Five New Year’s Resolutions for 2016 #4

I’m suggesting five New Year’s resolutions for Liberal Democrats. Here, in very short and sweet from, is number 4.

Be very radical on diversity

We simply cannot go on with the embarrassment of our parliamentarians being as white and male as they are. It’s time to follow the example of Justin Trudeau and Nicola Sturgeon and Just Do It. It’s not just about processes, it’s about an unshakeable commitment to delivering diversity at every single level of the party from local party committees right up there that has to be driven by everyone in leadership positions. I think that measures like quotas, zipping and all women shortlists are an essential part of this. Others disagree, but if we don’t, we’ll still be having these discussions in 30 years time. At least now we know that the “but it has to be about merit” argument by opponents has been comprehensively debunked by the evidence. 

That is not, of course, to suggest that these measures are all that needs to be done. We need to look long and hard at the party’s culture and where the barriers exist to participation by people from under-represented groups. We need to do more outreach work with these groups. We have a record of achievement on issues that matter to all of them, going back decades, but we haven’t been so successful about engaging with them. Clearly the more people you can recruit from these groups and persuade to stand and get involved at all levels of the party, the better.

The Federal Party still intends to do a Morrissey style report on the barriers relating specifically to BAME people. Nothing has yet happened but we do need to get on with it and get it done before we start selecting in key seats for 2020.

We cannot afford to go into any elections without a set of candidates that look like the country we seek to represent. If we do, it is going to harm any attempt we make to grow again.

I have been arguing for greater diversity for as long as I have been in the party. Several generations of party activists have come and gone by now and, if anything, we’ve gone backwards. Diversity has to be one of our key priorities in the future and we need to do whatever it takes to make it happen at every level of the party.

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

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  • Rolling out the unconscious bias training set out by Morrissey I also needs doing – it didn’t happen.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 4th Jan '16 - 11:11am


  • Mick Taylor 4th Jan '16 - 11:25am

    I agree 110% with Caron on this. We really must face off the people who by denying the party the right tools actively prevent us achieving our diversity goals. Never mind 2020. The European elections will be in 2019 -assuming we stay in the EU – and zipping worked really well for them in 1999. We now only have 1 incumbent so there should be no reason not to use zipping in 2019 to achieve a balanced representation as we did in 1999. [6 men, six women and ethnic minority representation]

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 4th Jan '16 - 1:17pm

    I thought all the regional conferences have offered u/c bias training now and it has been at federal conference too. I also think but am not certain that all selection ROs in England have had it and it is part of the mandatory selection committee training in England too.

  • paul barker 4th Jan '16 - 1:56pm

    Absolutely, we just need to get on with it.

  • “At least now we know that the “but it has to be about merit” argument by opponents has been comprehensively debunked by the evidence.”

    I’m not sure you can read that from the blog post, it seems littered with the bodies of strawmen. The only interpretation is that “The underlying assumption here is, of course, that women have less ‘merit’ than men”

    Most arguments over ‘meritocract’ would presumably be that in a future selection should select the best candidate not claiming that the historic process had.

    Other examples of strawmanning in the “there is no evidence to support the notion that men are somehow ‘naturally’ better at politics than women.” I have never seen that claim made. “women are expected to earn a place at the decision-making table, while men, in contrast, are generally assumed to possess ‘merit’ unless proven otherwise” – a strange switch from “quota women” to all “women” – changing the question. “If ‘merit’ is as objective and neutral as its supporters argue” – Do they?

    As for the claim that “voters do not penalise women candidates at the ballot box, and quotas don’t lose votes” it is not clear that this is based upon looking across a number of populations and if it considered the impact specifically in FPTP elections which produce so many terrible outcomes hurting quota candidates in marginal seats could easily be one.

    It seems a shame that one of the important points in the post seems like an afterthought. The party level barriers (methods of selection, culture, and stories of others experience), and receive coverage that focuses on the irrelevant (though how often that is encouraged by the female politicians themselves, the media is always well briefed on what women are wearing – they shouldn’t play the papers game).

  • (tiresome flood prevention)

    It seems an important point that the inaccurate statement towards the end “Quotas, then, are not […] discriminatory” tis is rather like blog editors who claim that “we don’t censor,” when they clearly do. The discrimination and censoring are real but they may be a good idea in the right circumstances (addressing a lingering historic issue with future risks or to keep discussions from becoming derailed and becoming boring). By denying the actions for what they are, it is an attempt to avoid providing the more compelling case for an action that would normally require a high bar of justification. If you have chosen a course of action, own it and have a good reason.

    The tone of the blog you linked it is one that reads like it is trying to dismiss criticism rather than understand it and address the points, learning on the way and perhaps improving the proposed approach.

  • Peter Watson 4th Jan '16 - 2:40pm

    What is “zipping”?

  • I think Caron raises an important point that the Party is not taking diversity seriously enough, at this rate who knows how many under represented groups will feel disengaged. Caron’s comments somehow remind me of the Helena Morrissey report how the Party has implemented the changes. Although I’m glad the Federal Party are addressing barriers specifically to BAME people, what about individuals who are disabled, LGBT etc do they matter or do we have to wait for other reports? A group of us have set up a Diversity survey for Liberal Democrat members and activists to have a say on how they feel diversity is supported within the Party please have a look

  • Peter Watson 4th Jan '16 - 4:12pm

    @Paul Walter
    Thanks for that. Quite an imaginative name for it.

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Jan '16 - 6:45pm

    I disagree with going “very radical on diversity”. It’s not about my personal interests, or at least I try not to make it about that, but what I think makes a good recruitment policy.

    To address the argument that those against total equality are saying women have less merit: saying if we have a majority of male activists and applicants, but we can’t hire a majority of men is arguably saying that men have less merit. Of course, I don’t believe this, but it is another logic of the “less merit” argument.

  • I would be very unhappy to belong to a political party that had quotas.

    There are several reasons why quotas would be a retrograde step. Here are three:

    (1) It would take power away from members and hand it to elites.
    (2) It would emphasise difference.
    (3) It would encourage tribal behaviour.

    (2) and (3) to a great extent merge into each other. (1) is the immediate and present threat.

  • Mick Taylor 4th Jan '16 - 10:20pm

    Under the zipping system adopted for 1999 5 regions had a woman at the top of the list and 5 had men [12 MEPs elected – two regions we got 2 MEPs] and the lists then alternated genders. It was the only time in our party’s history (and that of it’s predecessors ) that we had a team balanced in terms of gender and with 1 MEP from an ethnic minority background.

  • The current make up,of mp cannot be helped, I think our awful general election contributed to this as we had many target a held seats with excellent female candidates who I’m certain would have won if we were not in coalition and will np be future mp. I want to see a party that no person feels uncomfortable or unable to have their views a opinions listened a respected. I am against long term positive discrimination, but the party needs to take action as we are perceived by the wider world! by our mp make up,when we have so many fantastic members of all background. I would propose all female shortlists in at least 25% of seats in the next general election and I would try this in council elections as well.

  • A Social Liberal 5th Jan '16 - 12:19am

    Once again the diversity argument slides to those with the loudest voices. How about we redress the greatest imbalance within politics first and get a representative number of working class people (of whatever gender or ethnicity) into positions of greatest representation and responsibility.

  • I agree 110% too Carol. I would like us to offer to take up every single policy of the Womens Equality Party and see if they will join us.

  • David Evans 5th Jan '16 - 12:22pm

    It is profoundly disappointing to hear LDV yet again demean the party’s MPs with comments like “We simply cannot go on with the embarrassment of our parliamentarians being as white and male as they are.” We are down to eight and the Editor in chief of LDV describes our MPs as an embarrassment!! These MPs are the ones who managed against all the odds to defend their seats after the most disastrous five years in the party’s history! The fact that forty nine of our MPs didn’t manage it, including all of our women MPs, is a tragedy; but it is a tragedy for Liberal Democracy, all the values we stand for and most importantly all the people we represent. However, it is no cause for condemnation of those that remain, either individually or as a group.

    Ignoring a real problem that is difficult to solve and focussing action on a smaller one that is less difficult is typical displacement activity in many organisations, and this sadly was the case throughout the disastrous years of the coalition. Instead of decrying and undermining our party on LDV over that time with similar destructive pieces, the time would have been better spent on supporting those who were fighting for the future of the party then. Now it is our very existence at stake and still we get the same old, same old.

    Is LDV happier now we have only one MEP, and she is a woman!? Will LDV never learn?

  • Tony Greaves 5th Jan '16 - 2:22pm

    LDV will never learn, David, along with everyone else who wants a wholly diverse party even if we never ever win an election! The fact is that if we had won 40 seats, the gender balance would have been substantially fixed. Most of the replacement candidates for retiring MPs were women. The problem we have is that we only had eight candidates (all sitting MPs) able to hang on.

    By the way the gender equality in the MEPs was nothing to do with zipping since the order of people lower on the list was irrelevant in all regions except the South East. If you only win one seat on a list zipping is not relevant. The reason for the gender balance was that there was an equality of women and men in the number one positions. That was a fix (organised by Chris Rennard) but not a result of zipping the lists.

    Tony Greaves

  • Mark

    “I would like us to offer to take up every single policy of the Womens Equality Party and see if they will join us.”

    Well they wouldn’t join just because of that, and copying other parties policies to ingratiate yourself with their members is a terrible idea. For example their policy towards sex workers deserves to be handled with extreme scepticism. Just because someone has the right intentions doesn’t mean they have the right action to achieve it.

    Add in that the skewed “lense” they will view policy making through, will give you some terrible policies. From the December TES: Sexism is endemic in schools, says leader of Women’s Equality Party. A concerning interpretation on the challenges of education certainly not to be copied if you are aspire to provide a comprehensive programme, but par for the course if you are just a lobby group.

    Also copying other parties policies does nothing to address LibDem specific issues, the terrible treatment of past female PPCs (and the lingering reputation of that) will be a continuing barrier and no one else will have a solution to that.

  • On a wider note I find it surprising that whenever this topic comes up there seems to be a desire to push the quota approach while there appears to be far from consensus over any other actions to take, be that zipping and balance in the top candidate where there are elections with lists; changing selection process, support methods for PPCs, equal top funding.

    There never seems to have been an article on here setting out a comprehensive list of actions that could be taken short of quotas and then discuss the need for quota’s on the back of that.

    The disjointed piecemeal way this topic is approached seems doomed to confusion and failure.

  • A Social Liberal

    “How about we redress the greatest imbalance within politics first and get a representative number of working class people (of whatever gender or ethnicity) into positions of greatest representation and responsibility.”

    Probably because that would actually cost a lot of money and that is in short supply. Getting wealthier women elected is going to be much easier than getting poor candidates elected. Can you imagine how steep the hill is to climb to get a female candidate who had children under the age of 18 would be? I can’t imagine many who would be able to take on the task for financial reasons alone.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Jan '16 - 4:07pm

    Antony Hook 4th Jan ’16 – 1:17pm Taking training at regional conference is a voluntary choice.
    As a returning officer I was trained to look out for bias and prejudice, which are, of course, different things and to advise local parties accordingly.
    Enforcement is a different thing because the local party chooses their candidate and may prefer someone local and/or someone they know.
    Local parties should not even ask about car ownership, although some candidates may volunteer the information.

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