Who has too much influence in Liberal Democrat candidate selections?

This is what female members of the party’s list of approved candidates for the Westminster Parliament thought in 2007:

National leaders:
Have too little / far too little influence over the selection process: 26%
Have about the right influence: 58%
Too great / far too great: 5%
No view/ answer: 11%

Regional officers:
Too little / far too little: 21%
About right: 56%
Too great / far too great: 12%
No view/ answer: 12%

Local constituency officers:
Too little / far too little: 8%
About right: 62%
Too great / far too great: 18%
No view/ answer: 12%

Local party members:
Too little / far too little: 6%
About right: 71%
Too great / far too great: 13%
No view/ answer: 10%

Party agents:
Too little / far too little: 17%
About right: 59%
Too great / far too great: 5%
No view/ answer: 19%

I am not aware of similar figures for male candidates, but from personal experience (both as a Returning Officer and helping people with selection campaigns) I would expect a fairly similar picture.

The 22% figure for national leaders having too little influence on selections is higher that I’d have expected, but looking at the comments made by people and the answers to other questions on the approval process it looks to really be the consequence of two other views. First, people who have frustrating experiences of how local parties have run selections – and hence a reaction wishing that other parts of the party got involved to sort things out. Similarly, some people have a very negative view of the selection process. One in five, for example, said their experience of the approval process pre-2007 (i.e. before the most recent reforms) was that it was inefficient and 15% thought it had been not very or not at all democratic.

Second, the question of whether the party’s national leaders have in the past taken enough interest and shown enough lead in trying to improve the gender balance of the Parliamentary Party in Westminster.

Thank you to Serena Hennessy for providing me with access to her survey data gathered for her Masters dissertation at UCL, 2007.

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This entry was posted in News and Selection news.


  • Andrew Suffield 15th Dec '09 - 12:16pm

    One in five, for example, said their experience of the approval process pre-2007 (i.e. before the most recent reforms) was that it was inefficient and 15% thought it had been not very or not at all democratic.

    Interesting, if true. The numbers aren’t very informative here; what’s wrong with the process?

  • In my local partys selection only one woman applied & she was turned down by the panel who run the approved list. Inthe end we chose from 3 men, to stand against a prominent Woman MP. I would have welcomed some outside intervention.

  • It sounds like the system worked perfectly at your end, plumbus. People applied, were assessed on merit and the most suitable candidates shortlisted. I’d be far more concerned if a party had been forced to consider the unsuitable woman in place of a suitable man.

    The problem of gender balance is not one at the point of selection. I don’t believe there are any local parties where sexism or racism prevent the selection of women or ethnic minorities.

    The problem is firstly that we have programes like GBTF that grab people who fit a profile, coach them, motivate them, get them through approval and selection and then drop them like hot coals and move on to the next person. This is ridicululous seeing as getting selected even as a non-target PPC is just the start of all the hard work.
    Secondly, we still have a culture in politics and the party which assumes that a PPC needs certain skills and
    must take on certain jobs virtually unsupported. This might be something a well-connected White male who is independently wealthy and has few demands on his time can do. It is often not, however, compatible with people who work, have family or caring responsibilities or who are simply not from the White middle class with years of experience dealing with party, council and other bureaucratic structures.

  • Paul Griffiths 15th Dec '09 - 10:46pm

    Plumbus, you almost certainly did have outside intervention – in the form of the Returning Officer.

  • I think it is odd that candidates can’t use endorsements from national politicians

  • Matthew Huntbach 16th Dec '09 - 9:55am

    I went through the approval process some time ago. So I don’t know to what extent it’s changed since then, or to what extent what I experienced was typical.

    I was seeking approval not because I had any attention of trawling around trying to become a candidate in a winnable seat, but simply so that my name could be put forward in my own constituency or a neighbouring one if they were finding it difficult to get enough names to run a selection process with some choice.

    So, I admit, it was not something I spent a long time preparing for. I didn’t mug up on party policy, for example, as if taking an exam. I remember being questioned on it, and thinking I might have done better if I had, but I didn’t receive any feedback telling me I had failed on that point.

    The assessment, after that, seemed to be based almost entirely on some rather artificial exercises. There didn’t seem to be any criteria to say whether you had passed or failed, it seemed to be entirely up to the whim of the assessor. There was no opportunity at all to use examples of what you had achieved in practice as a campaigner in the party.

    I was told at the end that I had failed in some aspects, particularly media relationship. Which was weird, because I had then a record second to none of getting material into my local media. The fact that a few years earlier, for example, I had been declared my local paper’s “letter writer of the year” seemed to count for absolutely nothing. The assessor had declared I was rubbish at media contact, that was it. I had to go off for further training and to be reassessed. But he also told me he thought I seemed uninterested, and that was my real problem, I had been too quiet. Essentially he was saying people of my personality type aren’t welcome as PPCs in the party. Again, my long record of enthusiastic campaigning for the party counted for absolutely nothing. The assessor had declared I didn’t seem interested, and that was it, I couldn’t possibly be someone who was an asset to the party as a campaigner.

    I was told I might be reconsidered if I went on further training courses, but the only places they could be done were far away, it would involve taking time off away from my family. I think I went to one of these, was again told I hadn’t passed. So after that I felt I really couldn’t be bothered to go through all that again. I very nearly resigned from the party, because I felt they were telling me I was rubbish, I was no good as a front-man, so I felt why should I even be a councillor for the party if I was such a rotten no good person whose very appearance and attitude would so damage it that I couldn’t even be put forward for my local members to consider me for selection.

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