Let’s find our Kamala Harris

There’s a great quote from Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to the US Congress: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair.” Maybe it was the combination of the heat and the Ben and Jerry’s ice cream sandwich I’d just eaten, but when the news broke last night that Kamala Harris has been selected to be Joe Biden’s running mate, I whooped and woo-hoo-ed. A lot. Only four women have ever been named by a major US party as a presidential or vice-presidential nominee, and none of them have been elected.

We are all acutely aware that this US election is one of the most significant of our lifetimes – a chance for America to reject the corrosive rhetoric of Trump and the appalling racism which his administration has helped to foster. There will be numerous attempts to undermine Kamala Harris, Fox News will throw everything at her; but I have no doubt she has the tenacity to weather any kind of storm. And representation matters.

For the Liberal Democrats, it’s the opportunity to look around and see what we can and should be doing differently, and that means making sure more diverse voices in the party are allowed to take centre stage.

I was really delighted that both of our Leadership Candidates have publicly committed to supporting the Rooney Rule, and hopefully this will ensure that there are Black, Asian and minority ethnic candidates in as many target seat selections as possible. Selections also still need to include female candidates – and if you don’t get why that’s important, when over 50% of our MPs are women, it’s worth noting that in the General Election, just 31% of our candidates were female.

No one is saying the best candidate shouldn’t win –  but for goodness’ sake let’s remove barriers to their success.

We can all help identify talent and ask candidates from diverse backgrounds to stand. Trust me, it’s a tremendous boost when someone asks you to stand and offers their encouragement and support to help you get there. We are very fortunate to have superb mentoring for female candidates in our party from the Campaign for Gender Balance (indeed like so many other female parliamentary candidates I would never have got through approval without the support of the CGB).

Of course while getting approved is one thing, finding a seat is another challenge entirely.

So I’d really like to see local parties encouraged to think differently when selecting parliamentary candidates. For a start, to get away from thinking that PPCs have to live in their seats, particularly if rents and house prices are prohibitive. Commutable distance should be good enough. 

And while convincing local party membership to support a candidate is obviously important, perhaps members also need to remember when they are selecting that it’s the electorate that need to be convinced. 

I’d also like to see more financial support offered to candidates who need it. During a recent 50:50 Parliament zoom session Jess Phillips told us she’d spent £60k to become an MP. That’s clearly prohibitive, but even help with getting to and from hustings can be welcome.

Let’s find our Kamala Harris, our Jacinda Ardern. Let’s offer more seats at the table.



* Liz Jarvis stood as a Parliamentary Candidate in the 2019 General Election and is the Vice-Chair of Liberal Democrat Women

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  • Martin Boffey 12th Aug '20 - 5:24pm

    I would like to see more diversity in our candidates, both for Parliament and Local Government. I think that starts with diversity in the members we recruit. However, being very new to activism as I am I think it is key that the Party and ALDC provide training on how to go about it, because I would hate to make people feel like I’m only approaching them and trying to recruit them because they’re from a minority background. Isn’t that almost as bad as profiling? I’m sure there are ways to avoid this but I would need training on how to do it, which I’m up for.

    Regarding moving away from PPC’s living in their seats, I think that would be a sad day. It might not seem so important in an urban area, but living in the shires I feel like it is one of the things that marks us out particularly against the Tories. How can you be a local champion if you’re not from the local area? But I realise that’s just my opinion.

  • Michael Bukola 12th Aug '20 - 7:03pm

    Go Liz! Very much a supporter of the gender balance movement within the Party at all levels. I am very proud to live in a constituency in London who have had a BAME Lib Dem PPC at every General Election since 2010 and our first female BAME PPC at the 2019 General Election. I long for the day where this is commonplace in many more constituencies around the Country, in both urban and rural areas. There is absolutely no reason why BAME candidates, male or female, cannot stand in any constituency anywhere. #TimesUp

  • James Moore 12th Aug '20 - 8:29pm

    When you are a party of less than a dozen MPs fighting for survival the focus needs to be getting candidates who can (a) win their seats and (b) be absolutely outstanding individuals capable of being great advocates for Liberalism.

    By all means try to find candidates that reflect the cultural balance of the country but unless they can win, debating the niceties of quotas is a waste of time as the party simply won’t exist.

    Would either of the current leadership candidates have had a chance in hell against a Kennedy, Ashdown, Steel or even a Thorpe? The party desperately need some outstanding new MPs wherever they come from. That’s the harsh truth.

  • George Potter 12th Aug '20 - 8:59pm

    Firstly the Liberal Democrats already have two MPs who are women of colour – Munira Wilson and Layla Moran. More would be very welcome but could we Lib Dems please stop ignoring the existence of women of colour within our party who already hold public office?

    Secondly, given that Kamala Harris’s record as San Francisco’s District Attorney and later as California’s Attorney General included increased prosecution of (disproportionately black and latino) people for cannabis possession, a get tough policy on fining parents of truant children (again, disproportionately hurting low-income black and latino families) and adopted transphobic policies for prisoners, could we perhaps aim our sights a little higher in terms of what we should look for in Liberal Democrat politicians.

  • Michael Bukola 12th Aug '20 - 10:56pm

    @ James Moore

    I sense an air of disappointment in the qualities displayed in the current Leadership race. We have to be careful not to judge politicians too quickly. Viewing Ed Davey and Layla Moran in the context of past leaders is pointless. This is what we have now. Kamala Harris in an age of Michelle Obama will only bring disappointment. Kamala Harris needs the space to dispel myths and discover fulfilment in her own image and not in someone else.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Aug '20 - 11:17pm

    I think we have way too negative a view of candidates and party.

    We have two fine contenders. We have very few mps compared to US Congress men and women.

    We have a women who is BAME and LGBT. I support her. Is that true of some decrying our own version of a position we don’t have in this country. Our minorities are emerging in view of talent, not token picks. Our monarch is a great woman. Two women pms. We have a great country and a great philosophy. Too much regular talk against our candidates and party. We need all talented to emerge. I am south west London born and bred. I was not able to stand in a seat even if I wanted to, as it had been chosen for all women shortlists. Kamala Harris emerged due to something the US know about, primary races, open to all who want to run. no approved lists or quotas. We should adopt that way too.

  • I really wish we judge people for what they say, what they know and what they can do, rather than what group they are perceived to represent.

    We seem to be returning to a pre-Enlightenment world where people are judged as representatives of social groups and interests, rather than on their individual capabilities. That is not a Liberal approach.

    On the question of leadership quality, I am still waiting for either candidate to say anything original or interesting. I will probably vote for the one least likely to have their private life splashed over the Sunday redtop.

  • John Marriott 13th Aug '20 - 10:48am

    Call me on old cynic if you want; but has anyone thought through what the Democrats have done? Of course it’s great that a lady of colour could become the next US Vice President. However, as Biden has clearly hinted that he would be a one term president, it puts Ms Harris in a strong position to be the Democrats’ Presidential That candidate of choice in 2024. There are sadly still many electors over there, who would be unlikely to vote for a woman as Commander in Chief, let alone one of colour. Call me defeatist if you wish, but people often behave in strange ways. That said, I would still hope that the Biden/Harris ticket would carry all before it so the world can did itself of that awful Trump.

    As for the Lib Dems finding their own Kamala, if mixed face and sex are their criteria, haven’t they already got an ‘oven ready’ one in Ms Moran?

  • Simon McGrath 13th Aug '20 - 11:03am

    The point about PPCs not living in the constituencies is an interesting one – though we have frequently attacked other parties candidates for not being local .
    I think we should distinguish between the time of selection and what they commit to subsequently. A couple of years ago I made calls for a great young woman ppcc who worked in the constituency she was applying and would have moved were she selected. But time and time again i was told people would not vote for as she did not then live locally

  • Simon McGrath 13th Aug '20 - 11:05am

    ps -intersting points from george about Kamala Harris. Pretty similar to those the Trump campaign will make to try to depress turnout among black voters

  • Simon McGrath: all these issues were raised when she succesfully ran for Attorney General and Senator in California. Remember whatever world, role or job you are in, you normally follow the policy of those above you, you can change it once you have that power yourself. There is hardly nobody appointed to a high role, who if honest, would deny that. It’s life.

  • George Potter 13th Aug '20 - 12:17pm

    In response to Simon, I think you don’t have to pretend someone is flawless and an amazing Liberal hero just in order to advocate voting for them in order to stop something far worse.

    But when you drown out any critical analysis in favour of blind hero worship of people who don’t share your values then all you end up with is the kind of machine establishment candidate who led the Democrats to defeat in 2016.

    If you don’t criticise and recognise the flaws of your own side then you have zero hope of ever getting any better.

  • Same will be said about Trump and his cohorts, things he has said and done, to depress white middle class voters from voting Republican. It’s all swings and roundabouts.
    One other thought, is there anyone in a position of paid authority or elected office who has not had to do something, they disagreed with, because they were told to? It’s the way of the world. You can only change it when you have power. Therein lies this party’s dilemma!!!

  • Paul Holmes 13th Aug '20 - 1:10pm

    Even in our best election for almost a century we only elected 62 MP’s in 2005, even though we averaged 20% of the vote across 10 GE’s 1974-2010.

    For the last 10 years we have been bumping along with average Poll ratings around 8%, average General Election votes of 8.9% and average number of MP’s elected at 10. The last 10 years/3 General Elections have us at near the levels of 1945-1970 (average vote over 8 GE’s 7.5%, average number of MP’s 8) when the Liberal Party tottered permenantly on the edge of complete extinction.

    Anything which improves our candidates slim chances of electoral success in a two Party dominated FPTP system (currently one Party dominated in Scotland) should be seized upon. Having a well established profile as a local campaigner has been a factor in the election of almost all of our MP’s. When Paddy moved to Yeovil he didn’t expect to win first time out but planned a 3 election programme which actually succeeded after two. Daisy Cooper succeeded after the second attempt in St Albans as did Layla in OXWAB. The great majority of our candidates of course never succeed at all.

    Apart from the practicalities outlined above, I do actually prefer the concept of MP’s who genuinely represent their community rather than as people who just want to be elected and don’t care where. Also of course, as has often been pointed out, whilst Lab/Con have lots of seats where selection effectively means election we have virtually none that fall into the safe seat category.

  • Paul Holmes 13th Aug '20 - 1:24pm

    Ref the article at the top of this thread, our Parliamentary Party is already 64% female and 18% BAME -both ‘over representations’ in terms of population make up.

    As others have already pointed out one of our BAME MP’s is running, not to be second in command like Kamala Harris, but to be Leader of our Party. I have already cast my vote for her, not because I have the slightest interest in her Gender, Sexuality or Race but because I think her statements about policy and campaigning approach offer us the best chance of starting to haul the Party out of its near terminal, post Coalition, situation. Of course I don’t agree with all Layla says but on UBI for example, Ed also says he supports it so it’s not a deal breaker between the two of them.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Aug '20 - 2:53pm


    Yes if you mean open to non members. I refer to open but mean to members. The party is allowing elites hand picked to vet and decide and “train”, that is not fully liberal, certainly not totally democratic.

    All members, in any seat , if with no dishonourable history of criminality, ought to be allowed to raise money and attempt to campaign, then appear on the ballot. All members can then vote. A members only US system, not all voters.

    We need to change. Bodies, campaining or otherwise, are top down. I do not even engage with the process, cannot abide the idea of a training day or vetting session. I lead seminars, yet must attend long drawn sessions and appear before a panel of three, to attempt to stand as a candidate in my own party?! By then allowed to be an approved, candidate? Approved, not elected! Then apply, not stand, in a seat?! Less is more, but less bureaucracy and more democracy is lost on some.

  • We’ve got a Kamala Harris in this country. She’s called Priti Patel and she’s the home secretary.

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