‘Electing diverse MPs’ motion is comprehensive, balanced and sensible

Reading through the “Electing diverse MPs” motion for the York conference, I was struck by how it comprehensively covers the necessary territory in a very measured and sensible way.

In fact, the overwhelming bulk of the motion is not about All-Women shortlists, but I’ll cover that topic first. The motion says about AWS:

Conference recommends that:

1. Any local party should 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;…

4. 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;

5. In Scotland, Wales, and each Region of the English Party where there are two or more non-held seats which gained 25% or more of the General Election vote in May 2015, the regions should designate as a minimum of one seat not held by a Liberal Democrat MP to select its candidate from an all women shortlist. Where these seats are affected by boundary changes, the party’s rules on re-running selection processes will apply;

Number 1 seems uncontroversial. If a local party wants to have an AWS or ADS, let them.

I’m very comfortable with number 4. I first attended a federal conference debate about AWS in the early 90s in some seaside place I can’t specifically recall. The diversity problem remains in the party. It seems the least we should do, to stimulate some change by having an AWS if any of our MPs stand down.

I haven’t done the maths, but I suspect number 5 will mean that about a dozen seats will have AWS. That seems relatively mild and proportionate to me.

Where I think the motion is particularly strong, is in areas which don’t directly involve AWS. In particular I like this paragraph:

As a minimum the three state parties should follow the Canadian Liberal Party practice of requiring the relevant Local Party to provide documented evidence to their region or state (as relevant) of a thorough search for potential candidates from under-represented groups before being granted permission to start their Westminster selection process; this should apply in those seats where the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate received more than 15% of the vote in the 2015 General Election but the seat is not held by the Liberal Democrats;

The motion also sets up a formidable practical mechanism to actively recruit diverse candidates “from both inside and outside the party”:

B. Create a “2020 Candidate Diversity Task Force” to co-ordinate party-wide efforts to actively recruit parliamentary candidates from under-represented groups from both inside and outside the Party. This will include a focus on recruiting candidates with more than one protected characteristic and from minorities who are under-represented even within under-represented groups. The Task Force will work with ALDC and our cohort of councillors, recognising that, whilst local government is important in its own right, it can also be a good recruiting ground for potential Parliamentary candidates. It will report to the Federal Executive, working with the Diversity Engagement Group as appropriate. The Task Force will have one representative each from the three state parties, the Federal Executive, ALDC, EMLD, LDDA, LGBT+, LDW, Liberal Youth and PCA and be led by a Candidate Diversity Champion appointed by the Leader and the President. The Federal Executive Report to Conference will include updates on the work of the Candidate Diversity Task Force.

C. Through the work of the 2020 Candidate Diversity Task Force and Candidate Diversity Champion, in association with SAOs, AOs, ALDC and parliamentary candidates, examine the party’s approval and selection processes, and the role of PPCs after selection, to identify barriers that may exist for under-represented groups, including those identified in the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Selection, as well as disadvantaged groups including those from a low socio-economic background. Solutions will be proposed to overcome these barriers; to seek to make proposals to increase diversity at all levels in the party; and to bring forward proposals on how to address the emotional, practical and financial challenges facing candidates from under-represented groups;

I feel passionately that this motion is right. As a small personal note, I am member of Liberal Democrat Women, I am the “token male” in a female household and one of the reasons I stood down from the party’s approved candidate list, many moons ago, is because I did not want to be yet another white, male, middle-class, middle-aged candidate for the party and I wanted to give more diverse candidates my help and support, instead.

Often in life I find it is best to sit up and take notice when women are speaking. Indeed, like the husband of Mrs Bucket/Bouquet in “Keeing up appearances” I can often be heard, after my wife says something like “Turn left here”, saying dutifully and instantly: “Turning left dear”.

This is a case in point. Men, we need to sit up and take notice of what women (and men and others) in the party are saying here. This is an emergency, guys. I was very struck by Lindsay Northover’s piece yesterday. I remember when she was Lindsay Granshaw, plugging away at this subject like many of her colleagues, such as Lesley Abdela and indeed Sal Brinton, at conferences in the 90s. We’ve tried pulling all the other levers. It’s edged us onwards a bit but it hasn’t worked as it should. We must act now, and quite frankly, my response to the mantra of “it’s illiberal and anti-democratic” is, as they say in Mexico:


By the way, I note in passing that this motion is being championed by our President Sal Brinton. I have an awful lot of time for Sal and she has a particularly good track of shepherding through party change to improve diversity.

Oh. And by the way, part two.

Where’s the evidence?

…Appears to be the mantra.

Well, it’s Here. And here.

And here. And also see Dr Pack on the subject.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • “Men, we need to sit up and take notice of what women (and men and others) in the party are saying here.”

    There’s an awful lot of women and men who seem to be against the motion and yet day after day LDV keeps spinning the “for” case. It’s your site so you can do as you please, but why should others “sit up and take notice” when you don’t do the same for them?

  • A Social Liberal 7th Mar '16 - 12:21pm

    If this motion was balanced, gender wise, it would suggest that the number one target seat was an all woman (or all man) shortlist and the next important target seat was reserved for candidates of the opposite gender – and so on down the target list.

    Of course, this is detrimental to the other minorities and so not at all balanced – but then, how does the all woman shortlist proposed by the motion aid the party to get a decent BAME diversity target , or the correct quota of disabled MPs?

    There is nothing balanced, sensible and especially nothing liberal about this motion. It wouldn’t be if an all BAME strategy was proposed, or a shortlist system based on socio-economic differences.

    It is, simply, wrong.

  • David Evans 7th Mar '16 - 12:29pm

    Paul, There is no mantra for those of us against AWS and our issues are so much more than simply “Where is the evidence?” Sadly, your so-called evidence deals with none of those issues that are key to the position the Lib Dems are in.

    The question you need to answer to demolish just one issue is – “When the party is on the edge of an electoral precipice, could the central/regional bureaucracies set up to manage AWS prevent local men from standing in constituencies where they are the best candidate?”

    Because if you can’t honestly answer absolutely not to that question, you are yet again jeopardising the party’s entire future. It’s that simple.

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 7th Mar '16 - 12:38pm

    There are 11 English Regions. Scotland has committed to 5 AWS’s. If you as assume, say, 3 MPs stand down and Wales has 1 more AWS that makes 20.

    Plus any who decide to under paragraph 1.

    I admit I don’t fully understand paragraph 1. The LP will have to have a general meeting to decide to have an AWS, in effect a vote of the members. It may be simpler to just have an open selection, which is a ballot of the members in any event. Have one ballot not two (a ballot about the ballot).

  • Paul Holmes 7th Mar '16 - 2:27pm

    Paul, I do agree with you on one issue here. The York proposals are more balanced and less draconian and illiberal than the Scottish ones passed last weekend.

    But that does not alter the basic problem with the AWS element of these proposals as they concern Liberal Democrat candidates in Westminster FPTP elections. Or if they are later extended to Council elections as Sal Brinton’s Governance Review hints on Page 24.

    The 4 pieces of ‘evidence’ you refer to (all of which I have read before) have no relevance to this. Labour’s AWS for example worked because they have large numbers of seats which have not changed hands in half a century or more and where ‘selection’ is the same as ‘election.’ We never had more than one or two of those and following the utter disaster of 2015 no longer have a single ‘safe seat’.

    Arguments based on PR systems also have no bearing on minority Party candidates in FPTP elections. I support Zipping for MEP elections because they are fought on a Closed List system across more than 2 million households at a time. The actual candidate who is in the number one position on the list can have little perceptible personal impact as the vote is very much dependent on general Party fortunes.

    But for Westminster (and the vast majority of UK local elections) Liberal Democrats have to deal with FPTP systems in small electoral areas where the role of the individual candidate is far more important. Diversity makes no difference to this (other than the very small across the board increase in vote share that one of your evidence pieces shows might result). What matters much more is the established local profile and leadership of a well known candidate -whoever and whatever gender that person is.

    Leaving aside the issue of AWS being illiberal I feel, just as passionately as you do the other way, that this motion is wrong in its AWS elements. Barring people from standing for selection, even if they have been campaigning locally for some time and have the kind of good local profile that helped a Constituency buck the 7.9% Lib Dem apocalypse of 2015 and remain in a ‘winnable’ category; is wrong, short sighted and counter productive.

    Given that the selection statistics for 2001-2015 also show that there is no evidence of bias against selecting female candidates and indeed evidence of bias in favour by 2015, I can see even less reason for such divisive and illiberal measures.

  • What is missing from the AWS motion is any detail on the scope of it’s applicability. So which sets of elections does it apply to, which years (ie. 2020), when does the AWS get reviewed etc. As I noted before, what is also needed is to ensure that AWS doesn’t become institutionalised and hence an obstacle to further reform.

  • I see the approach of bore your opponents in to submission is alive and kicking. How many threads saying the something.

    As for the as Paul Holmes has stated there is nothing new there and it is not addressing the situation the LibDems face.

  • A Social Liberal 7th Mar '16 - 4:46pm


    I sent an article in speaking against AWS but for identifying through examination just where the bottleneck for women candidates (and all under-represented groups were). Some kind moderator refused it and so I posted it on one of the other threads.

  • David Evershed 7th Mar '16 - 8:22pm

    Some Lib Dems are being very insulting about local party members who sit on selection panels.

    The motion implies that Lib Dems on candidate selection panels don’t select candidates on their qualities but have a bias towards white men.

  • Martin Land 7th Mar '16 - 10:32pm

    It’s almost laughable isn’t it? If an MP stands down an all women shortlist will be imposed. So we might get and probably will get a dozen women candidates applying who have no connection whatsoever with the constituency instead of a local male with a twenty year record as an activist and councillor. Another seat lost.

  • Paul Walter

    “higher levels of experience being selected – not lower as you both suggest”

    Can you explain where others say that female candidates will have less experience? I have run a search on the page and only your comment shows up.

    This thread is a new low on this topic. Perhaps this is my point where I am bored in to submission, I can’t see there is any desire to engage in actual discussion.

  • David Allen 8th Mar '16 - 1:09am

    So, Regional parties will have to choose a fairly small number of target seats from which male candidates shall be banned. This will mean that all ambitious potential male candidates will henceforth need to concentrate all their efforts on toadying to Regional officials, back-stabbing neighbouring ambitious males, or blatant self-promotion – rather than doing what is best for the Party as a whole.

    Brilliant! Now we know how we will hit the headlines in future. With spats, fall-outs, allegations, insults, and in-fighting. Give up, Tim, your voice will be drowned out of the Press.

    An alternative would be two-stage selection, starting with a “primary” for male candidates to select only one for short-listing. The final selection would be contested by that one male candidate and (where possible) several female candidates. This would certainly be effective positive action. Crucially, it would also be reasonable to use it everywhere. Hey presto, no in-fighting!

    Sadly, we haven’t got the sense. Who said Corbyn’s Labour was the least electable Party in the UK?

  • Ruth Bright 8th Mar '16 - 8:34am

    Martin Land – you speak of the heroic local man who has toiled in a seat for twenty years. I wonder who has minded his kids and washed his shirts for those twenty years in order to free him up to continue with his tireless toil and activism. An heroic local woman perhaps?

  • Tom Morrison 8th Mar '16 - 9:01am

    This is a great piece of writing Paul, good work.

  • Ruth Bright 8th Mar ’16 – 8:34am
    “Martin Land – you speak of the heroic local man who has toiled in a seat for twenty years. I wonder who has minded his kids and washed his shirts for those twenty years in order to free him up to continue with his tireless toil and activism. An heroic local woman perhaps?”

    Yes, exactly! Someone keeps trotting out that AWS would have denied us an Obama whilst completely ignoring that it might then have given us a Michelle, or a Hilary (sooner) instead of a Bill. It’s as though people look at these powerful men and think they must be the best of the best and not facing the fact that there are equally good if not better women out there who might have got a look in, had they not been playing The Good Wife to their menfolk.

  • 4. 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;……………….

    Well, unless something drastic happens (and I see little evidence of this), it would appear that, instead of a ‘more diverse’ party we will replace MALE white, university educated, middle class candidates with FEMALE ‘ditto’…..

    I would far rather follow Labour’s Oldham West and Royton example of Jim McMahon, secondary school leaver at 16, son of a truck driver…A local councillor, well known in the area….All the pundits had him under threat from UKIP (due to Corbyn as party leader) and LDV had it as a ‘winnable seat….

    He increased his share of the vote….That is what I call ‘diversity’

  • David Evans 8th Mar '16 - 11:13am

    Paul, truly you simply do not understand the problems we face. Putting it simply it is nowhere near sufficient for us to even have an outside chance of winning a constituency, if we have candidates with merely “good local experience and local credentials.” We have always needed candidates with exceptional local experience and huge local credentials. The mess we are in now means we need candidates with astonishing local experience and credentials built up over much more than a decade.

    Just look at Lisa Smart in Hazel Grove – Andrew Stunell had a majority of over 6,000 to hand on to her. She lived in Romily, she was a volunteer with many local charities and a school governor for nine years. However, she lost by over 6,000 votes.

    For goodness sake, we had MPs with nearly 20 years experience of local campaigning like Bob Russell, Mr Colchester, who was wiped out. As you say there must be 3-4 women with good local experience and local credentials in most constituencies, but quite simply that will be nothing like good enough. We need one Lib Dem with astonishing personal charisma and local profile – good is be nothing like good enough. If that is a man and he is banned from standing, you will have sacrificed our one chance.

  • Peter Watson 8th Mar '16 - 1:31pm

    @Ruth Bright “I wonder who has minded his kids and washed his shirts for those twenty years in order to free him up to continue with his tireless toil and activism. An heroic local woman perhaps?”
    Just imagine the reaction if a man wrote those sentences.

  • Ruth Bright 8th Mar '16 - 3:00pm

    And your point is Peter…

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 8th Mar '16 - 3:34pm

    David Evans claims that it will not be enough for a candidate to be “good”, and that only a truly exceptional candidate will have any chance. Yes, ideally candidates would be “exceptional”, and the “exceptional” candidate is just as likely to be a woman as a man. But I couldn’t help thinking, surely most people vote for a party, rather than for an individual. People usually decide on the basis of the record and the policies of the different parties nationally, and probably do not really know much about the local candidates

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 8th Mar '16 - 3:42pm

    The unsuccessful Lib Dem candidates in the last election did not fail to win seats because they were not “exceptional”. In most cases it was nothing personal – they failed to win seats because people were angry about the coalition, tuition fees etc.

  • David Allen 8th Mar '16 - 5:01pm

    I said: “Regional parties will have to choose a fairly small number of target seats from which male candidates shall be banned.” Paul Walter replied that it was “ridiculous” to talk of “banning males”.

    Paul, you don’t understand what a fact is, do you? If your name is Charles Kennedy, and the seat of Ross, Skye and Lochaber is selected for AWS, then you have been banned for standing for that seat. Sure, you can probably have a crack at Tunbridge Wells, but that may not be much consolation. The same applies if your name is Paddy Ashdown, you know that it will take three campaigns before you can win Yeovil, you have spent years on the task, you have donw two campaigns, and you would like to do the third. Banned though, if Yeovil is chosen for AWS.

    Of course these injustices must be weighed against the greater injustices suffered by women. But why cure one problem by creating another? My proposal for two-stage selection would probably achieve a faster growth in female representation than AWS, because it could be applied to all seats. And it doesn’t ban anyone!

  • For heavens sake. For every Paddy there have been umpteen Patricias, hitherto kept out of the highest office, who might have won us a hundred seats not a mere 60 odd.

  • David Allen 8th Mar '16 - 7:35pm

    Yes Phyllis, and I propose that instead of using AWS in a disputed minority of constituencies and merely causing strife and discord, we should adopt a balanced proposal for positive action in ALL constituencies. I think that is actually likely to do more for the umpteen Patricias than AWS might do, not less. That is one of the reasons for advocating two-stage selection.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Mar '16 - 12:15am

    Ruth and Phyllis

    Firstly, why do you presume all men have wives and children?

    Secondly , why do you presume all men have good supposedly “dutiful “wives ,and doing traditionally , stereotypically ,”wifely” so called duties.

    Thirdly ,if either of these are true, why denigrate those men if they have been in the former or latter category ,by implying their efforts are not to be commended, and why denigrate the efforts of the wives or partners of those men who have such life partners, who may not only ,on a personal level ,love those men , but rate them as professionals and support them in party meetings and leafleting, as much as in the home.

    Importantly, why do you not presume that every one of the successful women in politics has a supportive, dutiful spouse ?

    This debate is indeed turning into a way of offloading , it reminds me of the anti Clegg and anti Orange book bitterness.

    We should celebrate the efforts of all good people, in whatever decent role they take on in life.And in a cruel world of broken relationships, we should celebrate love.

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