct the reasons for shortfalls in under-represented groups we should not be looking at limiting shortlists. There is a saying in the forces – Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Let’s do the groundwork and get everything in place so that our candidates more properly represent the country at large.

* Steve Walpole is a veteran of HM Armed Forces and is currently Vice Chair of Skipton and Ripon Lib Dems

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18 Comments

  • Mick Taylor 8th Mar '16 - 10:06am

    Sorry, Steve. We already have the figures and they clearly show the total lack of progress in getting women and minority candidates either selected or elected for parliamentary seats. In my 51 years in the party we have only ever elected one MP from an identifiable ethnic minority in a by-election and he lost in the subsequent general election. We have a number of gay or bi men (not always out) and never more than 7 women.
    What more evidence do you need?
    We simply cannot go on as a party if we don’t try to ensure that the MPs elected in 2020 and beyond look representative of the country as a whole. That means around 50% women and say 10-14% from minorities. (And yes, some people will fall into more than 1 category)
    Of course much will depend on the level of support the party attracts in 2020, but if we have chosen a representative cadre of candidates in the seats we might win, then the result – however many MPs are elected – should also be representative.
    What is important is that the candidates selected should be committed to giving the time necessary to win, regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation. [That by the way is what we should mean by the ‘best’ candidate]

  • David Evans 8th Mar '16 - 11:50am

    Mick, we have only eight MPs. After the repeated electoral disasters of the coalition years, to amend your statement slightly “We simply cannot go on as a party if we don’t try to ensure that the MPs elected in 2020 are Lib Dems”. For that we need the very best candidate in every constituency. Preventing that being a man will reduce our chances of holding even the few seats we still have. Since May, not a single voter has said to me “I didn’t vote for you because you didn’t have a woman candidate,” many have mentioned Nick, what we did in coalition and trust.

    This proposal may well make us more nearly perfect – perfectly irrelevant, but it is so self centered and inward looking it truly is deckchairs on the Titanic time.

  • I support AWS.

    ‘it is so self centered and inward looking it truly is deckchairs on the Titanic time’

    Is it self-centred of me to want a party that looks like me? Really? I’m so sick of this conversation about women being dominated by men.

  • The problem is, quite frankly, blindingly obvious. We don’t have enough women applying. Even in “winnable” seats, where there’s been a requirement to have a woman on the shortlist, it’s been a struggle sometimes to find one. Why? They don’t want to stand because of the barriers in their way. Sometimes it’s out and out sexism – which in some places is still endemic – and others times it’s to do with the amount of time and significant amount of money expected by the party to be put in by the candidate. If you can’t see the problem without having to do a complicated data analysis then where have you been?

    David, we only have 8 MPs, most of whom I suspect will be standing again. Success in 2020 will be getting that up above 15 (assuming that we still have a UK parliament to vote for then.) That means we will still most likely have a parliamentary party dominated by men. However, we will then have a significant number of women in second place seats, who will have around 4 years experience of working the seat and for whom being elected in 2025 will be a distinct possibility. This isn’t about the immediate future, it’s the long term.

  • A Social Liberal 8th Mar '16 - 12:59pm

    Mick Taylor said

    “We already have the figures and they clearly show the total lack of progress in getting women and minority candidates either selected or elected for parliamentary seats.”.

    Can you show me where I can get the figures I asked for then, please MIck because I have looked everywhere I can and can only find women candidates selected and women MPs elected – these on the party site. There are no socio-economic groups, no BAME and no disability figures that I can see and none about Lib Dems getting selected into the candidate pool.

  • Paul Holmes 8th Mar '16 - 1:50pm

    @Mick Taylor. You say we have the figures that clearly show ‘lack of progress in selecting women and minority candidates’.

    That is just not true and it is seriously damaging to our Party for it to be repeated almost daily in LDV articles and comments.

    In 2015 two (18%) of our retiring MP’s saw BAME candidates selected in their place (although both candidates, for very different reasons, stood down before election day) and off the top of my head I can think of two other Target Seats that selected BAME candidates who certainly did last the course.I don’t know the full figure for BAME candidates across the country but there was certainly an increase in such selections in our best seats. As for women of course, you know because I have pointed it out to you a number of times, that for 2015 we selected women to replace 55% of our retiring MP’s and to be 40% of all Target Seat candidates -a figure higher than that of the % of women candidates applying to be PPC’s so there was clearly ‘bias’ in favour of selecting those candidates.

    When there is clear evidence that we have made progress why keep stating that we have not?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 8th Mar '16 - 2:19pm

    I’m not absolutely convinced that women are still being discriminated against in the candidate selection process. I know I may be being naive in this, as people with a lot more experience in the party than me, are clearly quite convinced that that there is so much sexism in the party that the only way to achieve fairness is through AWS. I’m sure there has discrimination in the past, probably until quite recently, but I’m just not convinced that it is STILL going on, to the extent that is being suggested.
    As Paul Holmes mentions, 40% of candidates in target seats were women, which is a considerably higher percentage than the percentage of women applying to become candidates. So it is hard to see the evidence for widespread discrimination, though I accept there may have been discrimination in some individual cases.
    We really do need more evidence – figures, specific examples etc. I’m prepared to be convinced, but I’m just not convinced yet.

  • David Evans 8th Mar '16 - 6:54pm

    Nat – I hope it is more important that you want a party that thinks like you i.e. like the Lib Dem you are. To me it is immaterial what members of our party look like, it the fact they are Lib Dems that is important. That is why I will support them all. But we are in such a parlous situation we need the best person to stand in each and every seat and any proposal to ban a member from standing based on criteria totally separate from his/her suitability is illiberal and potentially very damaging to this party’s future.

  • “As Paul Holmes mentions, 40% of candidates in target seats were women, which is a considerably higher percentage than the percentage of women applying to become candidates.”

    Yes this needs to be put to bed now, so please can someone in favour of AWS give a response? It’s been rumbling on for too long now.

  • Richard Underhill 8th Mar '16 - 8:14pm

    it would be better to debate this issue in the autumn at the main conference, in the light of the election results in Scotland, Wales and London, which are under fairer electoral systems.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 9th Mar '16 - 8:54am

    Thank you for your response, Caron, which does seem to show that there have been recent cases of open discrimination. This is deeply shocking. Was any action taken against any of the constituency parties which had acted in this way? After all, if they openly discriminated on grounds of sex or race, they were acting illegally, and should be dealt with in the same way that other employers would be if they openly discriminated against a candidate for a job on the grounds of sex or race. What sort of appeals procedure is available to potential candidates who feel that they have been victims of discrimination?

  • David Garlick 9th Mar '16 - 11:20am

    Steve is spot on but, and it is a big but, what he proposes was timely 20 / 30 years ago.
    The lack of progress in that time means that we should now act first and review after. Whatever we do it will not be perfect but the ‘long grass’ route will delay still further the much needed progress this Party needs to make to ensure that women can join a much more diverse Party. The women of the UK expect and deserve no less.

  • Caron “We can’t control the election but we can and should make sure we put up a diverse slate of candidates with the best chance of winning.”

    But Paul Holmes has pointed out that this already happens, at least as far as women are concerned. The Party put up 40% of women in 2015. And no-one supporting AWS has refuted this. I’m not saying there isn’t a (BIG!) problem but I’m confused about the evidence. Please can someone lay this to bed once and for all.

  • From looking at peoples’ points across discussion of AWS, it seems the problem of diversity is not at the selection level but rather at the submission level.
    Assuming you follow what I mean, perhaps we should aim more squarely at this problem by offering addition support for new or non-members to get into selection.
    This might be especially inclusive for communities dominated by one particular ethnicity, i.e. those places the tabloids would call “no go zones”, who might be being ignored by their MP and have a special interest in representing their community.
    This solution would also not be restricted by the law in the same way that All-[something]-Shortlists are, as far as I can tell at least.

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