Diversity and representation – instead of whinging, why don’t we do something about it?

I have a reputation for being a bureaucrat. Gradualism is my watchword, and has been for most of the twenty-five years that I’ve been a Liberal and then Liberal Democrat. However, suddenly, I have become an old man in a hurry. Alright, old relative to most of you at least, but still in a hurry. So, imagine I’ve sprouted an Old Testament beard, donned a white flowing robe and found a nice stout staff and harken to my words. I have a few jobs for you to do…

First, do you want to be a candidate at the next General Election? Yes? Maybe? Are you on the Approved List of potential Parliamentary candidates? No (if yes, skip the rest of this paragraph)? Why not? If you’re not ready, get ready. Contact the Party’s Candidates Office (here’s the link) and they’ll send you everything you need to know. If you think that you are ready, apply for approval NOW. Don’t wait, don’t dither, just do it. The earlier you’re approved, the better the range of available seats – the good ones go early.

Alright, you’re approved. Which seat(s) are you interested in? Get involved, help them with their campaigning, attend a social event or two, let the members get to know you, because it will stand you in good stead when the selection process starts. Members vote for candidates they connect with, and if they know you a little, that process of connection is rather easier.

Oh yes, diversity. I knew that I’d forgotten something. Know any women or BME members or supporters who could be good candidates? Anyone who didn’t go to public school, someone who hasn’t spent their entire life ‘doing politics’ (diversity is about more than just ethnicity or gender)? Remember, don’t look in the obvious places. Point them in the direction of this article. Encourage them to apply, help them to find ways of developing core skills, introduce them to people who might have useful information or contacts (my rates are very reasonable!), support them when things don’t go exactly to plan. Just do it now.

Because in two or three years, it’ll be too late, and you’ll be moaning about the lack of diversity on the Liberal Democrat benches in the next Parliament too…

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22 Comments

  • Thanks for this Mark. Lots of people have been saying it. I’ve been thinking it, even before the GE, and have now determined to do something about it!

    Last year I was appointed the diversity officer (forget the precise title) for women in London for us. So I’m trying to get together as many ideas, thoughts, projects as possible – to get more women interested in and involved with the Liberal Democrats, and to find out why we are not so good at it as some of the other parties have been.

    I’m interested in contributions from anyone. Anyone know any good practice from other countries, for example?

    In the meantime, I’m organising a series of networking events for women in London – hopefully starting at the end of June. Feel free to publicise to any interested women. They don’t have to be members of the party, they may just be interested in finding out more about us, about getting involved or, maybe, standing for election (within the party or as a councillor, GLA, MEP, MP) themselves. Let as many people know as possible!

  • Andrew Suffield 19th May '10 - 4:28pm

    to get more women interested in and involved with the Liberal Democrats, and to find out why we are not so good at it as some of the other parties have been

    That last bit’s easy. The other parties are willing and able to parachute women into safe seats in order to generate synthetic “diversity” and make their numbers look better. If you want things to be real then it’s much harder.

    You may be looking in the wrong places for problems. Consider: getting involved in any meaningful way is actually quite hard (as has been noted in many places). This means only certain types of people will bother to go to that much trouble, and there seem to be certain demographic biases there. Perhaps it would be more productive to attack the general difficulty of doing useful things, rather than focussing on a single target demographic.

    If somebody came to you and said “I have a few hours spare, what can I do?”, would you have anything better to suggest than throwing a stack of leaflets at them?

  • Dinti Batstone 19th May '10 - 5:15pm

    I strongly agree with all of the above. But would add that we also need to consider structural barriers to participation in politics. And with Nick Clegg in charge of political reform there is a great opportunity to start breaking down these barriers in a way that doesn’t discriminate against men. Here are a few ideas of what can be done at macro (https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-make-politics-fit-womens-lives-not-viceversa-18285.html) and micro (https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-mind-the-gender-gap-1399.html) level.

    PS Jo do get in touch re London Women’s network. I’d love to help.

  • Ok, where do i sign up? i’d love to stand…

  • Helen Duffett 19th May '10 - 7:11pm

    Philip, the approval process was radically overhauled nearly two years ago. Details here.

    I was approved under the new process myself, and now mentor others through it. It’s thorough, but needn’t be daunting.

    Getting selected for a Parliamentary seat is a more complex matter. Unlike approval, selection involves local parties, competition and an investment of time and resources – which Mark touches on in his third paragraph.

  • Sarah Ashley 19th May '10 - 8:19pm

    I totally agree that many more people should stand as candidates rather than complaining about what the current MPs are doing wrong, if only everything was so simple though.

    I would love to get more involved in politics, help shape the future in a positive way, but I know I will never be candidate material. Would be very interesting to know what else I could do though, what other options the Lib Dems offer for those who want to strongly support the party without taking the huge step as standing as a candidate.

  • Nishma, Harrow 19th May '10 - 11:54pm

    Jo – please get in touch about the london womens network. Thanks,Nishma, Harrow Lib Dems

  • Benjamin

    Point taken but I think it is a bit weak to say that “results conspired against us”. Over the last couple of elections, Lib Dems became renowned for their ability at targeting to deliver better seat results than the national swings would suggest. For some reason (and I would be interested to see theories on this), it went into reverse this year so that we actually underperformed the national swing.

    However, the point I was going to make is that we should not just use targeting for winnable seats but support increased targeting for BME and women candidates in seriously contested seats. In other words, let’s get candidates selected early and then pour resources into seats where we might be able to get BME and women candidates elected. I am personally of the view that the BME issue is worse – it is becoming increasing untenable that we don’t have a single BME MP and is bound to damage the party in the long run.

  • Nonconformistradical 20th May '10 - 8:39am

    “Philip, the approval process was radically overhauled nearly two years ago. Details here.

    I was approved under the new process myself, and now mentor others through it. It’s thorough, but needn’t be daunting.”

    Is there a procedure for removing from the approved candidates list ‘dead wood’ approved under the old system?

  • Taking inspiration from Mark to be positive – it would be good for those who want to learn lessons about diversity to have a look at our council group in Southwark. Congratulations to new Group Leader Anood Al-Samerai. Southwark has even had a Lib Dem Cabinet member who took maternity leave – and guess what the world didn’t cave in as a result!

  • Repost from an older comment, as this thread seems to suit better:

  • Sorry, a new try:

    I think that the reasons whether a constituency is won or not by a Lib Dem is up to the individual character of each seat and how well the profile of the Lib Dem candidate fits in it. Therefore, if Lib Dems want BME candidates to get elected, there should perhaps be some more research done in order to profile each seat and identify those where the BME candidates would have the best chance to get elected. These are not necessarily the same seats where the incumbent Lib Dem MPs currently hold the largest shares of vote. Unfortunately in some seats being a BME candidate might be an obstacle, in others it might even be a benefit. I’d imagine some good guesses where a BME candidate could succeed are seats in places such as parts of Inner London, Birmingham and Leicester.

  • I am a British Muslim woman and I have been thinking about becoming a Liberal Parliamentary candidate. I live in the North of England and can anyone recommend any contacts for me to get some information please?

  • Allie, here’s some for the start:

    http://libdems4parliament.org.uk/

    http://www.genderbalance.org.uk/

    (There were more, but LDV considered my post spam, so I had to lop off some)

  • Thanks Ben I will check out those links.

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