Baroness Brinton writes: Towards a more diverse Parliamentary Party

Last year, Ros Scott, Nick Clegg and the Federal Executive (FE) asked me to conduct a review of issues relating to the role of Parliamentary candidates. Key to this review was how the Party will increase the diversity of its candidates standing in the 2015 General Election, and getting them elected.

The first point to make is that we made some real steps forward in selecting more women and BAME candidates in the last electoral cycle despite the disappointing results – the number of our seats went backwards, so making any progress in terms of representation was very difficult. The intense work by many in the party over the last few years has meant that there was significant progress in the lead up to the 2010 election: 50% of new candidates in held seats were women, and only just slightly lower in priority seats. Some excellent BAME candidates were selected (the highest number over the three main parties), but again, without electoral success. Although the fact that there no ‘safe’ seats in the Liberal Democrats (unlike Labour and the Conservatives) means that we cannot use some of the mechanisms used by the other Parties, we should absolutely not be complacent – we will have to work even harder, and invest more time, energy and resources than we have in recent years to make sure that our parliamentary parties reflect Britain in the future.

Of course, this is not just about Parliamentarians, but about looking at representation throughout the Liberal Democrats. Much of what is said about the diversity of our candidates is also true for activists and councillors. This is why the recommendations in my report also encourage the diversity activities that are currently being carried out by the Regional Diversity Champions and their teams, in partnership with the National Diversity Unit at HQ. This is vital if we are to really tackle the issue of diversity from the grass roots of the party.

However, there is no doubt that we need to take urgent action in terms of our next round of candidate selections. The Party remains clear (through votes at Conference) that it does not want to adopt any form of compulsory shortlists, so we need a mechanism to provide support, development and training for outstanding candidates from under-represented groups, giving them the skills that they will need to win seats in 2015.

The diversity motion that was overwhelmingly supported at Spring Conference in Sheffield proposed a Candidate Leadership Programme for candidates from under-represented groups. The Programme is designed specifically to identify and develop some of our best and brightest candidates within the Party. It is open to talented, motivated individuals from groups that are currently under-represented in the Parliamentary Party, and can demonstrate the combination of passion, drive and commitment that it takes to win a Parliamentary seat.

Individuals can apply once they have passed the central candidate approval assessment process (or at least have applied to do so). There are reserved places for women, those from BAME backgrounds, and for disabled people, and applications from other under-represented groups, including LGBT and those from low-socio economic backgrounds are also welcome. Applicants for the Leadership Programme will be assessed against the Party’s candidate competency framework, and a panel will consider applications.

The support offered to candidates once they are on the Leadership Programme will include advanced training and development; financial and advisory support once selected; mentoring; key skills training; fundraising training and coaching. Conference agreed that although local parties entirely retain the right to choose their PPC, target seats must shortlist at least two candidates from the Leadership Programme, so that they have the opportunity to meet the members in that seat.

I believe that the Leadership Programme will provide the right kind of support to outstanding candidates from under-represented groups, making them fantastic assets to any local party and equipping them with the skills to lead their teams into the General Election in 2015. If you are interested in applying for the Leadership Programme, or you know someone who would like to participate, please look out for further information and application packs at the end of June.

I know that the talent exists within our Party – we just need to make sure that we are providing the opportunities and support for this talent to shine, and most importantly, to become our next generation of parliamentarians.

Baroness Sal Brinton is Chair of the Liberal Democrats’ Diversity Engagement Group

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