LDV readers say: no to all-women short-lists and quotas, yes to better training and support

Three weeks ago, LDV posed the following question – How should the Lib Dems increase their number of female MPs? – in the wake of Nick Clegg’s frank admission to the Speaker’s Conference that the Lib Dem Parliamentary Party is “woefully unrepresentative of modern Britain”.

Here’s what you told us:

  • 8% (23 votes) – All women shortlists and/or quotas in ALL seats
  • 7% (22) – All women shortlists and/or quotas in winnable and held seats
  • 44% (133) – No short-lists and/or quotas, but invest in getting more, better-trained and supported candidates
  • 14% (42) – No short-lists and/or quotas: focus instead on electoral reform – until we have that, all our efforts will be limited
  • 28% (84) – No short-lists and/or quotas: all candidates should stand or fall on their own merits regardless of gender
  • Total Votes: 304. Poll ran: 21st – 28th October 2009

There seems to be little support among LDV readers (who may or may not be representative of party members and supporters) for the idea of short-lists or quotas to increase the number of women Lib Dem MPs: just 15% believed they should be used.

A plurality of readers opted for the middle-way option: no all-women short-lists or quotas, but for the party to invest more in training and support. A signifcant minority (28%), though, stood by the position that “all candidates should stand or fall on their own merits regardless of gender”.

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30 Comments

  • Andrew Suffield 8th Nov '09 - 2:01pm

    On reflection, this poll’s a bit too tangled to be clear on anything but the primary question; the last three options aren’t mutually exclusive.

  • Not a surprise that the majority of LDV readers, who we know are men and not representative (of the general public) are happy to wait another 100 years for equal representation, because thats how long it will take at the present pace, without some form of positive action. More ‘support and training ‘should be going on and is happening, but it will have little impact.
    Even Cameron’s cottoned on.

  • Croslandist 8th Nov '09 - 2:36pm

    “Invest in getting more, better-trained and supported candidates” – invest how much, and sacrifice our chances of winning how many seats as a result?

  • To translate the results into plain english
    Theres no need to do anything 42%
    Lets pretend to do something 44%
    Cleggs response should be to bring in AWS now, clearly most LDs dont get it & we cant afford to be outflanked by both the big parties.

  • Pavement Politico 8th Nov '09 - 2:57pm

    Hands up who wants to be the token woman candidate? The token black candidate, the token gay MP, etc.

    The problem lies in our campaigning messages. Parties know what they can use in an area when they select candidates, and it’s painfully obvious this year that only bland white males need have applied – the inoffensive and all-encompassing image of the plucky underdog, the friendly local champion…

  • The fundamental point of principle is surely that the Liberal Democrats are a democratic party whose candidates are chosen by the members – they are not imposed from on high.

    Look at the record of Blair’s token women. Few made an impact. All, or almost, all, voted blindly with the whips and uttered not a whisper of dissent. Most were quite simply not up to the job of running the country. (True, there are plenty of useless men, but men, unlike token women, have to convince ordinary members of their worth.)

    BTW, how many feminists ever complained that women were excluded from working in the coal mines?

  • Andrew Suffield 8th Nov '09 - 3:37pm

    another 100 years for equal representation, because thats how long it will take at the present pace

    If the issue really will go away on its own in 100 years, then I for one would be very happy with doing nothing. To me, that is an acceptable timeframe for completion (observing that it would become gradually smaller over that time). I justify this on the basis that you have to wait until all the older voters have died before their opinions can be discounted, and gender bias is decreasing with each generation, so “one lifetime” is about how long I would expect the transition to take.

    Certainly this would be preferable to ‘affirmative action’, which I don’t like at all.

    To skip over the usual pointless argument: there’s two camps here. One says “oh teh noes, there is a gender imbalance! Something Must Be Done!”, and moves on to “This is something, therefore we must do it”. The other says “We eliminate gender bias by not acting in a gender-biased manner”, and moves on to “We should not pay any attention to gender differences, so we should not do anything”. The first is feminists/women/feminazis/alarmist and the second is misogynists/men/Victorian/conservative, picking whichever label suits your prejudices and dismissing any people who claim to support that view without fitting your label as “not representative”. Did I miss anything?

    As usual, there is no one-size-fits-all solution and you’re going to have to look more closely at exactly why the apparent bias is happening – and in this case, if it turns out to be that the voters prefer male candidates to female ones, then suck it up, you are receiving democracy. This is important: I will accept no attempts to fight voter bias. Identifiable issues with the selection and campaigning process are fine though.

  • Cllr Patrick Smith 8th Nov '09 - 3:53pm

    The question of which way works best to improve the representation of Liberal Democrat women in the next Parliament much have a mutual consensus with women, in order to elect their greater numbers, as women remain 5 to 1 as elected L/D MP`s as things stand.. My comments are:

    1.There are brilliant and gifted L/D MP`s like Lynne Featherstone,Sarah Teather,Susan Kramer,Jo Swinson,Julia Goldsworthy but clearly there ought to many more more like them.

    2.With greater emphasis on targeting women in training and resourcing surely this should be capable of raising consciousness to bring female L/D 150 PPC within good range of being elected ,without resorting to `short-lists’.

    3..I believe that it is a misnomer to consider that the election of elevating gender issues, is entirely dependent upon the increase of L/D M.P.s, in the next Parliament.

    4.I suspect that our women L/D M.P.s spend the majority of their time dealing with the same problems for their constiuents and Country, as male counterparts.

    5..Violet Bonham-Carter (1887-1969) the daughter of HH. Asquith is as well known today for her defence of patriotism and she spoke out against European Fascism earliest in the 1930`s when the threat was lowest in public perception.

    6.In her brilliant autobiographical account of her life in politics `Climbing the Bookshelves’,the eminent Shirley Williams describes the many avenues that were open to men and open to her ,including the All Mens Drinking Clubs etc. when she first entered Parliament . I believe that the Baroness still considers that women should still not be selected from `short lists’.

    7.Chris Huhne has spoken out in defence of Womens` Rights and has said at the Amnestry International rally,

    `All women deserve to be free to live their lives without fear of violence’

    `It is inhumane that provisions to stop violence should be dependent on immigration status’.

  • @Sesenco – (True, there are plenty of useless men, but men, unlike token women, have to convince ordinary members of their worth.)
    Eh? What does this mean? Whether you’re a man or a woman, once elected to public office surely we are all equal?
    ‘Token women’ – can you name the women elected to Parliament by AWS? Once elected, the public do not much care how you were selected, as long as you work hard for your constituents.
    Most democracies around the world who have much larger female representation in their legislatures than us, have quotas. We can’t keep hiding behind the fact we are a democratic party. There is nothing democratic about being so unrepresentative.

  • Meral, what do you mean by “representative”? There are many people with low IQs (perhaps a fifith of the population). Should the composition of Parliament reflect their preponderance in the community as well as that of women? You see, Meral, your argument is based on the assumption that Parliament should mirror the gender, ethnic, socio-economic, moral, etc, character of the community. And it simply isn’t sustainable. If Parliament is to function effectively as the legislature and scrutineer of the Executive, then it must surely be filled with the best possible people to do those jobs. And that is incompatible with your (transparently self-serving) insistence that half of MPs be women. It might just be that more men are better at being MPs than women. If so, then so be it. As long as members have the right to decide, I do not see how anyone can complain. I don’t hide behind democracy, Meral, I believe in it.

    Now, name me a Labour token woman MP who has exhibited the slightest independence of spirit.

  • Senesco, women miners were driven out with extreme violence & kept out by the progressive NUM & their Labour stooges. Even in the late 60s there were cases of miners striking against the threat of women visitors, they were beleived to bring bad luck.
    There are only 2 explanations for the gender discrepency in LD MPs, either the members are prejudiced, albeit unconsciously or women just arent as good. Which do you believe ?

  • Lester Holloway 8th Nov '09 - 6:46pm

    Andrew Suffield If the issue really will go away on its own in 100 years, then I for one would be very happy with doing nothing. To me, that is an acceptable timeframe for completion

    Good job Andrew wasn’t around and in power at the time women were campaigning for the right to vote, otherwise half the population might only just be getting ready to cast their votes for the first time at next years’ election! Its’ as out of touch a comment as someone on another thread suggesting that the word “equality” was illiberal.

    Given how good the current women Lib Dem MPs are, I’m surprised that more members don’t want more of them. If people like Andrew are willing to wait a century to see equal gender representation, goodness knows how long they are prepared to wait before the electorate accepts the party as being ready to govern.

    I thought Nick Clegg’s conference speech, talking about a Lib Dem cabinet, was essentially about impatience for change, for the good of the country. We need that same impatience throughout the party for a democracy that does not exclude people, because of the colour of their skin or their gender.

    Because, make no mistake, the do-nothing line of thinking is in reality about tolerating the exclusion of many talented people.

    One of the ironies about the Kelly proposals to ban MPs from employing family members is that parliament will be losing some of its most bright individuals, women who – if in power – would go a lot further than their MP husbands.

    We, more than any party, cannot afford to be complacent about equality.

  • Sesenco – I think we all know what we mean by representative. Yes, I would like to see more people from working class backgrounds in Parliament, 50% women, more ethnic minorities, more people with disabilities, because they would improve our democratci institutions. Why must public life be the exclusive bastion of men from middle class backgrounds, or as with Cameron’s front bench, old Etonians? We hear the same old argument that we shouldn’t worry about gender, race etc, we just need the ‘best’ –
    Basically, you’re happy with the status quo?
    Lee Chalmers hits the nail on the head – women don’t need ‘more training’ – why don’t men need ‘more training’ – are they all born to be MPs?
    Andrew Suffield, I won’t even dignify that response with a reply – Lester’s responded brilliantly!
    Women fought and died to have the right to vote.
    Interesting fact – if all the women who had ever been elected to Parliament over the years, were placed in the House, they would still be in the minority!

  • Martin Land 8th Nov '09 - 10:39pm

    Where the talent spotting falls down, Jo is that you and the GBTF keep making excellent female candidates run before they can walk, leading them to stand when they are simply not ready for it.

    With David Howarth retiring, I can already see the far too visible hand of the GBTF pushing a number of female candidates forward, but strangely none of these candidates applied for any of the 5 other seats in the County when they came up.

    Indeed two seats had no applicants at all, where female candidates could have stood and gained valuable experience.

    When you start talking about developing female candidates that have to jump through the same hoops as jobbing male councillors, then they will probably get more and better opportunities. Opportunities that they will deserve.

    This is not the Tory Party. We do not have safe seats where we can parachute in candidates. Lib Dem seats are invariably won by years of patient hard work and campaigning often by those silly male activists, councillors and campaigners. I have two excellent female councillors at the moment who will make excellent PPCs and MPs – after they have done at least four years on their council and learnt their trade. I’d expect that from all but the most exceptional male candidate, so why shouldn’t I expect from a woman?

    Actually, there is one exceptional female candidate from Cambridge who might well win….

  • @Jo
    “In most selections, shockingly, our members don’t get the chance to vote for a woman.
    We have far too many women coming forward as candidates, so need to do more to talent spot and encourage women to become approved as PPCs.”

    Is there a typo in that as it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense (so not sure if my comments would then apply)

  • Andrew Suffield 9th Nov '09 - 1:00am

    Good job Andrew wasn’t around and in power at the time women were campaigning for the right to vote, otherwise half the population might only just be getting ready to cast their votes for the first time at next years’ election!

    *eyeroll* Yes, because that’s exactly what ‘gradually moving from zero to evenly split’ means. Oh wait, no. In reality, these things don’t happen overnight, they take time. Roughly one lifetime.

  • simon mcgrath 9th Nov '09 - 9:21pm

    Its quote simple. Discrimination is wrong. Against men or women or on grounds of race or religion.You can’t have good discrimation only bad discrimination.

  • Martin Land 9th Nov '09 - 11:09pm

    Liberal Neil. I hear you and I hear everything that everyone is saying, but this issue has been coming up for as long as I can remember and progress is slight. In my opinion this is always because we are looking for short, easy, simplistic solutions. What I’m suggesting is building up from the bottom. Building a solid structure. In another context its been called community politics.

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