Building a diverse party: the Leadership Candidates respond to Daisy Cooper’s questions

Tim Farron MPNormanLambOn 17 May, I set out my challenge to the Leadership candidates in an LDV blog, asking each of them whether and to what extent they would commit to some achievable measures to build a more diverse party. Here are their answers – presented without comment.

1)   Will you promise to take a zero tolerance approach to inappropriate behaviour, insisting that all elected representatives and everyone in your team has a “responsibility to act” on any and all anecdotal and substantive evidence that reaches them?


First of all, thank you Daisy for these questions, and thank you LibDemVoice for giving us a platform to discuss these important issues. I’ll take each of Daisy’s questions in turn.

The painful and shaming chapter we went through as a party forced us to face up to the fact that we failed to put our values into practice and upheld our duty of care to those within our party. I made fixing that a priority of my time as President, and worked hard with members, activists and staff to implement the recommendations made by Helena Morrissey and Diya Sen Gupta.

We now have an excellent Pastoral Care Officer in Jeanne Tarrant, providing one clear, effective port of call for complaints about bullying or harassment.

Just before Christmas, Helena Morrissey reviewed the steps we’ve taken so far, and made clear that, while important progress has been made, there is still much more to do and no room for complacency. We need to set out very clear processes for handling, investigating and resolving complaints, including time limits for each stage, and disciplinary actions where they are found necessary.

I will always keep listening to members, volunteers and staff and searching for ways to improve how we deal with these issues. As I’ve said before, I won’t be satisfied until the Liberal Democrats are the gold standard for how voluntary organisations treat their members and staff.


As a former employment lawyer, I am very strongly of the view that the party must always follow proper process and must take allegations of inappropriate behaviour extremely serious – and act decisively to address them. I have the understanding and experience to lead on how we should act in dealing with such issues.

I proposed that the Parliamentary Party should adopt a sexual harassment policy years ago. I take a very clear position on any abuse of power within the party and beyond. I would not tolerate it. I would insist on the highest standards of behaviour and for people to understand that there will be consequences if they fail to meet those standards.

We must ensure that the way we behave as a party is always consistent with our Liberal values.

2) Will you promise to appoint at least one recognised senior Disability Activist, as a spokesperson for the party (possibly as a Peer)? This person may well be required to speak out against Tory cuts that could impact disproportionately on disabled people.


Yes I would certainly want to look into doing this – and within the context of how we can use shadow/spokespeople to maximum effect to increase diversity. There cannot be any doubt that the Conservatives’ £12 billion of welfare cuts will have a huge and disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable in our society, including people with disabilities – not to mention the damage repealing the Human Rights Act would inflict as well.

Liberal Democrats have to fight Tory plans to balance the books on the backs of the poor and water down rights outside government just as we did within it, and we have to make use of all the talents and voices in our party to do so.


I confirm I would appoint at least one recognised senior disability activist as a spokesperson for the party. I would also want someone who has experienced mental ill health specifically to be appointed as a spokesperson.

Appointment to the House of Lords would be positive but may be difficult because of our situation post election.

I strongly agree that the spokespersons and all of us will need to speak out against welfare cuts impacting on disabled people and those suffering mental ill health. The Tories cannot impose £12 bn of welfare cuts in two years without hurting highly vulnerable people. The fact that they are planning to do this whilst not contemplating any tax rises for the very wealthy speaks volumes for how they intend to govern.

3)    Will you promise to support a motion to Conference to ring-fence money to support the election of at least one BAME candidate to Parliament in 2020, or similar ideas towards the same goal?


One of the many deeply depressing aspects of our election results was the huge number of incredible, talented candidates who would have been brilliant Liberal Democrat MPs, including BAME and female candidates in many of our top target seats. And yet it has made our route to diversity clearer and more urgent.

We need to make sure that by 2020 we have even more excellent women, BAME candidates and people from a whole range of backgrounds standing for the Liberal Democrats in seats we can win, and then, yes, we need to put the funding and the resources behind them to get them into Parliament. We need a 50/50 split of women and men candidates, and an appropriate proportion of BAME candidates. We need to achieve this – and quickly, in time for selecting MEP candidates. We need to work with the Scottish and Welsh parties to secure strong, diverse candidates for their elections.

The benefits wouldn’t just be getting great new MPs and a more diverse parliamentary party, but also creating brilliant role models for the next generation – so they can see leading Liberal Democrats who look and sound like them – and that’s vitally important too. We should seriously consider positive action to ensure that our candidates for top target seats are gender balanced and that we have a minimum number of BAME colleagues in place. The most important thing though is that the leader demonstrates an active and ongoing commitment to balance at all levels.  That includes appointments to the Lords and possibly most importantly in includes the informal ‘appointment’ of the people who advise the Leader.  Any meeting, no matter how informal, of more than say 4 people that is not balanced and representative will unconsciously leady to unbalanced, unrepresentative and – frankly – bad decisions.  This is a key area in which the Leader must show leadership.


I would be willing to support, in conference, earmarking resources to do everything we can to elect a BAME candidate at the next election.

But I also want a fundamental rethink about how we operate as a party and how we ensure genuine equality of opportunity for all people in our party. Our failure to achieve representation of women, BAME, those with disability is shocking and must be a top priority. I would want to secure help of the best people in the party to achieve an equalities policy and action of which we can all be proud.

4)    Will you insist that creating accountability for decision-making is a guiding principle of any review into the structure of the party?


Yes. Those who make decisions about campaigning and messaging need to be answerable to the membership.

We do need a full review of the party’s internal structures. Our current over-complexity was identified by Helena Morrissey as one of the obstacles to making the changes we need to tackle harassment and bullying and make our party the inclusive family we all want it to be. A simplified structure will allow consistent, clear standards and procedures at all levels, making decision-making more transparent and accountable.


Proper accountability for decision-making is completely critical. It has to be a central principle of how we review party structures.

5)    Will you promise to support efforts to create a leadership scheme that includes people with a wider range of lived experience, drawing on the scheme run by our South African sister party, the Democratic Alliance?


The Leadership Programme set up by Sal Brinton has made a lot of progress on this, helping to train and prepare around 40 of our finest candidates from under-represented groups – women, those from BAME and low socio-economic backgrounds, those with disabilities. It helped a number of them win selection in some of our key target seats, and I am sure we’ll see many more of them fight and win seats for the Liberal Democrats in 2020.

I do want to expand this scheme and recruit more candidates from all backgrounds and all walks of life. First, though, we have to inspire those people to join our party and become active members. That’s part a much bigger mission: to make our party more attractive and inclusive.


I would certainly commit to the sort of leadership scheme you propose. I would be interested to learn more about the scheme run by our South African sister party, the Democratic Alliance. Lived experience is so important.

I have worked a lot with those with lived experience of mental ill health over the last 2 1/2 years and found it of immense value. I jointly chaired a board on learning disability at the department of health with Gavin Harding, who, himself, has learning disability. We set up this arrangement. We must ensure opportunity in our party for people with a whole range of lived experience.

6)    Will you promise to support a scheme of financial incentives for local parties to select candidates from under-represented groups, and efforts to ear-mark financial support for candidates from low-income backgrounds?


Yes – it’s an interesting idea Daisy, but actually I think we need to be stronger than this. Twenty years of gentle nudging on diversity haven’t worked.

We should certainly say to local parties where we have a realistic chance of winning: ‘If you select one of our excellent candidates from under-represented groups, we will put the money and resources behind you to get them into Parliament.’ And I’m confident that we can raise money for the clear goal of making sure they win those seats.

But I want to look at how we can massively increase our diversity – I’m in favour of a return of zipping  – but the broader point is that we need to prioritise this and push it more actively if we are to succeed.


I strongly support the sort of approach you outline. Action to promote representation from a range of under-represented groups is of fundamental importance – including supporting those on low incomes. Without this sort of approach we do not follow our Liberal values.

7)    Will you promise to only appoint new Peers from the party’s Peers panel list as elected by the party membership?


I take the relatively straightforward view that the reason we as members elect a peers panel is to help determine who represents our party in the Lords. I do think it’s right, as well, that there is a little flexibility in the system to help get the balance right when it comes to appointing a group of new peers, particularly when tackling diversity.


On appointments to the House of Lords, I suspect this will be more a theoretical issue rather than a real one given the prospects of new places in the House of Lords. My principle, however, would be to use appointments to further diversity. This may not always mean appointments from the panel but I would absolutely respect and take very seriously the panel.

* Daisy Cooper is the Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans.

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  • Lester Holloway 10th Jun '15 - 3:26pm

    Very useful exercise so thanks you Daisy for doing this. On BAME representation it only just touches the surface of what can be achieved (although I accept there are only so many questions one can ask, especially covering all equalities subjects so this is no criticism). I have to say though that merely allocating money and keeping the Leadership scheme going will not make progress on BAME representation; this will fail in its objective and we will continue to have an all white Commons team after 2020. Much more ambition and creativity is required. Tim Farron’s comments about allocating a fair proportion of target seats for BAME candidates is an excellent proposal. However this needs to be underpinned by a serious programme of outreach and intelligent targeting, policy development on race equality, measures to drive race equality throughout the party, and working with expertise inside (EMLD) and outside the party on all these things. This will move us from equality lite to a serious and holistic response to rebuilding as an ethnically diverse party.

  • David Faggiani 10th Jun '15 - 3:26pm

    Thanks Daisy, for putting these questions to them. It would be nice to hear their differences on more ‘outwards-facing issues’ as well (drug reform, EU reform, Trident review, the pay gap) , as these are mostly Party management questions, though quite illuminating at times. Perhaps a part 2?

    I can’t help but feel, perhaps pessimistically, that the time to be more representative of the country at large, in terms of gender and colour, was from 1997-2010, when we had enough seats to make a difference. But I suppose there’s no use crying over missed progress.

  • David Allen 10th Jun '15 - 4:41pm

    After our last leadership election, the winning candidate moved quickly (starting with a headline policy of “Big Permanent Tax Cuts” at his first Conference) to declare a seismic shift in the Party’s position within the spectrum. Hardly a whisker of those ideas was mentioned during the leadership campaign.

    Reading all these worthy responses, I wonder how we can ensure that the same does not happen this time. All the words sound good, but not all of them add up to clear commitments. Indeed, many of the Q and As can be roughly paraphrased as:
    Q – Will you promise the earth?
    A – I’ll talk about something tangential instead, thank you!

  • Paul Butters 10th Jun '15 - 5:19pm

    Good answers from Tim!

  • Ruth Bright 10th Jun '15 - 8:07pm

    Leicester – these are not trivial issues. We should applaud Daisy for asking these questions. Her first question is about as fundamental as it gets – will our new leader do everything he can to foster a culture where women feel safe from sexual harassment at party conference and at local party meetings and events. Women’s safety is hardly a peripheral matter.

  • I thought Norman’s were the better answers to these questions (and there were a few of Tim’s responses that were a little worrying from a Liberal perspective). But I still plan to vote for Tim as this stuff is really a sideshow. No amount of fiddling with candidate selection will be of any use if we slip off the public radar & don’t get in a position to win more seats in 2020. And my judgement is that Tim is best placed to get the airtime and carve a plain-speaking, Liberal niche for us in the media. Right now that’s by far the most important factor.

  • Lamb appears as a professional politician, the public have had enough of them. Farron appears more human, speaking from the heart, and like us all, including Lamb, fallible. What the party needs is leadership and that does not come from a policy here and a policy there, it comes from a sense of direction and an ability to communicate at the basic, not an intellectual, level. This is a most important election, the party needs inspiration, personality, drive and the ability to get the message across in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and the other large conurbations. We also need someone to see us through three general elections, 15 years, and Lame will be 72 by then. We have to be realistic.

  • I have a nasty feeling that arguing about getting BAME people or even women into parliament in 2020 is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    We have just 8 MP’s – are we going to deselect any of them? If the 2013 boundary changes go ahead candidates like Greg Mulholland will have their seats cut in half – are we going to parachute in a new candidate? Our realistic target seats next time will be the seats we just lost – are we going to put a diversity candidate into Cambridge if Julian Huppert wants to stand again?

    I am afraid we just don’t have the luxury that Labour have of 100 plus safe seats where putting in a candidate with no local credentials does not affect the result… (Imagine parachuting an Oxford educated Londoner like Rachel Reeves, who won Leeds West in 2010, into a Lib Dem northern marginal. Reeves enjoyed one of the biggest swings against Labour in the 2010 election, in a seat accustomed to local campaigners John Battle and Michael Meadowcroft) The only way we will gain any seats in 2020 is to select candidates who have a local track record AND superhuman energy and charisma. If they are diversity candidates then so much the better, but selecting a diversity candidate over one who is better placed to win will be very foolish…

  • Lester Holloway 10th Jun '15 - 10:58pm

    Nice to be welcomed back! Put all the nastiness I received last year behind me.

  • “We have just 8 MPs”

    Keep in mind that, unless we win a by-election or two, we may not even have that many in 2020. One or two of them may not see much point in waiting out a five-year parliament with no power, little to do, and rosier personal prospects just around the corner.

  • Jonathan Brown 11th Jun '15 - 2:12am

    @Andrew “I have a nasty feeling that arguing about getting BAME people or even women into parliament in 2020 is rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.”

    I take your point, but I think that unless we take diversity seriously; unless we look like, speak like and come from the communities we aim to represent then we won’t be in a position to challenge for seats in 2020.

    In some ways it’s a chicken and egg situation. We certainly can’t wait until we’re successful to address this: unless we can genuinely be a diverse party then we won’t get a diverse cross section of society to vote for us. We need women, BAME people, the disabled, working class and people from other under-represented groups to vote for us so that we can build up and have the luxury of safe seats!

  • As a Tim supporter I would say the best answers above were given by:
    1, Norman
    2, Norman
    3, Norman
    4, Tim
    5, Norman
    6, Tim
    7, Neither

    I too am concerned about the total lack of mention of LGBT issues from either the questioner or either of the candidates in questions about diversity. I’m less concerned about the lack of mention of *insert other subject not related to diversity here* because there is nothing to stop people asking those questions themselves.

  • Simon Gilbert 11th Jun '15 - 9:36am

    Just to be clear is this a call for positive discrimination, such that local party candidates will only get financial support if they are BAME?

    Or is the financial support for leadership training and development for those from groups who might be underepresented and thus not succeeding in being selected as possible Lib Dem candidates?

    These are 2 different things.

  • “your team has a “responsibility to act” on any and all anecdotal and substantive evidence that reaches them?”

    What does “act on all anecdotal evidence that reaches them” mean in actual practice? FWIW Norman’s answer doesn’t cover this as he refers to

    This will be a charter for our opponents to make vaguely substantiation allegations against anyone they don’t like. It’s already happened when the Labour party locally complained they were being “bullied” after some of their tweets were reposted. A complaint which actually got dealt with with due process by the Pastoral Care Officer – who seemed to give that more weight than she did supporting me when I had issues with a senior party figure.

    We already have an unworkable “respect” clause in the constitution after knee-jerk “something must be done” responses – That requite me to treat Nick Griffin with respect. It is now being interpreted as requiing respect for party members only but that is not what it says!

  • Jonathan Pile 11th Jun '15 - 10:19am

    It’s good to have you back in the party Lester ! – We are a party of diversity and tolerance and it’s time others practice what they so often preach. We were, are and should be a “broad church ” of liberals, social democrats and moderates of all shades of liberalism, instead of a party dominated by one narrow viewpoint. Welcome back, like you there have been times over the last year that I nearly left too.

  • David Evershed 11th Jun '15 - 10:38am

    Surely we can only support selection of party spokespeople and parliamentary or other candidates on their merits.

    Support for underrepresented groups (ethnic, gender, disability etc) should be to ensure they have equal opportunity to compete, not to stop better candidates being selected.

  • David Evershed 11th Jun ’15 – 10:38am

    The point you make is entirely rational but whilst the majority of our candidates in the General Election lost their deposit in fourth, fifth or sixth place – who cares?

    Before the election a lot of fuss was made about women candidates standing in seats that had Liberal Democrat MPs standing down.
    Not a single one got elected. This is not a reflection on any of women candidates it is a reflection on the competence of the men (it was mostly pale and male “professionals”) who were supposed to be running a national campaign.

  • Jennie. I also noted no mention of LGBT minorities by either questioner or responders.
    Daisy, Tim and Norman – Why was this?

  • Lester Holloway 11th Jun '15 - 12:08pm

    Thank you LDV for taking action over the comment against me. My comment about “putting the nastiness behind me” is a bit out of place now! I appreciate that you can’t watch every comment and I would have perhaps been better to email you first.

  • “We now have an excellent Pastoral Care Officer in Jeanne Tarrant, ”

    People keep using the word “excellent”in front of Pastoral Care Officer. But how is that being assessed. I made an intial complaint a few months back which I didn’t follow through as it was too complex for me to deal with. HOwever I had no follow up contact to work out why, having made an intial complaint (about something which led me to resign from the party), I didn’t follow it up. So no survey about whether I felt I’d had adequate support, if there was anything that could have been done, what was done well/badly etc.

    If you don’t have that sort of process going on then how can you judge whether the post holder is doing a good, bad or indifferent job?

  • So both, while expressing it in different ways, want to maintain power of patronage to choose who they like for the House of Lords if they became leader. Of course it is couched in terms of them using the power in a “good way” – presumably because the ordinary party members cannot be trusted to do it themselves through the party list system. And, remembering the questioner is on the Diversity Engagement Group, the killer point is that diversity is the key reason mentioned why they absolutely, doubtlessly and totally need it, can be trusted to use it, and will only use it in the way it should while ordinary mortal members can’t.

    Bearing in mind the extra influence this gives a leader over and above the immense personal influence they have already, to a liberal this is very, very disappointing.

  • John Napper 12th Jun '15 - 1:53am

    As others have mentioned, this is all very well, but the questions all relate to internal matters and not future party policy direction.

    David Allen has hit the nail on the head with his comments about Nick Clegg’s election campaign and what he did afterwards that wasn’t mentioned at the time.

    At the time, my opinion was that he was Cameron Light in the hustings and that did seem to be the way of things at the time, with Tony Blair being king of soundbites, sounding good but not actually having anything different, or indeed much at all in the way of policies and David Cameron being even more vague, telling every meeting what they thought they wanted to hear without actually promising anything. Unfortunately we really didn’t need more of the same from our party.

    What we really didn’t need, in my opinion, was the Tory tax policies and general shift to the right that followed Clegg’s election. Whatever you may think of the policies of the time, the Lib Dems BC (Before Clegg) offered something different and, under him we had much the same as the other 2 parties.

    What I need to hear is not vague speeches about intentions and internal diversity or whatever, but actual policy ideas. I want the 2 candidates to tell me what is likely to happen under their leadership., which direction the party will be headed in and what will make us different to the other parties – and I want to know NOW, not after the election as last time. Even if I don’t like what is on offer, I want to be offered it!

  • Meral Hussein Ece 12th Jun '15 - 8:06am

    Thank you Daisy for initiating this much needed debate about diversity across the party. We need urgent positive action to address the inequalities & obstacles historically faced by many, if we are to literally change the face of the Liberal Democrats. We are a party that supports the principle of greater diversity, equality, non conformity etc, but have failed to take the necessary steps to make this a reality. A correction : no one individual ‘set up the Leadership Programme’ – The Leaderhsip Programme came as a result of an EMLD motion to conference back in 2009/10 calling for at least one BAME candidate to be included in the shortlist for held or target seats. This was not supported by conference but taken back to FE and emerged as a a new programme to include all under represented groups: women, disabled, LGBT etc. It was also established as a result of hard work and campaigning within the party from among others, EMLD individuals like Issan Ghazni, who as the party’s first ever National Diversity Adviser, established the Diversity Unit, the programme of work, and the Diversity Engagement Group (DEG) . The Leadership Programme and the DEG , now need urgent reform, and a new model of action. They are no longer able to deliver in their present form. Its 2015 & we are the least diverse mainstream party , and have a mountain to climb. Perhaps we can begin by accepting that we need change at every level of the party, which in turn would influence and drive change at parliamentary level.

  • Ruth Bright 12th Jun '15 - 1:45pm

    It would help if you were Deputy Leader Meral.

  • Simon Thorley 13th Jun '15 - 10:23am

    @Jonathan Brown: we seek to represent individuals, in geographic constituencies and wards. Individuals with a huge range of backgrounds, beliefs, and priorities – but individuals all. We don’t seek to represent ‘communities’. For me, it is at the core of Liberalism to reject the trend towards identity in modern politics: we stand for individuals, who have individual rights, not amorphous ‘communities’.

    No constituency in the UK is composed purely of people of one ethnic group, religion or sexuality – it is impossible for one representative to ’embody’ the composition of their constituency. We can see that Labour has become a hollow shell of a party, following the replacement of its core ideology with an identity-driven model of sectional interests. I have always thought that the great strength of the Lib Dems is that we are not beholden to any one sectional interest, nor are we a vehicle for sectional interests to achieve political power: this must never be compromised.

  • Simon Thorley 13th Jun '15 - 10:36am

    @Meral: We are incredibly diverse; we have over 60,000 individual members, all with their own ideas, backgrounds, beliefs and dreams.

  • “6. Is British Liberalism really dead (As Clegg proclaimed during resignation speech)? and so forth.”

    Did Clegg really say that?

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