Do you have questions about the Electing Diverse MPs motion?

100% of LD MPs are white menThere’s been a lot of discussion online about the Electing Diverse MPs motion that’s coming to Federal Conference in just four weeks’ time.

A lot of the discussion has centred on All Women Shortlists – but the motion is about so much more than that.

Its supporters have set up a Facebook page to answer any questions people have about the proposal in the motion and to make the case for its acceptance. Already over 200 people are taking part.

Here’s a flavour of the issues being discussed:

WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS THIS MOTION IS TRYING TO SOLVE?

– SUPPLY: we don’t have enough approved candidates full-stop, let alone from underrepresented groups. So we want to set up a Task Force to co-ordinate efforts to pro-actively recruit more.

– BARRIERS: we know from anecdotal evidence that there are supply-side and demand-side barriers to individuals from under-represented groups getting approved, selected and elected, so the task force will help identify and tackle them

– SKILLS FOR SELECTION: we wil continue programmes of support, networking, training and mentoring including through the Leadership Programme

– CONSCIOUS SHORT-LISTING: by requiring all seats where we polled 15% or more in the 2015 General Election, to prove that they have taken serious steps to attract and search for potential candidates from underrepresented groups.

– INCENTIVISE ACTION: require all regions to ensure the slate of candidates meets the Leader’s ambition of having at least 50% women candidates and at least 10% BAME candidates across Great Britain.

– BREAK THE GLASS CEILING: a package of measures to break the glass ceiling within the party and accelerate progress. These are:

• Ensure that any local party will be able to vote for an all-women shortlist or an all-disabled shortlist, or reserve some spaces for candidates from other under-represented groups
• If any sitting MP elected in 2015 decides not to contest the next General Election, his replacement should be selected from an all women shortlist.
• Each region will be required to make sure that of all the seats which polled more than 25% at the 2015 election, at least one candidate will be selected from an all-woman shortlist.
• Each region must ensure that the seats which finished in the top 10% of Liberal Democrat vote share, should field at least two candidates from under-represented groups.

This motion isn’t just about one thing – it proposes a package of measures to address challenges at every stage of the recruitment, approval, selection and election of parliamentary candidates to transform our cohort by 2020.

Do come and join in the discussion here.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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84 Comments

  • Jacob Collins 14th Feb '16 - 7:46pm

    If I want to stand as a candidate in say my home constituency where I have lived for my whole life could I be prevented from doing so because I am a white male?

    If I want to stand in a constituency where white people are an ethnic minority, will I count as a BAME candidate?

    How would trans individuals or hermaphrodite individuals be treated by constituencies with all women shortlists?

    Where do you draw the line between ethnic minorities and non-ethnic minorities? Do you have to pass some kind of apartheid pencil test?

    What I’m trying to get at with all of these questions is shouldn’t we all be judged by our individual merits rather than our membership of several arbritrary and irrelevent groups that society decides to pidgeon hole us into?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 14th Feb '16 - 9:57pm

    Oh, Simon. Where to begin on the party’s failings on this. The huge one was not to make sure that we had all women shortlists before the 1997 election. You never know, if we had, we would most likely not have an all male party now. It was clear we were going to make gains, yet when we doubled our seats, winning places for the first time, we contrived to elect 3 women out of 46. The most we ever had was 7. And as for BAME or disabled or other under-represented groups – that was almost as bad.

    I know of many examples over 30 years of women leaving the party and going to do something else instead because of blatant sexism – some being told openly not to apply for seats because “we wouldn’t have a woman here.”

    I think our lack of diversity is a massive problem – in politics generally, the gross under-representation of women actually calls into question the democratic legitimacy of our Parliament. It is that serious. When this party is being left behind in diversity terms by the Tories, we really have to give ourselves a good shake up and take action to ensure that we put up a diverse slate of candidates across the piece, but, crucially, in most of the seats we have a chance of winning. The Women’s Equality Party wants all parties to have 2/3 women candidates to get us there. That is not the worst idea I have ever heard.

    This party has put barriers, cultural and process wise in the way of diversity – whether it’s indirect or direct discrimination or refusing to take action to level the playing field between men and underrepresented groups – and we can’t afford to make these mistakes again. Our lack of diversity from the grassroots upwards is embarrassing and must change.

  • nigel hunter 14th Feb '16 - 10:55pm

    We need the best person for the job, male or female with specific skills that can be used for campaigning and when elected can know what they are talking about. For example a social worker for social affairs, a trade unionist for employment a business man or woman for business etc. We must show we are fit to govern with whoever is chosen.

  • If this motion is passed what happens to the local parties/regions that refuse to have an AWS – and there could be many. Will they be kicked out of the party for wanting to select candidates on ability rather than their sex?

  • Simon Shaw
    Why would anyone think it likely that having a diverse slate of candidates would lead to fewer Lib Dem MP’s than if all the candidates were white men?

  • Stephen Hesketh 15th Feb '16 - 7:57am

    100% of Lib Dem MP’s are white men because … !

  • Sex and colour are only skin deep.
    If the lib dems wanted to ensure the parliamentary party was like the general population they would discriminate based on class. They don’t, because they don’t want the parliamentary party to be like the general population, they just want it to look like the general population.

    A white straight male who grew up on a council estate will find it much harder to get into parliament than a privately educated female, black or gay person from a privileged back ground.

    @AndrewR

    I think what Simon might be saying is if you try to fix this using sexual or racial discrimination then what you might do is not pick the best candidate available and lose the seat as a result. “Positive” discrimination could mean that the candidate favoured by their local party and community is rejected on account of their sex and race. The irony.

  • Mick Taylor 15th Feb '16 - 8:03am

    Simon Shaw. Wake up and smell the coffee. The party has during my whole 50 years’ totally failed to ever elect even a modest number of women or BAME MPs. There has been and still is a widespread view amongst the members who select our parliamentary candidates that women are not as electable as men. This isn’t amongst our activists. It’s our armchair members, most of whom have never received any training at all, because although the selectors and the returning officers are required to undertake training before performing their roles, the selectorate are not. There are many who set far higher standards for women candidates than they do for men with the result that many mediocre men are selected instead of excellent women.
    I have witnessed this in a wide number of local parties in different parts of the country.
    There are some who say but if we select from an AWS we hand our opponents a weapon. Where did you or many of the opponents of AWS protest when men were selected from AMS? In employment it is often the case that men are selected because they are men, instead of women. It’s no different in politics. So to those who say we can’t select women because they’re women, I say get over it.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 15th Feb '16 - 8:53am

    Simon,

    I agree with Caron. If you look at the proposals current MPs won’t be ousted so it won’t lose us seats. This isn’t about party politics anyway, it’s simply about equality. Let’s get with the programme. Every other party has.

  • Everyone knows there has been a problem getting women selected in the past, but those in favour of AWS should accept that massive progress has been made – and continues to be made – in recent years. Every GE the number of women candidates increases, the 2015 figure for the LibDems was around 170, not great but getting there. AWS will upset many -men and women – in the party, 20 years ago maybe it was needed, but now the current method of selection is working – leave it alone.

  • @Malc What’s your measure by which there has been “massive progress”?

    For example, in the first general election the Lib Dems fought, there were 23% female candidates. In 2015 that had only risen to 26%. At that rate of progress it would be another 40 years before our candidate balance reflects that of the population.

    What’s more, the 23% in 1992 was the highest amongst Lib Dem, Con, Lab, SNP and Plaid. By 2015 the others has all increased their proportion of female candidates more, so that whilst the Lib Dems had the best relative performance in 1992, by 2015 every one of those other parties had a higher proportion of female candidates.

    Plus of course there’s the minor matter that the number of female Lib Dem MPs not only dropped to zero in 2015, but had also fallen in 2010 as well.

    Hence my question – what’s the measure by which any of this ads up to “massive progress”?

  • I wish right now there had have been all women shortlists before the 1997 election. Then I never would have joined up and would not therefore be having my heart broken like this.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th Feb '16 - 9:58am

    People should vote for what they think is morally right and practical. Personally I’d like to see the motion weakened, but not abandoned entirely. I think there is a good logic in ensuring some kind of diversity rather than just leaving it up to local parties.

    Is there room for amendments? An amendment could go some way to healing some divisions over the issue.

  • Matt (Bristol) 15th Feb '16 - 10:03am

    I feel that it can be quite easy for a liberal party which feels it is first in the game for advocating progress on any issue to fall ‘behind’ wider cultural progress on said issue when it finally comes.

    For a parallel – look at how the Whigs within the Liberal party in the 19th century were among the first to advocate the widening of the franchise to poorer people but still expected to be the figureheads and leaders of said people within the Liberal party and were genuinely discomfited in the later 19th century when said poorer people wanted to speak with their own voice and not to the script given to them by the ‘friends of progress’ who had given them the opportunity.

    I feel we are at high risk of such a situation with regards to diversity in the party.

    Positive discrimination is an artificial tool, it is a flawed tool, but it is an appropriate tool for making decisive action to address what is becoming a barrier to the party winning a voice in the country and continuing to stand up for its liberal ideals of allowing people to speak for themselves and not to be represented by another’s script.

    These are credible proposals (maybe it is not possible to have perfect proposals) to address this problem, and it is a problem.

    If it disadvantages me as a white middle class man, well it’s about time.

  • If the motion is passed what will happen if some local parties/regions insist on selecting the best person for the job? Will this lead to LibDems who have worked their whole lives for the party being expelled? Also who will decide who is on this “Task Force”?

  • The problem with the selection process is that it is completely out of sync with the other elements of the process to get elected as an MP.
    Selection is the only point in the process where the candidate is an individual, not part of the wider Liberal Democrat team. In competitive selections (the ones with most relevance to the wider debate), prospective candidates have to sell themselves to an audience of Liberal Democrat members, many of whom will not be aware of the criteria set by the selection committee. The wider membership may be more interested in selecting someone they would like as their MP: the local party executive might want someone to drive a campaign for the coming election so it becomes “winnable” at the next one. Failure at this stage is difficult to take as it will be taken as the local party’s verdict on the candidate as an individual. That there’s no clear way for a prospective PPC to ensure selection somewhere else can make defeat even harder to take.
    Having more tightly defined shortlists may help to overcome the uncomfortable and introspective nature of the selection process itself. It won’t help with the issue of the local member who will be difficult if “their” candidate is not allowed to take part in the selection. But, given where we are, this is the best time to try something different.
    Defenders of the status quo might argue that the selection process allows the local party to find out which prospective candidates will be the most effective fundraisers or campaigners. It doesn’t. The process is time-consuming and expensive for prospective PPCs, especially if they are from out of town. Crucially it is of only limited benefit to the main objective: electing a Liberal Democrat MP.
    What I would like, though, is to abolish the need for a full selection process where there is an incumbent PPC, in the same way as we have where we have an incumbent MP. This would make relocation to a new area less of a risk (to their job, to family life, etc.) for all prospective candidates.
    Make the selection process as short as possible. Try tightly defined shortlists for the next election to see whether it has any impact. And don’t make the selected candidates go through a full reselection process after the next election (unless there’s a major boundary review).

  • Paul Holmes 15th Feb '16 - 1:45pm

    @Mark Pack -I wonder if you can answer for me the question I have posed twice, with no response, in the Sal Brinton thread?

    How will using AWS to achieve Tim Farron’s target of 50% of Target Seat candidates in 2020 being women, result in greater success in electing female MP’s than the fact that in 2015 a little over 40% of Target Seat candidates were women?

    Is it just possible that in the desperate desire to ‘be seen to do something’ we are in fact rushing in a less effective direction? For at least 10 years I have been concerned that a new orthodoxy has taken over which says that we ‘should not select Westminster candidates until two years before the election or they will burn out’. Former MP colleagues of mine tell me that Ryan Coetzee argued that ‘we could no longer expect candidates to build up a profile in a seat over a long period’. Already of course we have lost almost an entire year of the 5 that were available before the 2020 election.

    Post 2010/15 we do not have lots of (do we have any?) safe seats that the ‘Leadership’ can hand over to chosen people who will automatically then be elected. We never had more than a tiny number of those even in the best of times. Do we need to take a close look at how our MP’s actually got elected over the last few decades rather than at what sex they were?

  • “And don’t make the selected candidates go through a full reselection process after the next election (unless there’s a major boundary review).”

    The trouble is that there is a boundary review due to report in 2018, with the remit to reduce the number of MP’s/constituencies from 650 to 600. The indications are that both Labour and the LibDems will be negatively impacted by these changes, with the LibDems – due in part to their smaller overall majorities being particularly hard hit.

    Furthermore we shouldn’t forget that the Boundary Commission has a remit to review the parliamentary constituencies every 5 years…

    But I agree with you Guy, once someone has been selected as a LibDem sponsored PPC, they should not be made to go through the full LibDem reselection process if they transfer to a new constituency; they should, if interested, be able to have their name added to the final shortlist.

  • In our 2015 ‘meltdown’, a few candidates managed to hold on to their seats….Coincidentally these happened to be males….The tragedy is that we have 8 SEATS not the gender of those left….
    Fiddling with AWS is, as I’ve said before, allocating seats on the lifeboat after the Titanic has sunk….To continue that analogy, we need the BEST people to motivate the survivors…

  • @Paul Holmes I’m not quite sure I follow the way you’re using 50% and 40% in your comment as it seems to me from what you say that the obvious answer is that 50% is higher than 40%! But you know that too, perhaps I’ve misunderstood the question?

    On the broader point about how we win seats, I agree with you that earlier selection and long-term commitment are very important. That’s why I’d be happy with measures for diversity which, for example, let people be selected for two elections subject to a break clause – much like in the rest of life the need for a long term course of action goes with long term agreements and break clauses.

    We need both to win more seats and be better at diversity – as if we only do the latter, we won’t success for the reasons you mention, but if we do the former we’ll simply be repeating our past failures when all but one of our MPs ever was white and 84% were male.

    What’s more, I think being better at diversity will help us win more seats – because we will be tapping a wider pool of talent, and having more diverse candidates can help parties win more votes (e.g. see http://www.markpack.org.uk/137381/academics-say-fielding-female-candidates-helps-political-parties-gain-votes/ )

  • Mick Taylor 15th Feb '16 - 6:15pm

    Simon Shaw. The party has in effect had AMS selection for years. It’s not that it was allowed, it simply wasn’t banned. Women didn’t put themselves forward so the short lists ended up being all men. I know of many constituencies who asked to be let off the requirements to have at least one woman on the shortlist, because they claimed they couldn’t find anyone of that gender to select. In my time in the party I have attended many selection meetings, both for PPCs and councillors where the only people on the shortlist were white men. One could call that AWMS. There were no protests from the people who now decry AWS in a very select number of cases.
    And no, I don’t believe that AWS will mean we have a lesser class of candidate and I don’t believe that white men will not be able to stand for parliament, just not in every seat. In fact I am certain, from my own personal experience, that in many seats that selected from all male short lists, the best candidate was NOT chosen. For example sometimes a local and very inexperienced candidate was chosen over a much more experienced and able person who had given an undertaking that he would move to the constituency once selected. I know of one former Liberal seat that may well have been lost because of this.
    The anti AWS brigade seem wholly unwilling to accept that there is a problem. Yet the fact is that we have not managed to diversify our parliamentary team in 50 years that I know of. In fact we have gone backwards.
    To those like Jennie who believe – in my view wholly naively – that all you have to do is change hearts and minds and all will be well, I would say that that hasn’t happened in my 52 years as a party member and the old prejudices remain as rooted as ever.

  • Paul Holmes 15th Feb '16 - 6:37pm

    Surprisingly for you Mark you do seem to have misunderstood the question. So let me elaborate. I believe that around 30% of candidates on our Approved List were/are female? But by 2015 we had increased the ratio of female Target Seat candidates to a little over 40%. These ratios used to be roughly 26%/26%?

    So the hard factual evidence is quite clear that, far from discriminating against women, we were firstly selecting them in ratio to the numbers applying and more recently discriminating in favour of women – and therefore against men, unless the women applying were as a whole superior to the men. This discrimination in favour of women, by all constituency members casting their one person one vote secret ballot, is of course the absolute reverse of what some claim happens. It would also mean, contrary to your assertion above, that if we were to start winning seats again then we would have a better mix of MP’s without having had to resort to illiberal, divisive and possibly counter productive AWS measures.

    Regrettably the electoral meltdown of 2015 meant that zero women were elected to Westminster for our Party. This was despite the improved efforts of our Party to select Women for winnable seats. How does increasing the ratio of women selected for winnable seats from 40% of the total to 50% of the total guarantee any different outcome in 2020? Couldn’t AWS for example simply mean that everyone thinks ‘job done’ and fails to look at what is in reality needed for a small Third (?) Party to actually get MP’s elected under the FPTP Westminster system -which in the aftermath of 2010/15 has got even more hostile? Unlike Peerages, elected Liberal Democrat MP’s are not sweeties that the Leader can hand out as rewards to the chosen ones.

    In your other paragraphs you make excellent points about long term commitment and campaigns over at least two General Elections which in all the acres of print on AWS shortlists I have seen no other AWS enthusiast make. Instead the emphasis is all about positive discrimination after a seat enters the winnable zone rather than any concern at all with what actually makes a seat winnable in the first place.

  • A Social Liberal 15th Feb '16 - 6:50pm

    Paul
    can you link to the statistics because I was under the impression that they had not been collated

  • @Paul Holmes Whatever we do on candidate selection doesn’t guarantee an improvement in gender balance (or other diversity criteria). In an extreme, for example, if we get just one MP elected next time with Tim Farron the only winner, then any improved balance amongst our candidates won’t result in a more balanced Parliamentary Party.

    So of course no-one can guarantee a more diverse Parliamentary Party in the sense that you present it, but the flaw there is in you setting up the impossible as the standard to judge a policy by. There are plenty of other standards to judge proposals by – you won’t be surprised to know I think they also offer rather more sensible yardsticks!

    On your point about whether action is needed, if we simply had the same mix of candidates as we had in 2015, or indeed a slightly better mix, then that in itself would once again led to a massively male, white dominated Parliamentary Party whether we (re)gained a few seats or lots of seats.

    Even if we’d won, say, 70 seats in 2015 the Parliamentary Party would have been over two-thirds male and also over 90% white. Nor is there any number of seats lower at which we’ve had done better.

    That would have been a better mix than some of our previous results, as you put it, but to use your phrase “the hard factual evidence is quite clear” that our candidate mix whatever the result would have still left us a long way short of reflecting the electorate.

    So whilst the mix of candidates was better in 2015 it wasn’t nearly better enough – which is why we need to do something different and additional.

  • Mick Taylor 15th Feb '16 - 8:02pm

    John Marriott and expats make the usual assumptions that if we have a different selection procedure in a limited number of seats that will mean we select a candidate who doesn’t meet their criterion of ‘best’. The only conclusion I can draw from their comments is that they therefore don’t care if we have balanced representation of men, women, BAME and LGBT people in our parliamentary team. What matters for them is that the candidate be ‘the best’, which under the present system will be white male.
    Taking no action is not really an option.
    I predict we will see the entire debate at conference focus on AWS, the other very good points in the resolution will be ignored and that the well meaning view that we Liberals don’t do it this way will triumph, causing yet more women and minority hopefuls to give up on being PPCs.
    Many of the cadre of young women who so vigorously opposed positive action last time round have long since left the party or given up on being PPCs. Indeed more than one of them on being asked if they had been selected for a target seat have responded “don’t be silly, I’m a woman”.
    Leaving it to selection meetings to improve female and minority representation in our party has failed for the whole of my lifetime. Keeping the same system again – and I predict the party will yet again do so – will ensure that our MPs remain pale and male for the foreseeable future.

  • Conor Clarke 15th Feb '16 - 8:07pm

    I thoroughly distrust contemporary identity politics. Too often it divides where it should unify.

    My personal opinion is that there are no blunt force solutions to structural problems that exist in the social relations between members of a society, and anyone promising you one will end up disappointing you.

    That said I could still (with great reluctance) be persuaded to vote for the motion if I were convinced it would help us electorally. Regaining ground has to be our guiding light for the next five years.

    But nobody should be under any illusions that AWSs are anything other than a sticking plaster at best, and an illiberal red herring at worst.

  • Paul Holmes 15th Feb '16 - 8:32pm

    @Mark Pack -The 2015 candidate mix in Target Seats was not ‘a long way short of reflecting the electorate’ -short yes but not a long way short and much improved on the past. The whole seat mix was worse but there we are back to the relative shortage of female candidates who apply to go on the Approved Candidates List in the first place. Which is a very different problem to the often alleged discrimination against selecting female PPC’s, which as we have seen from the statistics did not actually appear to exist between 2001-2015 at least.

    Your hypothetical 70 seat example from 2015 is a bit spurious since it would have been skewed by the historical number of pre existing male MP’s. That would not have been solved by any form of AWS unless you first de selected a lot of sitting MP’s on the sole grounds that they were male. Even in Scotland, where they have a much more radical AWS proposal than the Federal Conference motion, they are not proposing for example de selecting the preponderance of existing male MSP’s so as to start from scratch.

    And so we come back to the stated need ‘to do something additional and different’. Or to be ‘seen to do something’ regardless of whether or not it will work in the real world of Third Party FPTP politics. Long term commitment and campaigning (to which gender is irrelevant) are needed to gain LD seats under the Westminster system (as you have said) not quick fixes with parachuted in candidates who can get very disillusioned when, despite the hype, they don’t win first time round.

  • John Barrett 15th Feb '16 - 8:35pm

    What if candidates do not wish anyone in the party, or just those involved in candidate selection, to know if they are LGBT, or anything else?

    When I was a member of Parliament there were a number of MPs who went to great lengths to keep their sexuality private, both in the Lib-Dems and other parties.

    The Lib-Dem Member of The Scottish Parliament in my constituency did not come out until many years after her election. Would changing, or coming out later, qualify or disqualify anyone from anything in the new proposals for candidate selection?

    Surely it should be up to any candidate to keep their sexuality private if they wish and if they do decide to, just how we get the desired result or effectively get quotas filled for under represented groups, becomes a question the current proposals do nothing to resolve.

  • @Paul: ok, if you don’t like the 70 seats number, pick another one. I’ll happily look up what the gender balance would have been on that, taking seats in order of margin of victory/defeat.

  • @carron

    You have said in an earlier comment that the under representation of women in parliament calls parliaments legitimately into question.

    I can’t agree with that because I think parliaments legitimatecy comes from its Members having been elected. The members legitimate right to be there comes from the voters, about 50% of whom are female.

    But anyway, tell me, is there any other social group not being adequately represented that in your mind could make parliament illegitimate? For example, if more than x% of it members were privately educated or from privileged backgrounds but it was properly gender balanced could that make it illegitimate in your eyes?

  • Of greater concern than lack of women in parliament and in our party in particular is the lack of representation of younger voices. The failure of Jo Swinson to regain her seat was a double blow, though she, like the rest of us, is no longer as young as she was.

    Then young, those about to join or who have recently joined the work force are poorly represented and desperately short changed and are about to see the elderly who they will be supporting make important decisions in the forthcoming referendum that may be against their wishes and not in their interests. Younger voters are priced out of the housing market and find that ‘yoof’ are too often represented in the media by the well to do middle aged or frankly old.

    Obviously it would be great to have dynamic young women representing Lib Dems, but we cannot create a situation that effectively excludes the next Charles Kennedy (or even the next David Steel). We desperately need Young Liberal voices of whatever gender. Time was when Young Liberals really were the soul of the party, the greater priority is to give the young a voice.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 16th Feb '16 - 9:11am

    Martin, are you seriously suggesting some sort of “positive discrimination” in favour of the young? This would be most unfair, as it is actually older people who are far more likely than the young to be victims of ageism, in employment and elsewhere. It is inevitable that the average age of MPs will be higher than that of the population in general, because to be an MP surely does require a certain amount of life experience. I think young people mostly understand this, and do not resent being “under-represented”. The issue of the under-representation of women is a completely different matter. Women are more than fifty per cent of the population, and a woman is just as likely as a man to have the potential to be a good MP, so a truly representative Parliament would have roughly equal numbers of women and men. But it does not follow that this should be achieved by all women shortlists. Surely instead we should be looking at ways of encouraging greater numbers of women to consider becoming candidates, and to have the confidence to stand for winnable seats.

  • Absolutely agree with your final comment Catherine, about encouraging more women to stand. An earlier comment about the style (and conditions of) Parliament being discouraging – to all, but perhaps disproportionately to women.

    However, I think Martin is right – the balance of all politics – local and national – has swung away from the younger people in recent years. I do wonder, seeing the pressures younger people live with now, whether it is about lack of time an opportunity to get involved, as well as the classic issues that younger people don’t always see what is there to attract them towards politics.

  • John Barrett 16th Feb '16 - 9:32am

    Martin – while young voices may be scarce, as are those voices of the disabled, homeless, working class, women and many more groups. Those fighting hard for the rights of the young, elderly etc. do not necessarily have to be from those groups. If we go down the road to where a person, campaigner or candidate is only judged by which under-represented group they come from, we will let everyone down and will fail one again to connect with the electorate and many of our own members.

    Most people accept that Margaret Thatcher was no supporter of women in Parliament!

    Having worked with many vulnerable groups and individuals over 30 years, I did not once come across anyone who doubted my commitment or ability to fight on their behalf simply because I was a white male. If the party now did so, it would be a first.

    I have no intention of ever standing again for election, but if my former constituents wished to re-elect me instead of their current SNP MP, should I be ruled out of even putting my name forward because of my gender?

    If the membership of any local party or the wider electorate do not agree with the choice they are being offered by the party, what process are those supporting the current proposals going to out in place to deal with this problem?

    The proposals for conference concentrate on the wrong issues and will probably not deliver what they hope for.

    I genuinely fear they will be destructive in a party already weakened by mistakes made by the previous leadership, on policy issues and in campaigning strategy.

  • John is, of course, right. He stands as an outstanding example of someone motivated by all the right reasons for being in politics. Having spent a couple of hours with him in conversation at a conference many years ago, I am quite convinced of that, along with independent evidence from Scottish friends. There are many others like him in politics. But we do know that we need to build a diversity across the piece. I think it is time that people who become over-focused on this at the expense of wider society’s issues of prejudice, defined sex roles etc (which are there).

    There is a huge problem within this party (but I am sure others too) of getting far too hooked up on criticising other politicians, rather than things in wider society. Often politicians from different parties, and different wings of our own, are trying broadly in the same direction – give them credit sometimes. People out there need to know that politicos are trying to do their best, and blame for problems needs to be more widely shared, which also means that encouragement can also be spread more widely.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 16th Feb '16 - 10:20am

    Tim13 You say that the balence of politics has swung away from younger people in recent years. I’m not sure that the facts support this. It’s true that there are not very many VERY young MPs, but as I commented earlier, to be an MP does require some life experience. But it seems to be becoming the norm for party leaders to be younger than would have been the case a generation ago. Obviously Jeremy Corbyn is an exception to this, and the fact that he seems to be the most popular leader with young people at the moment, shows that young people do not necessarily mind not being represented by people their own age.

  • Catherine
    No problem with acknowledging all manner of people don’t mind being represented by people who do not share all or any of their characteristics. John Barrett has said that, and I have agreed with him. There IS sometimes an issue about being “in touch” when diversity, so called, is out of kilter, but where people have direct contact with a representative, they will quickly get a feel whether that person is in or out of touch!

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 16th Feb '16 - 10:44am

    The point I was really originally trying to make, is that the under-representation of younger people is a very different issue from the under-representation of women. After all, young people only have to wait a few years, to become older. This is a very different matter from women, or members of ethnic minorities, who may face lifelong discrimination.

  • Catherine
    That is true, but people who are older facing ageism don’t have that opportunity. However, the issue we face at present, certainly in local government, is a set of councillors who are getting older by the year. We desperately need some action to bring in younger ones. Funnily enough, Parliament, particularly on our and Labour sides show some tendency in that direction also. Tell me you don’t favour a gerontocracy? One of the advantages of “developed” societies over “developing” ones, having worked in both, is that the superiority of age is less revered. I speak by the way, from an age approaching 70, so do not argue from special pleading! I am also desperately casting around for candidates for two local council vacancies! I have approached young, old, men and women, and would approach people from all ethnic backgrounds if they were out there. I have approached better off and less well off.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland:

    Actually I would be in favour of ‘some sort of “positive discrimination” in favour of the young’, more or less in the same way as there is currently some sort of “positive discrimination” in favour of’ women. That is a kind of affirmative action in terms of selection for training; the party should consciously be encouraging participation and representation from the younger section of the electorate. Was it so bad the Jo Swinson, Charles Kennedy and David Steel were selected and successfully elected at a young age?

    I think we should be very concerned about the lack of voice for young people. I do see good voices speaking effectively on behalf of women, but little for young people. It is as though people are saying young people have no need of a voice so long as they have Russell Brand and Jeremy Corbyn. In general terms, wider than politics I think young people were better represented 30 to 40 years ago.

    We live at an extraordinary time in which the votes of the retired 60+ will vote for a Brexit that threatens to trash the economy, creating real economic hardship that would particularly affect the young, yet this same 60+ group would expect continued provision of pensions and services. I think it is a situation to be very worried about; at least we did try to let 16 year olds have a say in their futures, but we lost that fight and again, young people lost out.

  • Mick Taylor

    “The anti AWS brigade seem wholly unwilling to accept that there is a problem”
    “they therefore don’t care if we have balanced representation of men, women, BAME and LGBT people in our parliamentary team”

    On thread, after thread you are strawmaning the opposing argument, get called out and continue. Perhaps you could just stick to the matters under discussion rather than attacking peoples motivations,

    I am seeing this a lot from the supporters of this motion. Do any of you believe misrepresenting someone else’s position or attributing malicious motivation to Mick Taylor

    “The anti AWS brigade seem wholly unwilling to accept that there is a problem”
    “they therefore don’t care if we have balanced representation of men, women, BAME and LGBT people in our parliamentary team”

    On thread, after thread you are strawmaning the opposing argument, get called out and continue. Perhaps you could just stick to the matters under discussion rather than attacking peoples motivations,

    I am seeing this a lot from the supporters of this motion. Do any of you believe misrepresenting someone else’s position or attributing malicious motivation to someone else is a persuasive argument (especially to the person you attack)?

    If this is how many in the LibDems look to persuade others they meet perhaps that is the best expiation of the collapse at the last election (rather than the other more common diagnoses), and if it continues the discussion of AWS will be irrelevant as no seat will ever be gained again.

    Seriously people, do you actually have such a low opinion of those you are supposed to consider your own side?

  • Obviously I had a cut and paste issue there.

  • I don’t have a lot of time for identity politics, so my first reaction was to be dismissive and move on. If anyone’s ever thought that I’ve been a less effective councillor / haven’t understood a local issue because I’m a white male, I’d be mortified.

    But 2 thoughts stayed with me:
    1-looking at the party as a whole, it looks far more middle class than Britain does. True for my local parties, what I’ve seen of conference, and certainly national reps in the media. If we are really serious about understanding Britain as a whole, do we need to prioritise working class candidates across the party? Not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, but a real blind spot for us in my view. (For example, we were parroting an £800 tax cut over the last couple of years – how many of us understood how much of this was then taken off by tax credit reductions for the lowest paid?)
    2- this is becoming very divisive, and the party is still on life support. We can’t afford big internal arguments, no matter how strongly some feel. So how do we get out of this and hold the party together – I’m hoping an inspired amendment might come forward.

    I don’t know how I’d vote if at conference, probably for the least divisive option on the table. I just wish I knew which that was!

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Feb '16 - 8:38pm

    Tpfkar, totally agree, an inspired amendment is the way forward! More about diversity and some break-clauses as Mark Pack mentions.

    If there is a reasonable amendment then I will probably throw my previous hostility away and support it. Maybe we can keep Jennie that way too.

  • All I am doing throughout the posts on this thread is to point out what will happen if we continue as we are, namely that our parliamentary party will continue to be male and pale.
    I am also pointing out that people who oppose the very limited use of AWS were not prominent in speaking out when Parliamentary shortlists were almost exclusively male and pale, which is for almost the whole of my 52 years’ membership of this party and its predecessor.
    In my time as a council group leader I went out of my way to ensure women were fully represented in the group and when I left in 2007 the numbers were pretty much 50:50. Even now, with drastically reduced numbers women form 60% of the group. We have not been so successful with minorities having only ever had 2 councillors from ethnic backgrounds in the last 42 years.
    When I moved to Leeds, women were poorly represented in the group and LGBT councillors formed a substantial section of the group. We lost the two ethnic minority councillors, one joined the Labour party and the other died.
    Our failure to achieve something even remotely resembling a fair number of women or minorities in parliament -far worse in fact than either the Conservative or Labour Parties – marks us out as not being representative of the country and makes us far less likely to attract the votes of women or ethnic minorities.
    So the somewhat silly arguments about the ‘best’ candidate only serve to mask the fact that there is deep resistance to almost any move that might actually change the balance of gender and minorities in our party. To suggest that I may in some way be against pale, male candidates is a sign of desperation. The suggestions for change will affect a relatively small number of seats and will not stop anyone applying either to be a PPC or to be selected except in this small number of seats

  • Rather than spend never ending months debating AWS, a policy that discriminates whatever way you look at it, maybe we should actually be fighting for the policy of PR and Federalism that if successful would result in a more balanced representation across the board. From members I have spoken to and women I know, this is a policy that just reeks of political correctness across all the parties for the ones at the top and the politically correct brigade. We have bigger issues to fight like trying to actually save the party as come 2020 we might no MPs at all and virtually zero MSPs in Scotland. I joined the Liberal Democrats not the i-Liberal Democrats.

    Just my opinion, hang me if you like.

  • @ Martin : “We live at an extraordinary time in which the votes of the retired 60+ will vote for a Brexit that threatens to trash the economy, creating real economic hardship that would particularly affect the young, yet this same 60+ group would expect continued provision of pensions and services”. As Victor Meldrew might say ……….

    The logical outcome of that sort of ………….is to ban everyone over the the age of 59 from voting which, looking at the profile of the membership of many local branches, will provide a resounding Eurovision song contest of Nul points for the Lib Dems.

    It’s all a bit ironic in a week when we are thinking about dear old 87 year old Eric who had more radicalism in his little finger than…………………… fill in the gap.

  • “how do we get out of this and hold the party together”

    I don’t think that’s possible at this stage. I further think the people who drafted this motion know it, and don’t care.

    Mick, I love you, and agree that the lack of women in our parliamentary party is an embarrassment, but what I would like to see done about it is the curing of sexism. Something which all the evidence suggests makes sexism worse AND masks it is NOT a solution, it is making matters worse.

    I thought we were a party that believed in evidence-based policy, not “something must be done; this is something; lets do that”?

    Yes, it is embarrassing that all our MPs are white and male. But until we’ve actually cured sexism we deserve that embarrassment.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 17th Feb '16 - 4:55pm

    It does seem noticeable that most of those speaking in favour of all women shortlists are men. Could this be another case of men telling women what is good for them, and then slightly patronisingly informing women who disagree, that they are being naive.

  • @Jennie
    “Something which all the evidence suggests makes sexism worse AND masks it is NOT a solution, it is making matters worse. I thought we were a party that believed in evidence-based policy”

    Inevitable question – can you give links to “all” the evidence?

  • Peter Watson 17th Feb '16 - 6:19pm

    @Catherine Jane Crosland “It does seem noticeable that most of those speaking in favour of all women shortlists are men.”
    To be honest, it is noticeable that most of those speaking about anything on Lib Dem Voice are men.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 17th Feb '16 - 7:49pm

    Peter Watson – Well that’s true – Does anyone have any theory about why this is?

  • I think that most talkboards (certainly ones I have seen and participated in) have been skewed to more male participation. I don’t really know why. Perhaps it is another way of “putting yourself out there”, which, culturally tends to be a male thing? If that underlies some of the number issues we have, perhaps it is there that we should be starting our attempts to rectify those issues?

  • Mick Taylor 17th Feb '16 - 8:32pm

    Jennie, of course we want to cure sexism. How do you practically suggest we do that? Talking about it has occupied many hours of time in the years I have been a member. Unfortunately it has got us precisely nowhere.
    How do you and those against AWS and AmInW suggest we are going to stop the far too many members of the constituency selectorates who still firmly believe that women, ethnic minority and LGBT candidates are vote losers, contrary to all the evidence? And who by the way have different assessment standards for women than men?
    I am not a happy camper when it comes to AWS but my 52 years of trying to achieve more representative MPs has driven me reluctantly to the conclusion that we need a short term boost like AWS/AminS to get the numbers up both of women, ethnic minority and LGBT in our parliamentary party. The evidence is clear to see. When we adopted zipping in 1999 for the EU elections we achieved the objective we sought and have been going backwards ever since we abandoned it.
    The unpalatable truth is that in our party it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a women or someone from a minority to get to be a Lib Dem MP.

  • Jennie, I agree completely. The problem is not the dearth of women in the Lib Dems. The problem is that there is sexism in the Lib Dems. Will AWS eliminate the sexism? No, it will find other outlets and the result will be that the newly selected/elected women candidates and (hopefully) women MPs will still be forced out of the Party because of its….. yup, sexism! . Cue more coverage of LIb Dem sexism on Channel 4 news.

    Then what?

  • Mick Taylor 18th Feb '16 - 8:21am

    I say to both Jennie and Phyllis, what practical measures do you propose to achieve your aim? Show me a way to get sexism out of our party and I’ll support it. Better still, put forward an amendment to the resolution to achieve it.
    Otherwise, I fear, there is a case to be made – as the resolution does – for a small scale, short term fix to get the party over the hump.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 18th Feb '16 - 8:28am

    Isn’t the main problem less that women are being directly discriminated against, than the fact that too few women are putting themselves forward as potential candidates. Rather than all women shortlists, should we not be focusing on ways to encourage women to have the confidence to become candidates. This is surely something that every member of the party would support, and it would really get to the root of the problem, unlike the artificial and unfair measure of all women shortlists, which, sadly, is causing so much unhappiness and division within the party.

  • Peter Watson 18th Feb '16 - 8:29am

    @Mick Taylor “it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a women or someone from a minority to get to be a Lib Dem MP”
    In the current political climate a camel probably has as much chance as anybody else of becoming a Lib Dem MP 🙁

  • Imposing AWS on a reluctant party will have the opposite effect to what is intended. It will, as Jennie says, increase the sexism and also mask it, so people will think the problem has been solved when the sexism will be greater than ever. And in the process, the party will have become the very thing it hates, an organisation which discrimates against half the population ( males). Please think about the unintended consequences before you vote for this at Conference.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 18th Feb ’16 – 8:28am
    “Isn’t the main problem less that women are being directly discriminated against, than the fact that too few women are putting themselves forward as potential candidates.”

    It’s very likely both of those things. It could even be that one is leading to the other. Certainly out in the real world there is a feeling that the Party is sadly not a safe place for women and especially young or vulnerable women.

  • John Barrett 18th Feb '16 - 11:31am

    Catherine – I couldn’t agree more, but would add that some very confident women party members, for a variety of reasons, have not lacked the confidence to apply for selection, they have positively decided that despite being very confident, able and capable, they did not wish to stand for election to Westminster, or to try to become MPs.

    Peter’s comments made me smile, but he raises the important issue that at present, and probably fro some time into the future, it could become even more difficult to convince anyone to stand.

    It was hard enough when more of the public had faith and trust in the party and the prospects of winning were good.

    Now, we might be lucky to get even that camel Peter mentioned to stand.

  • Mick Taylor 18th Feb '16 - 5:00pm

    The truth John Barrett, though you will doubtless not believe it is that many women don’t put themselves forward because they know that as women they won’t be selected, at least not in any seat with a good prospect

  • Mick Taylor

    I appreciate that you are concerned about the under representation of minorities but the point is that most people are, whe you say:

    “All I am doing throughout the posts on this thread is to point out what will happen if we continue as we are”

    Perhaps you should consider if expressing your self with comments like:

    “There […] still is a widespread view amongst the members who select our parliamentary candidates that women are not as electable as men. […] many who set far higher standards for women candidates than they do for men”

    “The anti AWS brigade seem wholly unwilling to accept that there is a problem”

    “old prejudices remain as rooted as ever”

    “The only conclusion I can draw from their comments is that they therefore don’t care if we have balanced representation of men, women, BAME and LGBT people in our parliamentary team”

    You look like you are claiming some knowledge of people’s motivations and stating that they are prejudiced. This doesn’t help the discussion. One of the complaints among those opposing the proposals is that skewed statistics are being used to justify a measure and the measure is not calibrated to the problem but is more of s “show piece” to make it look like something is being done. The arguments by those in favour have a “we need something big” tone to them. The more you use arguments that, at least look like, they cast aspersions about other people’s motivations the less credible your position looks. Grand “show pieces” backed up with attacks on peoples characters look out of place to many liberals.

    Perhaps rather than dismiss when people put forward arguments based upon evidence you were to use that evidence and/or provide further evidence then the debate would be a less heated one and perhaps you could change someone’s mind or perhaps you would change your mind and prefer an alternative solution. Unless there is a discussion based upon evidence then neither can happen and everything remains a shouting match from entrenched positions.

  • Mick Taylor

    “many women don’t put themselves forward because they know that as women they won’t be selected, at least not in any seat with a good prospect”

    One additional point, is there a good evidence base for this statement? There are a number of people citing figures suggesting that this is not the case, if it is in fact an urban legend supported by some anecdotes then the repeated use of it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Anecdotes (or “people’s lived experience” as they are sometimes referred to these days) are not sufficient evidence to make categorical statements about the nature of the world.

  • John Barrett 19th Feb '16 - 1:52pm

    Mick – If we are now looking for women to fight seats “with a good prospect” we will first need to find some seats “with a good prospect”, or potential candidates will need to work in those same seats to make them better prospects than they currently are.

    The notion that the party is using terms such as “the top five winnable seats in Scotland” and that those seats will each have all women shortlists (as is the Scottish conference proposal) is a complete joke while there is still every prospect that we could have no MPs in Scotland after the next election, unless something dramatic changes.

    We used to have around 20% of our Westminster seats made up from MPs from Scotland. Now we have just one, and that one has a very small majority and is no longer considered safe by any measure.

    It will take four years of hard work in every other potentially winnable seat to even be in with a shout at the next Westminster election. Maybe selections for those seats should wait for a couple of years to see if any potential candidate has made any impact at all in the seat they want to represent – before they are selected as candidates.

    If potential candidates, male or female, want to impress those selecting candidates for Westminster seats, there is more than enough work for them to do this year in the run up to the Scottish elections and next year, when every council seat is being contested – if we can find enough candidates to stand for the party.

    I honestly cannot think of a question to which the current proposals deliver the answer.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Feb '16 - 2:19pm

    Mick
    We must be evidenced based on many issues , but on this I can see real gut feelings on either view,shown especially in eloquent and passionate views of Caron and Jennie.I understand that. My gut feeling is therefore one that says “alright already how can we unite on this ?!” These are feelings to try and share and discuss with one another, not in any way to allow division to be the result , or demoralisasion.

    You make a point , Mick that is alarming,is it true in this party , or are you saying , in politics in general, that women are reluctant to put themselves forward because they do not think they are going to get selected because they are a woman ? I would, in keeping with many on here surely, like to know if that is evidenced based or a gut instinct.

    I must admit to being either naive or in effect incredulous ,as a man in my forties, mid way between youth and more senior members,I cannot even countenance not selecting any individual on the basis of any aspect of that persons individual characteristics other than personality and views.I honestly do not get prejudice based on gender , race,sexual orientation.To me it is just baffling.And in a Liberal Democrat party, in 2016?Are we sure ?!

    Maybe its just me.I started out that way.Eleven years old , played DonQuixote in Man of La Mancha!

  • Paul Holmes 19th Feb '16 - 2:19pm

    @Mick Taylor. It is absolutely untrue to say that women will not be selected for ‘seats with good prospects’. 40% of our Target Seats in 2015 had female candidates -which is a higher % than the % of women on the Approved Candidates list.

    The evidence is crystal clear that, if anything, we discriminated in favour of women when selecting for 2015 Target Seats.

  • Paul Holmes
    In 2015 the ‘Target Seats’ were not “seats with good prospects”. .

  • Paul Holmes 19th Feb '16 - 2:46pm

    Andrew, I don’t know what criteria you are applying to reach that statement but by the same criteria you must think we can’t possibly therefore have a single ‘good prospect’ anywhere in the UK in 2020!

  • Mick Taylor 18th Feb ’16 – 8:21am
    “I say to both Jennie and Phyllis, what practical measures do you propose to achieve your aim? Show me a way to get sexism out of our party and I’ll support it.”

    There is no quick fix for changing the culture and practices of an organisation, let alone an organisation as complex as a political party but can I just use my own experience in human resource management as an example. It used to be the case that many jobs in public sector organisations were given to people’s friends or people who looked like the person recruiting. For decades now, though, the whole process has been professionalised. All male selection panels are very rare, people are selected to stated criteria and there is a level playing field. Perhaps a similiar professionalisation of selection processes is required. I cannot believe that in 2016 there are almost all male panels at the upcoming LibDem Conference! Start with the culture that makes that possible, make it de rigueur to have balanced panels and you’ll find you’ve taken a step in the right direction. Otherwise women may succeed in being selected but the underlying poison of sexism in the Party will insidiously destroy the very women you are trying to promote.

    “Otherwise, I fear, there is a case to be made – as the resolution does – for a small scale, short term fix to get the party over the hump.”

    There is no short term fix possible that won’t have the opposite effect to what you desire because you are not dealing with a hump but a great big boulder.

  • Instead of debating AWS at Conference, why don’t you all discuss ” positive steps to overcome sexism in the Party”?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 23rd Feb '16 - 8:48am

    Jennie, if we wait to cure sexism, which has been around for thousands of years, we will still be waiting for equal representation in another century. If we actually ensure equal representation now, that will go a long way to changing the culture.

  • Caron, how do the AWS proposals going to Federal Conference “actually ensure equal representation?”

    Under our previous, supposedly sexist, discriminatory, failed, processes we had female candidates in 55% of seats where MP’s were standing down and in 40% of all Target Seats. None were elected. How does having female candidates in 50% of all ‘Target’ seats guarantee any better outcome than having them in 40% (or in 55% of the best ones)? Unlike the Labour and Tory Parties we do not have hundreds of ‘safe seats’ that we can hand out and more or less guarantee victory for whoever is selected. We never had more than a tiny handful now we have none at all.

    We need a very careful analysis of what first moves a seat into the ‘winnable’ zone for Liberal Democrats and then what actually turns winnable into won. As far as I can see the single most common factor in our winning Westminster Seats, under FPTP elections, is a candidate who has built up a local profile over rather more than one or two years -often over at least two General Elections -not of course that that is any guarantee either.

    The Diversity background of a candidate makes no difference whatsoever to their ability to work a seat over a period of time. Indeed working the seat where you live and are part of the community counters some of those issues (job, family etc) that are claimed to prevent women zooming around the country in pursuit of the ‘best’ seats. We need to stop giving candidates, of any background, the idea that there is a quick route to being elected -especially in the dire straits 2010-2015 has left us in.

    PR elections in vast constituencies such as the Euro elections are different and Zipping worked well in the past and could do again.

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