Building more diverse council groups

I’ve seen a lot of posts on Facebook and heard questions at Lib Dem socials about how to recruit more women and diverse candidates for council elections. There seems to be a real willingness to do it but not always a clear idea of how. Here are my three top tips – I’d be interested in what others have done.

  1. SET TARGETS. Look at the demographics of your area and propose that your local party Exec or campaign team buy into the idea of taking some action and agreeing targets. You could decide that 50% of target council seats will be held by women; and/or 50% of all council seats. You can adopt targets for BAME /LGBT+ and people with disabilities too. Telling potential council candidates that you are taking positive steps to better reflect the local community you want to serve is a very strong recruitment message.
  2. TARGETED RECRUITMENT. Filter your ‘strong Lib Dem’ data on Connect by gender, and approach the women on the list first – of course you need to have a conversation to check that they really do ‘live our values.’ Look at the local residents’ associations, Parish Councillors, and residents who are vocal on local Facebook forums etc, and those who are involved in civic campaigns that overlap with our values (for example local Amnesty groups, Transition Towns etc), identify the people you know to be from under-represented groups and cross-check them with your canvass data, or go and canvass them.
  3. DON’T PUSH FOR AN IMMEDIATE ANSWER. For all sorts of reasons, men are more likely to say ‘yes’ to standing or even put themselves forward without being asked. Statistically, women are more likely to be care-givers (for children and/or ageing parents), and women and people from BAME backgrounds are more likely to be in lower-paid jobs (which can require night-shifts / unusual hours) so unless they immediately rule it out (and by this I mean they say “no way, not a chance, never”), their thinking might jump ahead to ‘how can I fit it all in?’ They are also more likely to want to discuss the idea with friends and family to gauge their reaction too. In short, you may have to ask, then give them a few days to think about it, offer to give them the chance to speak to someone with similar circumstances and agree to give them a follow up call a few days later. Even inviting them out for a ‘taster session’ of door knocking. You’ll need to be prepared to change campaign sessions around their lives. If there’s no-one in your area with similar circumstances, you can post on here and I expect someone will volunteer to speak to them.

It does require more effort but consider it an investment of time that will help you find under-used talent. I’ve been part of a team that has done this and just this year we found two brilliant new by-election candidates who gave it everything.

If you want to learn more or swap tips you could attend ALDC’s training session at the Lib Dem Autumn Conference advertised as follows:

“Building more diverse council groups”

Tuesday 20 Sept 2016, 09:00 – 10.30

A consultation session looking at how we can make our council groups more like the communities they represent. This follow-up to the Spring Conference diversity motion will help build ALDC’s response.

With Cllr Tim Pickstone (ALDC) and Cllr Ruth Dombey TBC (Sutton)

Please share your experiences and top tips in the comments below and have fun building your diverse council group!

* Daisy Cooper came second in the contest to become Party President in 2014. She is on the party’s Diversity Engagement Group. She is the Parliamentary candidate for St Albans.

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  • Joshua Dixon 3rd Aug '16 - 1:10pm

    Excellent post. Some simple bits of advice here that all local parties can take on board.

  • Phil Beesley 3rd Aug '16 - 1:56pm

    Reality is that most local parties do not have many winnable seats. How should local parties behave when nominating paper candidates in unwinnable seats?

    My belief is that paper candidates need to be individuals with thick skins who know what they are doing. Is it wise to put forward potential future winners in unwinnable wards?

  • Martin Land 3rd Aug '16 - 7:41pm

    Daisy, even after the recent rise in membership most local parties will struggle to find candidates even in winnable seats and discriminating against those who are willing is a dangerous tactic.
    I remain unsure of the supposed advantage of councillors being representative of the communities they represent. Most communities expect councillors to represent their interests as objectively and altruistically as possible.

  • Daisy, we must be lucky, unusual, or something – our Town and County Councillors have a bare majority for females over males, our District Councillors are 50-50, and our last three candidates for byelections are all female. It cannot be said, either, that we tried hard, or discriminated in favour of women or against men, that is just the way it has turned out. Among candidates and “near candidates” we have also had people with close personal or family links to non-indigenous people. I do agree with Martin, that we do still struggle for candidates. It is also key to get people who are prepared and reasonably OK at performing the role.

  • What Joshua said!

  • Lester Holloway 4th Aug '16 - 9:16am

    “Look at the local residents’ associations, Parish Councillors, and residents who are vocal on local Facebook forums etc”

    I’m afraid these are spaces that are not the most fruitful for addressing a BAME deficit. Better to check out local projects and voluntary groups, including faith-based ones, including those connecting and helping the communities you want to reach.

    Also, I’d advise against a set hierarchy of equalities with gender automatically at the top; priorities should be according to local need not a ticklist order.

  • Simon Banks 4th Aug '16 - 12:54pm

    I agree about targets. Of course, you need to remember that a target is something you’re aiming at and you may fall sort for perfectly good reasons (we fell just short in two winnable wards with female candidates, not for lack of resources being sent that way, but two male candidates squeaked in).

    However, it’s disappointing to see a post about building more diverse council groups talking entirely about gender.

  • “Filter your ‘strong Lib Dem’ data on Connect”

    May not be that effective a way. They will only be a Strong LD if canvassed three times as such. The sort of people your talking about are likely to be the hardest to find in on three separate occasions…. 🙂

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