Baroness Lindsay Northover writes…As time goes by

At the Spring conference we will debate a topic which has spanned my whole political lifetime.  We will be debating a motion on increasing the diversity among our future MPs.

In that election night in May 2015 we not only lost wonderful male MPs, we also lost all of our wonderful women MPs.

One of the things we must do as we rebuild our Party is to ensure that we have a more diverse group of MPs.  Like the other major parties in Britain.

I joined the SDP, new to politics, back in 1981.  I was excited by the new party, the realignment of politics – but especially its emphasis on women being as prominent in the party as men.  How could it not do so, with one leader being my beloved Shirley Williams?  Its equivalent of the Federal Executive was gender balanced – each region elected one man and one woman.  We were the first political party in the UK to insist that women must be included on parliamentary shortlists. I was selected from such a shortlist to fight Welwyn Hatfield in 1983 and 1987.  (The more winnable seats close by – Stevenage and St Albans – were of course fought by men.)

And what we found, in 1983 and 1987, is that men were indeed securing the most winnable seats.  Having women on shortlists did not change things.  It did not change our parliamentary group. I did better than my male colleagues in terms of increasing my share of the vote – being a woman did not lose votes, but we weren’t in seats that won.

At merger (I was on the negotiation committee), gender balance was a hotly debated topic – should we include the SDP’s affirmative action?  Hard fought for, we did, though it was weaker than in the SDP.  By this stage I was Chair of the Parliamentary Candidates Committee.  We had able women a-plenty in the organisation.  But they weren’t getting selected for our best seats.  Mentoring, training – that must be the key, people said.  All very helpful.  But it did not make the difference.  (I had done my PhD in the States and there I saw the positive action that got black students into universities, and the difference it made to their lives, and the USA.  It worked.)

By the time of the 1992 election I was working full time, but now with two small children.  (I was struck when I was a Minister that the vast majority of my male counterparts had partners and children, whereas this was rarely true for my female colleagues. So much for equal opportunities.)  My main aim was to keep my head above water and not allow the Conference Committee, of which I was a member, to cancel the conference crèche because the party was in financial crisis as we were at 6% in the polls after the bloody battles of merger….

I produced another infant, this time a girl, appropriate under the circumstances as I was now Chair of Women Liberal Democrats (WLD).  Whereas my first infant had wailed through an FE meeting (my colleagues were fairly patient), this one aged 10 days wet Paddy Ashdown’s floor.  I escaped quickly, but hereby confess now. Now she and her brothers are adult.  Time has run on, but things have not changed.

One of Paddy’s assistants, Claire, Conway, now Claire Wright, thought our party needed to be dragged into the modern era.  She was determined that we should change things.  And so was born the Campaign for Women, chaired by Sally Hamwee.  Backed by the leader, and some money, people worked their socks off with much training and mentoring.

In the 1994 Euro elections, where I was vice chair of the campaign (put in there hurriedly when it was noticed that the whole election team was male), we realised that in our 10 potentially winnable seats, 8 had already selected men.

So I with other members of WLD and the Campaign for Women called every single member in the next key Euro constituency selecting, and said you are selecting not just for this constituency, but for our national team.  There are able women on the shortlist, please consider a woman.  “Oh” they said, “I didn’t know.  Of course we will consider that.” No push-back at all, open-minded.  And an able young woman was selected.

Needless to say we won only the top two seats – and two wonderful but completely male MEPs were duly elected.  Graham and Robin.  Our labour-intensive efforts had come to nought.

And after a few years, the Campaign for Women was quietly abandoned – it merged with WLD.

As we moved towards 1997, and Labour came up with the wonderful proposal of half their seats having women-only shortlists, and there was blood on their carpet, I envied the fact that they had managed to get that through.

I then saw the difference the new Labour women made to the Commons.  They started to transform the place.  What is more, they brought change not only through better gender balance, but also a far wider diversity among all candidates – BAME, LGBT, those with disabilities.  And then they dragged the Tories after them.  The Tories, now way ahead of us in diversity.

So when we had PR for Europe, and it was pointed out we could have zipping – one region headed by a woman, one by a man, and so on down the list, I was extremely keen that we did that.  There was great resistance, as well as key people who helped.  We had one lot of legal advice that said we couldn’t, but we went out and got legal advice from Cherie Booth, and she showed that we could.  And we did.  (Later the Equality Act of 2010 has made all of this not only easier, but opens us to legal challenge if we are not addressing equality in a more effective manner.  Bear that in mind.)

The result in those Euro elections of 1999 was for me a total joy.  We elected 10 MEPs, five women, and five men.

Finally we had broken through.

So in the early 2000s, we had that debate at conference about all women shortlists for Westminster.  And on one side was Shirley Williams saying we simply must do this, saying she had fought for equal participation throughout her life, and it had not been achieved, here or round the world.  And on the other side was Jo Swinson, in a pink t-shirt, saying she was not going to be a token woman.

When that motion went down, I along with many others felt distraught.  It certainly seemed a terrible lost opportunity.  And of course for our current 8 MPs, half were elected after this vote.

And what people said was we need to mentor, train etc, and then we will change things.  And Jo found herself heading the new organisation, Campaign for Gender Balance.  And she and others worked their socks off, training, mentoring, and seeking to get women selected.

But it did not change our party, and in due course the Campaign for Gender Balance merged with WLD to form Lib Dem Women, which was determined that we would finally break through….

And in the last Parliament, the Leadership Programme was set up, and people worked their socks off, training, mentoring, and getting women into seats where MPs were standing down.

But after that, of course, most of the parliamentary party was swept away, and we have just eight white male MPs.

So here am I, yet again.  I who joined a new party all those years ago partly because it stood for equal participation of both women and men, who stood for parliament hoping that I could make a difference, who then balanced full time work and three small children, and now see those three children grown up.   And when the tide was low in our party’s fortunes, because we had not made sure that at every level we had women candidates, we ended up with no women at all.

Which is why the decision in Scotland that they are changing the way they will do things in the future – passed by 75:25 – makes me proud once again to be a Lib Dem. And I hugely commend Jo for her bravery in changing her mind, explaining why she now supports All Women Shortlists.

Perhaps then I have should have some hope that finally, finally we will actually do something that helps to flatten that playing field and really ensure that it is merit that gets people elected.  After all it is clear that merit is simply not prevailing:  I am sure none in our party would maintain that half the population does not have that merit, or that BAME people don’t, or that LGBT people don’t, or that those with disabilities don’t.   And if we accept that merit alone is insufficient – and it surely can’t be if our Commons party is white men only – then we have to take action which makes the difference.

I will wait until the vote has gone through conference, and then I tear down to London, and I will fly to New York, to attend as a British Parliamentarian the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.  I hope that I will carry with me the wonderful warm glow that we have at last done something to improve the status of women and all those who have thus far been disadvantaged in the Lib Dems.

* Lindsay Northover was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for International Development, 2014-15, and is Liberal Democrats Spokesperson on International Development in the House of Lords.

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  • Simon McGrath 6th Mar '16 - 9:40am

    “And what we found, in 1983 and 1987, is that men were indeed securing the most winnable seats.”

    Happily though by 2015 things had changed and 60% of candidates in seats where an MP was retiring were women .

  • And if this anti liberal motion gets through and our party approves positive discrimination I will be off. Member since 1979. Party chair at the moment. Won’t bore people with the arguments. Besides I am delivering and door knocking this afternoon. Havnt got the time. Funny – might be the last leaflets I will deliver.

  • Mick Taylor 6th Mar '16 - 9:56am

    I hope we will finally agree action that does ensure we rectify this long standing wrong. I fear however that resistance to even this limited measure on AWS/ABAMES/ALGBTS will be voted down because it doesn’t tackle innate sexism or that it’s not ‘Liberal’
    Please bear in mind the words of the philosopher John Rawls who said the only time discrimination is acceptable is when it helps the disadvantaged. Surely there is no clearer case for helping the disadvantaged than in ensuring that after so many years we finally take effective measures to ensure women, BAME and LGBT candidates get an equal chance to become our party’s national standard bearers.

  • Mick Taylor 6th Mar '16 - 9:58am

    To David and others who threaten to leave, please consider that people like me who have spent a lifetime in the party campaigning for equality will be bitterly disappointed if this motion is not passed, but will – like a good Liberal – accept the decision and carry on.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Mar '16 - 10:10am

    I don’t think the debate is helped by threats to leave and I find it astonishing that people who have stuck with us through the last difficult years would up and off because we take measures that would be likely to achieve equality.

    I remember the dire warnings pre the 1998 Europe selections done under zipping, but, actually, what happened was that people did stick around and we elected a gender balanced team of parliamentarians.

  • The party will continue to hemorrhage hundreds of women (and men) to WE if the motion isn’t passed.
    We’ll still get leaflets out if we lose a couple of those who oppose equality.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 6th Mar '16 - 10:43am

    I hope that we don’t lose anyone and that people see the compelling case for effective action – especially after the Scottish Party passed its motion so overwhelmingly last weekend.

    All the warnings of the roof falling in if we do something reminds me of all the scaremongering stuff about same sex marriage. What actually happened when we passed the law is that great happiness was caused and same sex couples got married. If we take evidence based action on equality, we give the best chance of electing a diverse range of MPs.

  • Paul Holmes 6th Mar '16 - 11:18am

    But Lindsay, by 2015 we had already solved the ‘selection problem’ with for example 6 out of 11 retiring MP’s being replaced by female candidates. The only reason we did not elect our highest number of female MP’s ever was because the electorate comprehensively trashed our Party across the board in our worst election for a century and a half. So what is the problem that illiberal and divisive AWS measures are supposed to solve? Even back in 2001 when we last had this debate 23% of Approved Candidates were women and the same % of selected PPC’s were women -so there was no perceivable bias against selecting women then and a bias in favour of selecting women by 2015.

    Incidentally, I too joined the SDP (in 1983), I too balanced a full time job with raising three children, all now adults. I got selected and elected to Parliament in the seat where I had at that point lived, worked and raised a family for 22 years and campaigned for our Party for 18 years. I did not for one moment consider risking my job or uprooting my children from school and friends by rushing around the country looking for winnable seats I had no connection whatsoever with. Indeed in 1995 I was asked to put my name forward for a nearby winnable seat but declined saying I was committed to campaigning in my home area as the voluntary election organiser for another candidate. Instead we eventually won a seat which had previously returned unbroken, large, Labour majorities for 70 years and where, when I joined in 1983, we had zero Cllrs and had come third in every election since WW2.

    Given the dire state of our national electoral fortunes I strongly believe that those candidates who are most likely to win in 2020, whatever gender they are, are already known and working in their home constituency. Unlike Labour and the Conservatives we simply do not have Safe Seats, which have not changed hands for half a century or more and where selection is the same as automatic election. PR List systems such as for MEP’s are different and I would support Zipping 100% for those (assuming we remain in the EU!).

  • Paul Holmes 6th Mar '16 - 11:25am

    PS – I meant Lindsay Northover not Caron Lindsay. Although I have expressed exactly the same thoughts before to my very good friend Caron Lindsay who used to campaign with us here before she moved back to Scotland. We simply disagree entirely about what the evidence shows. And I am still waiting for Caron to tell me if she thinks the new Scottish AWS rules should have been in place to prevent Willie Rennie or Charles Kennedy for example being selected when they were?

  • Tony Greaves 6th Mar '16 - 12:00pm

    I hope that my good friend Lindsay and others who are obsessed with apparent equality to the exclusion of all the others things we believe in (democratic local choice etc) will also put in sufficient thought and energy into ensuring that we have any MPs at all after the next election.

    Tony Greaves

  • Oh Dear – I am not opposed to equality – how dare anybody infer that I am. I would have thought the PC brigade would have censored such comments. Precisely because I am for equality is exactly why I oppose the motion. And if it is passed – the party will have changed not me. I have stuck by the party because I agreed with it – up to now.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Mar '16 - 1:12pm


    Look at what others , especially Caron, are saying, see the motives , not the mechanisms, we are all of us rooting for greater equality of opportunity.

  • Simon Thorley 6th Mar '16 - 1:23pm

    @Caron My main concern (among others) is that the measures proposed will not achieve equality, but rather exacerbate inequality. The key determinants of any individual’s life success remain parental income and education level, not gender, sexual identity or (to a lesser extent) race. There is no commitment with the proposals to control for these variables, apparently because ‘social background’ is not a protected characteristic (which is true). This doesn’t mean we can’t control for these variables – it’s just an excuse not to.

    If we end up with 50% women elected, but with those women being of the same social background of the men they have ‘replaced’, we have achieved no greater diversity. The proposals consider only ‘visible’ markers of difference – which assumes commonalities of experience, expertise and opinion between all women (for example) that simply don’t exist. Using crude aggregations, rather than focusing on each individual’s life experiences, is both illiberal and counter-productive.

  • John Barrett 6th Mar '16 - 1:37pm

    The trouble is not that those apposing the current proposals are against change or improving the existing the system. What many opposing the current motion are saying is that the current proposals, including AWS, will simply not deliver what its supporters think it will.

    Lindsay may have been impressed by the positive impact of AWS when introduced by the Labour Party. I have very different memories from my time in the Commons. But don’t take my word for it. This is what the Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews has said of that time.

    “Analysis of the vote against the Iraq War reveals an unhappy lack of support among women Labour back-benchers. In a long and hard-fought debate, four Labour women spoke against the war (Diane Abbott, Glenda Jackson, Alice Mahon and Lynne Jones). From 139 Labour MPs who voted against the war, just 15 were women.

    However, it is equally necessary to say that the vast influx of young women that attended upon the 1997 General Election, and the steadily incremental increase in their numbers as of result of women-only shortlists (involving the concomitant rejection of men of character and ability), has not fulfilled Emily’s hopes.

    Interesting studies into dissidence among the Parliamentary Labour Party in 2005-6 reveal uncomfortable facts for the proponents of Emily’s List.

    During this important period, the Government embarked on a programme of legislation aimed at restricting personal and civil liberty, and parliamentary battles and dissent were commonplace. On at least one occasion, 106 Labour MPs voted against their Whip. Of these only 20 were women and just four had been elected in 2005.”

    I would be delighted to be given the opportunity to select an able female candidate as a PPCs and then to help them get elected to Parliament, but not by saying that we have to stop good males from applying for the same seats.

    I would also have serious concern if the candidates I have to choose from have only been prepared to come forward after they have found out there will be no men applying for the same seat. Living in a seat with a good prospect of the party regaining it and which will now use an AWS, this will not necessarily fill the membership and activists or even voters, with the confidence they need in order to support the party again

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 6th Mar '16 - 2:25pm

    It is so sad to see so much division and unhappiness in the party over this issue. Especially sad because most of those on both sides of this debate passionately want the same thing – greater equality and diversity. The only difference is in their views on how to achieve this.
    I do feel that we need to focus on tackling sexism within the party, and also looking at the many complex reasons why so few women are putting themselves forward as candidates. One reason may be because many women believe sexism within the party means they would be wasting their time putting themselves forward. But an equally strong reason is likely to be that being a parliamentary candidate is not family friendly, and being an MP is still less so. It’s true this is not just a problem for women – I’m sure many men with young children are put off becoming candidates for this reason too.
    Another factor is that, for a whole number of reasons, (and this is just a generalisation), women do just seem to be more likely to lack confidence and to underestimate their abilities, and for this reason are likely not to even consider putting themselves forward as candidates unless encouraged to do so.
    I do feel that we need to be looking at ways of tackling all these factors, rather than opting for the divisive solution of All Women Shortlists, which is not really a solution.

  • Mick Taylor 6th Mar '16 - 3:21pm

    We would not need to do anything about ensuring that women, BAME and LGBT candidates are selected in seats with a prospect of winning, except for the fact that the selectorate in those (and in fact almost all) seats do not choose people who are not pale and male unless another candidate is unbelievably better and often not even then. This is because there is an abiding myth amongst many in our party -contrary to evidence – that non pale male candidates get less votes.
    Now many of those who oppose AWS do so because they believe we have to change the sexist behavior in the party and that AWS won’t do that. The truth is that nothing we have done to change behavior and attitudes has worked. It has come to the point where in order to achieve the desired end of making our parliamentarians more representative of the country at large we have to try methods that we don’t especially like, but which academic evidence has shown to work. [And in case some of you have short memories, we have used discrimination in this way before, when we applied zipping in 1999 for the European elections – with great success. It is also worth pointing out that on that occasion it wasn’t just pale white men who lost out, but at least two women, who although topping the members’ ballot went in as number 2 on their list]
    Those opposing the very limited change to our rules seem to have great concern for the small number of men who might lose out, but very little for the many women who have faced and continue to face very real discrimination in our party. Countless women that I know who have applied for winnable seats and who have not been selected, despite in one case the winning candidate being allowed to break the rules and in another a complete outsider being parachuted in.
    No, what’s being proposed is what some of us had hoped wouldn’t be necessary, but now is, unless we want to continue as we are.

  • paul barker 6th Mar '16 - 3:53pm

    Currently my local Rail/Overground station is being rebuilt, causing me some minor disruption as the entrance keeps being moved from from one place to another. Part of the rebild involves the installation of Lifts which I dont, currently need. Are Transport For London disciminating against able-bodied people without young children ? No, they are discriminating in favour of the disabled, frail & those with young chilren who found the stairs a big problem. Any disruption to my life is incidental & I would feel pretty Illiberal if I complained.

  • Baroness Northover’s potted history has brought back a memory. I joined the SDP at around the same time, and one of the first events that I attended was a Parliamentary hustings where I then lived. One of the women was selected (she looked extremely good on paper and knew how to talk). Then I had a look at the transfers. It was clear that about half of the membership was voting for the women only, and the other half was switching between the men and the women. I imagined myself in Northern Ireland, where you vote either Protestant or Catholic, except that in this case only one side was voting on a tribal basis. This gender partisanship which we see today was alive and kicking all those years ago. Tribal politics in yet another guise.

    An observation. Almost all the women who voted in that selection were middle-class. Funnily enough, I have never witnessed working-class women behave in that way. Yet those women who suffer from discrimination in this country are overwhelmingly working-class. What about single parents living on benefits in mini Pruitt-Igoes? What about the very many women who work for next to nothing and with zero job security in the catering industry, or in care homes, or hotels? Women have moved into the higher ranks over the last forty years such that they are now competing with men on a fair basis. My workplace is stuffed full of female managers. It is working-class women who are losing out. What is Baroness Northover’s message for them?

    An even older memory comes back. Girls running round the playground bawling out: “Girls are the best!”

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 6th Mar '16 - 6:03pm

    Paul Barker, in all fairness the situation with your train station would only be a true analogy for all women shortlists if you were yourself banned from using the station.

  • elwyn watkins 6th Mar '16 - 6:30pm

    This debate reminds me of the SDP/Liberal negotiations over who should fight target seats in the 1980s. There was little debate over existing MPs and there was little debate over hopeless seats. But where there was an existing credible local challenger who the local Party supported, it caused much friction. You cannot win in a marginal seat by automatically excluding a popular candidate that the local Party supports.

  • Peter Davies 6th Mar '16 - 7:37pm

    In the process of getting more women elected to parliament, there appears to be only one part which is not broken: the selection of candidates. We don’t get enough women to become activists. We don’t get enough female activists to become approved candidates. we don’t get enough of those approved to apply for winnable seats. We do tend to select those who apply and then we fail to get them elected. We need to fix all the stages where we are failing (especially the last one) rather than pretending that it’s all down to the ordinary members failing to select women.

  • Paul Holmes 6th Mar '16 - 8:16pm

    @Mick Taylor. Mick you have been asked this a number of times over the last week or two and you just ignore it as have 2 or 3 other advocates of AWS on the same point. Where is the evidence for your claim of bias against selecting women?

    In 2001/2005 women were selected in more or less exact ratio to the numbers in which they applied. The same applied overall in 2015 but in our Target Seats they were selected in greater numbers and in the 11 seats where MP’s were standing down they were selected at a ratio twice as high as their numbers on the Approved Candidates List. There is simply no evidence for your repeated claim of discrimination against selecting women.

    So what is the purpose of AWS? What problem is it seeking to fix? At least the more draconian system adopted in Scotland is honest -there they basically want every winnable seat to have a compulsory female candidate. But that ignores entirely what makes a seat ‘winnable’ for the Lib Dems -especially in the electoral climate we are now in. Does parachuting an outside candidate in, over the heads of a well known local candidate who has the ‘wrong’ gender mean we will win the seat? On the basis of what -our amazingly good national image and opinion poll ratings?

  • Might be worth remembering the quote from that late great feminist, Eleanor Roosevelt (wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt) :

    “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

    My other thought is that a certain member of the House of Lords (and those who supported him last year) did nothing but damage to the Party’s appeal to able women candidates.

  • Thank you for your openness, Lindsay. I recall so many of the events you have chronicled and am saddened that so little has changed.
    Those who disagree with affirmative action write of there being no evidence to support the case for it. On the contrary, there is much evidence. Research across Europe and indeed the rest of the world shows that selectors vote for people like themselves. These ‘gatekeepers’ – in politics they are primarily male – are very important in the process, as they influence others too.
    The issue of women being selected for winnable seats in 2015 has been raised. In the context of our opinion polling from 2010 onwards, it was obvious that many of those seats were at risk and that as a result, women would not be elected.
    If our party is serious about electoral equality for women, it has to recognise that the status quo is not an option. We know that affirmative action works. The zipping process in European elections proved it was workable and that it made a difference.
    We need to address discrimination and lack of diversity within selection processes. Taking no action, keeping the status quo, is no longer acceptable.

  • Peter Davies 7th Mar '16 - 7:39am

    There are three levels of ‘gatekeeper’ in the Lib Dems:
    The members are the proper people to choose candidates and though a majority are men, there is every indication that they are as keen to get women elected as those who would disenfranchise them.
    The selection committees exist to reduce the choice given to the members. They should be abolished but they are already required to short-list at least one third women.
    The approvals system is an area where affirmative action is reasonable. We should ensure there are enough female approved candidates for every seat. This is not the cause of the problem though. Any women who fall at this stage are probably missing out on a paper candidacy.

  • I have been a member since 1972 and so will not be leaving if this goes through. I simply won’t take part, practically or financially, in any local party selection process that involves contrived single gender short lists.

  • This is the most Illiberal motion .Yes we need more women in Parliament , however I would be happy to see more Lib Dem MPs full stop . Positive discrimination is a 1960’s notion and should be consigned to that era . I agree with Tony Greaves let’s concentrate on getting more Lib Dems elected locally and nationally .I find the part of the conference motion that suggests all women short lists may be imposed on some target constituencies very worrying . There are many minority groups under represented ,we could end up with all whatever lists . It must be the best fit for each constituency surely regardless of gender,sexual orientation or ethnicity . I started working for the old Liberal Party in 1973 ,and was attracted because of its inclusive nature ,please don’t change that for the sake of political correctness.

  • David Evans 7th Mar '16 - 10:20am

    Flo, You mention evidence in Europe about affirmative action. How much of this was in a First Past the Post system where the party carrying it out was on the edge of a oblivion? If there is some please let us know about it. Otherwise I suggest that we need to stick to the real problem, which is simply that so many people stopped trusting us after we let them down badly in coalition.

    We need more Lib Dems who have worked hard for years to build a local presence to withstand and fight back against the tide, if they are women like Jo Swinson or Sarah Teather great. If they are men, equally great. However, we need them now and banning someone from standing in a constituency where they have worked for years just because that person is not a woman will only make our failure more certain.

    I’m a Lib Dem because I want more Lib Dems to win everywhere, not because I want to prevent some Lib Dems being given what could easily be our very last chance.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Mar '16 - 1:19pm

    I am against the idea of imposing AWS on constituencies. In fact I would oppose any attempt at imposing group-identity shortlists full stop. It is illiberal simply to be put forward ‘as something’ and to be selected because that person fits a category approved by the party at a given point in time.

    I believe in selecting people on their merit whether male or female.

    AWS seems like a quick fix so we can be seen to be doing something. This is not real equality but window-dressing.

  • Ben Jephcott 7th Mar '16 - 1:56pm

    I will be looking very hard at any amendments to this motion but as it stands I do not think it strikes the right balance and must be opposed. The supporters seem to represent a collective loss of patience with other approaches to incrementally increasing equality and diversity in the party. But the statistic that 60 per cent of candidates to succeed retiring MPs were women is crucial – in a more typical election result there would have been a significant movement in the right direction.

  • Sadie Smith 7th Mar '16 - 2:01pm

    I hope Lindsay gets her wish and that the Party changes.
    I fear it will still witter on about training and how good 2015 was.
    There are people women candidates can reach.
    It is past time that the Party hanged.

  • Sadie Smith 7th Mar '16 - 2:02pm

    Oops changed!

  • Paul Murray 7th Mar '16 - 2:19pm

    Based on the very useful statistics on candidates for 2015 provided by Paul Holmes I can only agree with the widely expressed view that the issue in 2015 was not the gender of the candidates, it was the fact that they were wearing a yellow rosette.

    I have thought back over the general election candidates for whom I have campaigned since my first GE in 1987 and it stands at 3 men and 3 women (I was living abroad in 1997). What I would observe is that not a single one of those 6 was what anyone could by the wildest stretch of the imagination describe as “working class”. If there is a diversity issue in this party, that’s where it really lies.

  • John Barrett 7th Mar '16 - 2:53pm

    Paul Murray – how true.

    The problem with that issue is that almost nobody can see that there is a problem at all.

  • I am so glad that Flo Clucas mentioned gatekeepers as I am getting bored with talking about hidden bias and how it works against women with absolutely no acknowledgement from those who are against AWS, seeing it as illiberal. Of course we should be taking action to help minority groups as well and people from different backgrounds. In my view the party was led astray not just by the men at the top but by the fact that several of those men were from an extremely privileged background and seemed too easily drawn into the Tory club and impressed by the grandeur of their new positions.
    Until you recognise the existence of hidden bias, selecting in your own image, marking down female students, men interrupting women in a discussion and other issues it is easy to see preventing a handful of men from standing in a couple of winnable seats as illiberal in a knee jerk reaction.
    Jo Swinson put her faith in the liberalism of the party but has now changed her mind. I remember feeling very sad that she disagreed with AWS as did quite a few other younger women who I believe did not understand the nature of discrimination. It is extremely difficult to judge a woman’s ability fairly when she does not look and sound like the other candidates, or a predecessor.
    To all those who disagree with AWS I would just say: we’ve tried everything else and it hasn’t worked, let’s test out this option and if it works we will all be relieved. If it doesn’t then we will try to find another way or all pack up and go home because it has become impossible for the Liberal party to achieve Liberal outcomes, which it must do to survive.

  • Helen Tedcastle 7th Mar '16 - 3:53pm

    Sue S
    In response to your comment: ‘ To all those who disagree with AWS I would just say: we’ve tried everything else and it hasn’t worked…’

    I think Paul Holmes puts the actual situation we are in in some perspective:

    ‘… by 2015 we had already solved the ‘selection problem’ with for example 6 out of 11 retiring MP’s being replaced by female candidates. The only reason we did not elect our highest number of female MPs ever was because the electorate comprehensively trashed our Party across the board in our worst election for a century and a half.’

  • Liz Leffman 7th Mar '16 - 7:48pm

    When we were in government, we did an amazing job (or at any rate Vince Cable did) of changing the face business, by making it clear that he expected that FTSE 100 Boards should include at least 25% women, with the threat of quotas in the background. During the last parliament, the number of women on those boards doubled and there was also a significant increase in the number of women on FTSE 250 boards too. Are we saying this was “illiberal”? And if not, and it was OK for us to require business to take equality seriously, why isn’t it OK for us s a party to do so? Why do we have to slog on for ever with a bit of training and mentoring here and there, hoping that next time it will work, when businesses are steaming ahead? Are there hordes of men out there who are resentful because women have taken their board positions? Funnily enough, no!

  • For David and Simon, who have asked where the evidence is:
    The European Institute for Gender Equality reports on systems within Europe demonstrates that for those parties that have a self imposed target for selection, not only do they elect more women, but more men too. Finland is a classic example. The Opcit report for the European Parliament which has just been published did likewise. The EIGE are all available in English. The UN has also published relevant data.
    As for zipping, of course it worked. We ended up with more female MEPs. The party chose to zip candidates. If it hadn’t, voted for that affirmative action mechanism, we would have had very many fewer female MEPs elected.
    Incidentalky, if you read the New Staesman from 2011 (The Staggers) the article predicts exactly what hapoened in the 2015 election to our then female MPs and prospective candidates in ‘winnable’ seats.

  • Apologies, for the odd spelling mistake. My ipad isn’t behaving well this morning.

  • David Evans 8th Mar '16 - 8:57am

    Flo, thanks for your response, but it doesn’t answer the question Simon and I asked. Our question was simple, is there any evidence produced from FPTP electoral systems with a struggling minor party adopting it. If not, the evidence you are relying on is is sadly irrelevant.

    I realise that there is lots of evidence relating to continental systems with some form of PR, but even there in many cases the metrics they have chosen to use look rather flakey to me. However that is no use to us at all in the situation we find ourselves on the edge of a precipice.

  • Hi David,
    You might want to read the Fawcett Society booklet on electoral systems and women’s electoral opportunities. It makes reference to changes in Spain’s political parties,, which have seen more women elected. It also looks at the issue of systems and women’s electoral chances and argues rightly that systems alone don’t make a difference. What does, is the approach to affirmative action within parties initially that gives many women a real chance of being selected in a winnable position.

  • Mick Taylor 8th Mar '16 - 8:57pm

    Simon Shaw. Sub optimal candidates are selected all the time – and currently nearly all of them are pale white men. Are you seriously suggesting that by selecting women candidates in a few more cases than now we will have more sub optimal candidates? Why not look at the academic research. It shows that this is just one more myth about AWS and in fact the candidates selected by AWS are at least as good as those selected in any other way and in many cases are actually better.
    You may not like the idea of AWS, but at least don’t peddle myths.

  • Paul Holmes 8th Mar '16 - 9:00pm

    Flo, When I was an MP I remember taking part in a TV debate where I argued in favour of multi member STV electoral divisions at all levels because:
    a) They were more democratic
    b) In New Zealand when they moved that way from the FPTP system we bequeathed them it led more or less immediately to an increase in the ratios of women and Indigenous Peoples (Maori and South Sea Islanders) being elected.

    I want more diversity in society and in elected representatives. I have two daughters -one of whom has been a LD Cllr like her mother and one of whom had more sense!

    The question is how we best achieve it under primarily FPTP elections. Or for that matter under PR elections when our Party is at such a low ebb in public esteem following the destruction wrought by 2010-2015.

  • Mick Taylor 8th Mar '16 - 9:01pm

    David Evans. Really your argument won’t wash. All the research shows that by selecting more representative candidates the party is likely to gain rather than lose seats. If you are suggesting that some men will lose out (and I am a pale white man) then it’s nothing compared to the huge injustice that women have faced as long as I have been a party member [joined at 14 in 1964]
    The idea that we might not select the best candidate is deeply insulting to any woman seeking selection and you really ought to row back from where your comments lead.

  • @Helen Tedcastle
    “I believe in selecting people on their merit whether male or female.”

    The trouble is though that there is plenty of evidence this does not happen at the moment, not just in your party but generally in society. That’s why those who favour AWS see it as something worth trying to “recalibrate” the system, in conjunction with other methods of course. Those who complain that AWS is “illiberal” cut no ice with me, because the only real alternative on offer seems to be to continue tolerating the tacit bias against women that most of us believe exists, and that would be even more illiberal.

    The only problem with the proposals is that they are far too modest, and as such are likely to achieve little. I saw someone the other day liken the strategy to that used by Trudeau in Canada, which isn’t very inspiring seeing as the Canadian Liberals have very low numbers of women compared to other parties, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. As an outsider, I find the attitude of the opponents to AWS in your party pretty lamentable. It seems to me that anti-AWS Lib Dems have had things 100% their own way for decades with no progress being made. Now they are only going to have things 95% their own way, the rancour on display seems completely out of proportion to what may actually happen.

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