Equality motion 15 years on

Spring Conference Agenda 2016Back in Autumn 2001, we in the Liberal Democrats had the opportunity to take action to improve the gender balance of our parliamentary party.

Among those who spoke out against was a young woman who declared that she did not need help to be elected as a female MP. She insisted she would manage it by herself. I spoke to her after the debate and pointed out to her that in 20 years time, when the gender balance of our parliamentary party has barely improved, and once again, a young woman, who today is not yet born, stands up she insists that she doesn’t need positive discrimination, she will get elected all by herself, I predict she will be as angry with that young woman as I am with her today.

It’s now 15 years later. That young woman hasn’t managed to become an MP. The only ones we have are now 100% male. Yes, much has improved. Instead of coming 3rd many more of our women now come 2nd in elections. But in politics the only thing that counts is winning.  Sadly, LDYS are once again opposing affirmative action to improve the gender balance of our party and instead think the problem will be solved by a bit more training.

No government has achieved gender equality without using some form of affirmative action. Why do we in the Liberal Democrats cling to the belief that, somehow this doesn’t apply to us?  If we throw enough training at the problem, it will magically be solved?

The bottom line is this – if you are offended by the reality that Liberal Democrat MPs come exclusively from the male half of the population, then have the courage to change the system.

Some of don’t want to wait another 15 years just to have the same debate again.

* Lizzie Jewkes is Vice Chair of Liberal Democrat Women and Chair of the Lib Dem Christian Forum.

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34 Comments

  • Tony Dawson 10th Mar '16 - 9:23am

    You are trying to change the speed of the vehicle by tweaking the speedometer.

    Our FPTP electoral system is rigged against Lib Dems (and, indeed, against UKIP and the Greens) far more powerful than any issues concerning selection of candidates. Any Lib Dem who thinks that a ‘good candidate’ can transfer to any seat around the country and break through to win from third place has lost all connection with reality. Yet, that is the underpinning mind-set behind this proposal. If such complacency arises from the modest success rate we had at parliamentary level in 2005 and 2010, perhaps that is an argument in favour of the present voting system? To keep the woolly-minded of both genders (and of none) out or parliament semi-permanently? 🙁

  • Jo Christie-Smith 10th Mar '16 - 9:33am

    Lizzie, you’re so right in all that you say – and when I was a blogger, I used say exactly the same thing.

    I have to say the bit about training being the answer always really annoyed me – lays the blame squarely with women not being enough like men.

    In general training is a good thing and we could probably all do with a bit more but the idea that I, specifically as a woman, needed more training compared the the somewhat mediocre men around me always drove me mad!!!

  • Phrases like “The only ones we have are now 100% male.” and “Liberal Democrat MPs come exclusively from the male half of the population” have little meaning when the REAL worry is that “There are only 8 Liberal Democrat MPs”…

  • Ruth Bright 10th Mar '16 - 9:53am

    Elizabeth. You were right. We were wrong. Sorry.

  • Deckchairs. Titanic.

  • simon mcgrath 10th Mar '16 - 10:18am

    “it’s now 15 years later. That young woman hasn’t managed to become an MP”

    Can we have a little more information about her please? Has she tried to get selected for a good seat and not been able to do so ?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 10th Mar '16 - 10:36am

    From the information in the article it is hard to tell whether the young woman failed to become an MP because she was a woman, or because she was Lib Dem. To be sure it was because she was a woman, we would need to know that she had failed to be selected for a winnable seat, and that a man was chosen instead – though of course even that wouldn’t necessarily mean it was because she was a woman

  • John Barrett 10th Mar '16 - 10:56am

    Rather than everyone blaming the eight MPs for not being representative of a cross section of society and many using the insulting language of calling them “male, pale and stale”. We should give them some credit for managing to hang on to their seats in a really difficult election, when most of our other MPs, and candidates in seats where the incumbent stood down, failed to do so.

    As Paul Holmes has pointed out repeatedly, it was not lack of selected female candidates in our best seats that resulted in an all male group of MPs. It was the electorate’s decision not to elect any of them.

    As the majority of seats where the incumbent Lib-Dem MP stood down were fought by female candidates, it makes no sense to then say that the problem with the lack of women MPs lies in the selection of candidates. The solutions proposed in the motion being debated at York will not address the problem that exists.

    It reminds me of the motion in Parliament to bomb Syria. There was clearly a problem that needed to be tackled. Something must be done, everyone agreed. Dropping bombs is “something”. So let’s do something and drop some bombs! It did nothing to deal with the real problem and many would say it actually makes some think that a solution has been found while others believe it has made the problem worse.

    As long as we continue to take actions which are not going to deal with the real problem of the lack of diversity in Parliament, we should not then be surprised when the actual problem continues, or gets worse.

  • Among those who spoke out against was a young woman who declared that she did not need help to be elected as a female MP. … It’s now 15 years later. That young woman hasn’t managed to become an MP.

    Why? You mean you didn’t bother to interview her (and others like her) to understand what obstacles she encountered; those the party put in place, both formally and informally, and those that only a woman who has had the fun and games of juggling life would discover. I suspect that none of them would put AWS at the top of their list of reasons why they failed to achieve their asperation…

  • John Barrett 10th Mar '16 - 11:04am

    Paul – There may be 45,000 women in each constituency, but it takes a massive leap of faith to think they could become Lib-Dem candidates.

    The vast majority of them vote for other parties and of those who have decided to join a political party, the vast majority have also joined other parties.

    I admire you optimism.

  • Paul -Had the current AWS proposals been in place for 2015 selections they would not substantially have changed the outcome you describe above. The current proposals aim for 50% female candidates in winnable seats -in 2015 we had 40% female candidates in winnable seats (without illiberal and divisive AWS). So only a marginal difference in outcome -although in fact as every single new candidate, male or female, got wiped out in 2015 it wouldn’t have made any difference whatsoever.

  • So the Liberal Democrats are inherently prejudiced against women and constituency parties are full of mysoginists ?

    If that is the case – and it isn’t – how come we had a three way contest for Party President with three candidates (all women) ? At the most I would say 25 votes could be put in the negative corner.

    Results 1st Round Sal BRINTON: 7865 Daisy COOPER: 4530 Liz LYNNE: 4389
    Spoilt Ballots: 25 Liz Lynne is eliminated in the first round

    2nd Round Sal BRINTON: 10,188 Daisy COOPER: 6,138 Ballots not transferred or spoilt: 458 Total Ballots Cast: 16,809 Overall Turnout: 38.9%

    John Barrett, as usual, is right and the voice of common sense. As for LDV, given my good nature, I couldn’t possibly suspect an agenda being pursued to the point of being tedious could I ?

    It’s time we focussed on the outside world, began to assemble radical policies of appeal to the electorate and stopped all this introspection. We’ve got 8 MP’s of the male gender (I don’t know or care what their preferences are) because the electorate don’t like what we did post 2010. End of.

  • David Evershed 10th Mar '16 - 11:23am

    This whole debate is insulting to the local party members who sit on candidate selection committees.

    The selection committees are not made up of bigoted, naive people but experienced liberal minded party members. Our own selection committee use evidence based competency interview techniques. There is no bias, concious or unconcious, against women.

    If there were no no difference between the characteristics and number of male and female candidates putting themselves forward for selection then you would expect similar numbers of each to be selected.

    However, if there is a difference in the characteristics and number of women and men putting themselves forward for selection then there is bound to be a difference between the number of men and women selected as candidates.

  • John Barrett 10th Mar '16 - 11:35am

    Paul – I did read on another thread that those seats we lost did in fact return far more female MPs from other parties than we would have had, had we retained them.

    I am not suggesting for a moment that that is a strategy we should follow in the future, but would still say that if we want to resolve the problem, the motion going forward in York is not going to do it.

    It is clear that the electorate in many of those seats had no problem electing women MPs and we did put forward a good number of high quality female candidates, but even where our MPs stood down, the high quality women candidates did not get elected.

    Will the motion in York deal with this? ……………..I think not.

  • @ Paul Walter “The whole system from member recruitment to candidate selection is unconsciously biased against women”.

    Really ? Are you seriously suggesting individual local parties are deliberately (or inadvertently) refusing to sign up members of the female gender ?

    My point is that if the party doesn’t engage with the electorate by discussing and agreeing radical policies of interest, appeal and relevance to them then it risks being regarded as a self obsessed minor sect discussing how many angels can be fitted on the head of a pin. You’ve not answered that, Paul.

  • Elizabeth Jewkes 10th Mar '16 - 4:04pm

    Indeed, Roland, I could have tracked the young woman down and asked if she still stood by her assertion of 15 years ago. But I already know she didn’t find it as easy as she thought it was going to be. What would be achieved by putting her back in the limelight? I used her story to illustrate the point that we’ve been here before. I can’t prove that if we’d had a more equal balance of MPs going into the last election, then we would have retained more seats any more than those who disagree with me can prove it we wouldn’t. What I do know is, as a woman, that a predominately male parliamentary party does not represent me. How many more of the electorate failed to see us as relevant? Nick Clegg never appointed one woman to the cabinet. It was a mistake that damaged the party’s credibility among women. We can’t go on hoping this will get better. We need to take either action or accept that 50% of the electorate just see us as irrelevant.
    Ruth Bright – thank you.

  • But, Elizabeth you missed my point. I wasn’t asking for the lady concerned to be put back in the limelight, only that you complete the story and explain why it is relevant to the motion being put forward to conference, from the evidence you provide the lady concerned could have simply decided the LibDem’s weren’t for her and left. We are all guilty of having lofty aspirations and thinking things will be easier than they turn out to be, the issue is what can the party do to facilitate.

    From the various postings Ruth Bright has made to LDV, it is obvious that she has a whole list of things that would give practical assistance: Creche, financial support for campaigning etc. Likewise Jo Swimson and others. So I stand by my original question: what has been learnt from the women who have entertained the idea of become a LibDem PPC and lived the dream.

    I suggest that a good step is to pick up on some of the points made in Judy Abel’s recent article and start gathering feedback and evidence (like collating the data that Paul Murray has been contributing to various LDV articles on this issue), because with or without this motion being passed and AWS there will be much that needs to be done and I suspect much of it is very basic once you know what the problem is.

  • Tony Dawson 10th Mar '16 - 6:30pm

    @Paul Walter:

    “that is precisely what Paddy Ashdown did.”

    No Paul, it is nothing like what Paddy Ashdown did. (Paddy btw WAS both an exceptional individual campaigner and a shamelessly successful exploiter). Paddy got elected in 1983 after developing the Yeovil parliamentary seat over seven years, during which time he became considered more local than the locals.

    PLEASE, Paul, do not try to extrapolate from Labour experience in the UK to the Lib Dem position. You might as well quote from the New Guinea parliament for all the relevance. Particularly do not quote Jacqui Smith who was a mediocre MP and a poorer minister. There are better-qualified women to be MPs in most Lib Dem council groups. Almost ANYONE can get to be a Labour Candidate – and an MP in the right seats – if they play the right games. Jacqui Smith also had controversial issues with her expenses who, in my view, put back the real progress of women in politics.

    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2009/mar/29/jacqui-smith-expenses-film

  • Tony Dawson 10th Mar '16 - 6:36pm

    @Elizabeth Jewkes:

    “What I do know is, as a woman, that a predominately male parliamentary party does not represent me.”

    I am intrigued. I doubt very much whether many women would wish to be represented by a person who believes that people cannot represent those different to themselves. So, presumably, we must be thankful for the sake of all the disabled people and ethnic minorities in Wirral that you never got elected because by your own logic you would not represent them.

    I agree with you though about Nick Clegg not appointing Lynn Featherstone. And only Lynne Featherstone. And NOT because she was a woman but because she is massively more able than Danny Alexander has ever been. But Danny was Nick’s loyal bag-carrier. Lynne was (and is) a person with her own mind.

    How many more of the electorate failed to see us as relevant? Nick Clegg never appointed one woman to the cabinet. It was a mistake that damaged the party’s credibility among women. We can’t go on hoping this will get better. We need to take either action or accept that 50% of the electorate just see us as irrelevant.

  • Tony Dawson 10th Mar '16 - 6:37pm

    @Elizabeth Jewkes:

    “What I do know is, as a woman, that a predominately male parliamentary party does not represent me.”

    I am intrigued. I doubt very much whether many women would wish to be represented by a person who believes that people cannot represent those different to themselves. So, presumably, we must be thankful for the sake of all the disabled people and ethnic minorities in Wirral that you never got elected because by your own logic you would not represent them.

    I agree with you though about Nick Clegg not appointing Lynn Featherstone. And only Lynne Featherstone. And NOT because she was a woman but because she is massively more able than Danny Alexander has ever been. But Danny was Nick’s loyal bag-carrier. Lynne was (and is) a person with her own mind.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 10th Mar '16 - 6:39pm

    Tony, did Jim Devine set back the reputation of men in politics?

    Do poor male minsters set back the reputation of men?

    Women seem to attract the sexist nonsense.

  • David Evans 10th Mar '16 - 7:32pm

    As I have said before Paul, we need much, much better than very good candidates to even have an outside chance of holding on. Lisa Smart didn’t stand a chance in Cheadle last time, nor did Julie Porksen in Berwick, Lauren Keith in Brent, Christine Jardine in Gordon, Vikki Slade in Mid Dorset, or Rachel Gilmour in Taunton Deane, nor did any of the men standing in previously held seats. Likewise sitting MPs were massacred across the board. Until you come to terms with the fact that we are back to the 1960s in terms of support, and plan accordingly, you will continue to promote ideas which will only ensure this great party’s continuing decline.

  • John Barrett 10th Mar '16 - 11:22pm

    Paul Walter – We may well manage to convince enough additional women and men to vote for us this May to regain the seat in the Scottish Parliament, but if those same people, who have been door knocked, canvassed and leafletted every month of the past year decide not to join the party, as you know, they will not be considered as potential candidates. The men who join will be ruled out, regardless of how brilliant they might be as future MPs.

    We will then be casting the net wide for an able woman (as we have decided on AWS for this seat) who may have shown little or no interest in the seat, or possibly even the party up to this date. This will not inspire the Lib-Dem campaigners or the public.

    The SNP did this in the 2015 election and actually won the seat from us. It only takes a short Google of Michelle Thomson MP, to see the result of that exercise. We must not go down that road.

    I suspect those supporting the diversity motion have little or no idea just how hard it is to get candidates of any gender, age, race, religion or anything else to stand at election time. Ruling out 50% of them makes it much harder.

    For those who do take the leap and join the party, very few will even want to become office bearers in the local party far less stand for election.

    You are right in that there will be good potential candidates out there and I would be happy to help get the next female Lib-Dem MP elected in Edinburgh West, but the diversity motion does nothing to make this happen.

    It probably makes the seat harder to win back.

  • Elizabeth Jewkes 11th Mar '16 - 8:33am

    One thing the party has been doing is to talk to women and try and find out their experience of standing for election. But in my opinion they’ve failed to take it much further. 20 years ago, I made a complaint about a RO who I believe discriminated against me when I applied for a (then) target seat. He delayed telling me I was shortlisted and then chose not to send out any of the election leaflets so postal voters only received a list of names. I was also denied the membership list (it wasn’t ready!) until I kicked up a fuss. HQ’s response ‘They treat women much worse in Scotland’. In 2014, the same RO, again failed to let me know I was shortlisted until I tried to find out why not. He then told me I couldn’t have appealed anyway as I was outside the time limit for appeals! So the timetable only applied to me, not to him. Did he fail to tell the male candidate he was shortlisted? I know what I think. When I complained about him, he threatened me with disqualification. This misogynistic dinosaur remains a RO.
    BTW, if I am so well represented (having only ever lived in constituencies with male MPs), why is there still vat on sanitary products?

  • I’m with Elizabeth and Paul Walter on this one. Their analysis is spot on. Most of the objectors haven’t signed in so may not be Party members anyway. Maybe that explains something.

  • Elizabeth Jewkes 11th Mar '16 - 11:35am

    Tony Dawson – I didn’t say a male dominated parliament couldn’t represent me. I said it didn’t. Rest assured. I am well able to represent all the inhabitants of Wirral South.

  • Miranda Whitehead 11th Mar '16 - 11:50am

    I qualified as a doctor in the early 1970s when there was a great deal of discrimination and mysogyny in the medical profession. That has gradually resolved as applicants began to be chosen on merit and the number of girls greatly increased in medical schools. When I became involved in politics I was astonished at the out dated attitudes prevalent in our party and at Westminster.A low point for me was when I took two promising young university students to a Bournemouth conference and was surprised and embarrassed at the unpleasant nature of a debate involving some changes that were being proposed which would benefit women’s safety. The motion was lost. Afterwards one of the girls actually asked me “Why do Lib Dems hate women so much?” Both went on to get First Class degrees. Are they Lib Dems ? No. I have lost count of the number of clever and engaged young women who give up on us.We are ignoring half the electorate so why should they be interested in us? I so admire you for carrying on the fight Lizzie, but we are in great danger of losing these sort of women to a party that will represent them.

  • @Elizabeth – Thankyou for relating some of your experiences. I agree the conscious bias you were faced with was unacceptable 20 years ago and would have been unacceptable in many of the companies I worked for in the 1980’s. I hope you are available to actively support today’s candidates, as I’m sure having someone with such ‘battle’ experience on your side would be both helpful and reassuring.

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