Conference preview: Improving the diversity of our MPs

Motion F9 Improving the diversity of our MPs is up for debate late on Saturday afternoon at the Liberal Democrat Sheffield conference. It attempts to be a successful, and not toothless, compromise between the strongly held conflicting views in the party on what should be done in response to not only the continuing dominance of the (Commons) Parliamentary Party by white men but also the significant slippage of the party’s diversity record compared to that of both Labour and Conservatives over the last few general elections.

As it is a motion explicitly about MPs, I can appreciate why it does not address local government. However, the flatlining of the proportion of Lib Dem councillors who are female for two decades now is a much neglected subject, and the male (and white) dominated pool of councillors is an important contributory factor to the similar pattern amongst MPs in my view.

What the motion does cover is better mentoring, setting of targets and then the heart of the proposals:

The creation of a Leadership Programme for outstanding candidates from under-represented groups, which will:

a) Have a maximum number of approved candidates, with a minimum of 30 by the end of 2011, and within that, 50% of the places will be reserved for women, and 20% for those from BAME backgrounds, and 10% for those with disabilities.
b) Provide advanced training and support, particularly in media, leadership and team building skills, and fundraising.
c) Provide mentoring and coaching from the moment they are approved as a candidate until after the election day.
d) Offer them opportunities to shadow a Parliamentarian.
e) Raise funds to provide practical support to PPCs from under-represented groups.

As an added impetus, the motion says that if there are enough applicants, then at least two people from the Leadership Programme must be included on the shortlist for a priority seat. Also, development seats should advertise in clusters, making it easier for them to hit targets for diversity in shortlists across the whole cluster.

Liberal Democrat Spring Conference Agenda and Directory 2011

Further information about the Liberal Democrat federal conference is available in the Party Conference section on the main party website and the official Lib Dem conference Twitter account is @LibDemConf.

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  • Dave Warren 10th Mar '11 - 9:25am

    There is another undereprensented group and that is manual workers.

    The vast majority of MPs are from a professional background with very
    large numbers having benefitted from further education.

    The current parliament and a lot of local councils already reflect a minority
    group which is white professional or business people who have a fairly
    good standard of living.

  • Ruth Bright 10th Mar '11 - 9:46am

    I admire Sal Brinton enormously and perhaps all this stuff is worth a try, but I do wonder if fast-streams and candidate
    academies and “A-lists” are really the answer. When I was a candidate in 2003 (a party member for 18 years at that point) I don’t think it was more training I needed, just a moratorium on councillors nagging me for their FOCUS when I had a sick newborn baby to care for!

    As long as PPCs are expected by local parties to do and drive everything it will be impossible for PPCs to combine candidacy with anything approaching a normal family life.

  • Dave – you are right about underrepresentation of people not from professional backgrounds. There is a proposed amendment from DELGA which as well as referring to people from the LGBT community includes reference to people from lower income groups which will hopefully do something to address this. At the moment, though, there is no monitoring of income or sexuality within the party so in terms of obtaining data in an appropriate way to base stats on representation, there is a lot more work to be done.

    Shas – my understanding is that the percentages are minimums which explains the remaining 20%. These are not quotas, they are reserved places. As to how a person is defined within the groups you mention, I think that is the reason for the flexibility built in in these percentages.

  • Rabi Martins 10th Mar '11 - 11:05am

    I also question whey only outstanding” candidates from minority groups are considered suitable whilst no such qualification is required if you are white and male.
    Some might consider this rather discriminatory

    Shas – You might also have asked how the two from the leadeship group that will be shorlisted are to be chosen? If two BAME and two white women apply what is to stop just the two white women being selected every time? How will this advance the election of BAME or Disabled MPs?

  • Well the A-list approach didn’t do Cameron very much good, as I recall?

    All this putting people into categories and establishing quotas is a very unpleasant way to do politics.

    I recall on my Council some years ago some councillors from an asian background were fond of making the point that ethnic minority councillors were under-represented on the Council. Then it was pointed out to them that, with one exception, they were all men and that asian men were in fact over-represented compared to the proportion of the population who were asian and male; what we actually needed was more asian women. They seemed a lot less interested in making the point thereafter.

  • If politics continues to be an activity that can only be undertaken by people with time on their hands, it is no surprise that it will be wighted towards the unattached (in terms of faimly commitments) and/or the well-off.

    For other reasons, the most common group of people who are unnatached and well-off tend to be older professional or retired people, usually men.

    So – unless and until politics as an activity is changed to one that doesn’t eat up vast amounts of time, or society at large manages to conjure up large numbers of wealthy people with time on their hands who aren’t white, middle-aged and male, expect things to continue as they are.

  • Rabi – I don’t really understand your point.

    You say,

    “I also question whey only outstanding candidates from minority groups are considered suitable whilst no such qualification is required if you are white and male. Some might consider this rather discriminatory.”

    But, unless I have massively misunderstood the way this is going to work, the Leadership Programme is only for people from under-represented groups.

    Only allowing people from under-represented groups to be part of the Leadership Programme is discrimination against white men, but I think most (though I know not all) of us accept that this is necessary in order to redress the current imbalances.

    We can argue over whether we should support all PPCs from under-represented groups or just the best, I would guess that concentrating our support on the best rather than spreading it evenly is more likely to produce solid results.

    We will, of course, only have true equality when the worst female MP, the worst BAME MP and the worst MP with a disability are as bad as the worst able-bodied, white, male MP. But I’m not sure there’s a silver bullet which will take us there without something like this first.

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