Opinion: My twin inspirations – The Terminator and The Leadership Programme!

Conference Rally2The other day, I was watching ‘The Terminator’ (one of my favourite films) for the umpteenth time and it occurred to me that it perfectly illustrated how the Liberal Democrat Leadership Programme came about…

Picture the scene. The date is Friday, 8th May, 2015, and many Lib Dems emerge bleary-eyed from their homes, council buildings and school halls after attending counts or watching Peter Snow’s swing-o-meter twitch as the results come in on TV.

In this future, we have had a good election, increasing the number of seats we hold. Of course, this should be a cause for celebration. However, despite the numerical success, the parliamentary party looks roughly the same as it does today. The number of female MPs has barely increased, our parliamentary party still contains not one non-white or disabled MP, and they come from a reasonably narrow range of backgrounds.

Our friends and enemies alike in the national press attack us from all sides and the headlines are savage. Every interview and panel highlights our lack of diversity, and we’re unable to satisfactorily explain the reasons why to the public at large.

Realising the potential damage this hypothetical future could cause our party, Nick Clegg (AKA John Connor) sent back a ‘Determinator’ — in the form of Sal Brinton — to fix things so that such a future never came to pass…

Okay, so I’ve stretched things somewhat. Nick and Sal aren’t time-travellers from the future.

But the future outlined above, is one we could quite easily have woken up to in 2015 unless steps were taken to try to prevent it. After 2010, the party was fortunate to find someone with a practical vision of the steps we could take to create a different more diverse future for our party – Rumi Verjee. In true Lib Dem style, involving much deliberation, discussion and debate, a motion was put before, and approved by, our 2011 Spring conference… And behold, the Leadership Programme was born.

So what does the Leadership Academy involve? Participants receive access to some fantastic networking and mentoring opportunities. Some of these require losing your inhibitions and I’m fortunate some of my acting in role-plays isn’t on tape! I try and share some of the pearls of wisdom I’ve gleaned from the trainers and my colleagues; it’s important the effects of this training are felt beyond just those in the programme.

We’re starting to see the effects of all this work as some participants have been selected to contest strategic seats: Layla Moran for Oxford West and Abingdon, and Maajid Nawaz for Hampstead & Kilburn, are just two examples. Others already hold (or have held) high positions in local government, but the bulk are waiting to contest seats that have yet to open nominations.

For me, one of the unexpected benefits of being in the Leadership Programme, is the bond that has developed between participants. Sometimes, when we go to conference or are active in local parties it’s easy to focus on the negative – the things that divide opinion and therefore the things we need to do to “get our way” (the ‘politics’ if you like!).

The Leadership Programme has given 40 or so passionate, driven and hard-working individuals the time and the space to share experiences, sound out new ideas, and learn from each other. Lifelong friendships have been formed, networks widened, and much help and advice is sought and given throughout the group. Whatever the result of the next election, I know the skills I and others on the programme have developed will be useful to the party.

A famous person once said:

“The future’s has not been written. There’s no fate but what we make for ourselves…”

Although it sounds like something Paddy might have said, it was actually John Connor in Terminator 2! The Leadership Programme hopes to help bring about a future for our party that we can all be proud of.

* Chris Lucas is a Lib Dem councillor on Three Rivers District Council.

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19 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Jul '13 - 4:13pm

    Race and sex discrimination is unacceptable, even against white males. The goal we need to work towards is to remove all discrimination and focus entirely on merit.

    I do not accept the argument that we need to focus on filling parliament with individual specialists and people with diverse backgrounds because there are not enough MPs and plus I think it’s just wrong to overlook people because of their gender or race because someone in head office has said so. Rather, we need to focus on individuals who have a broad political knowledge, the right principles and the time available to put into politics. Specialists are for the civil service and volunteering.

    I also do not accept the argument that the people involved in the selection process are sexist or racist, which is what many people indirectly say when they talk about “unconscious bias”. If anything the bias is now in favour of women and ethnic minorities.

    The only solution to keep us all happy is to remove all forms of discrimination against race, gender, sexual orientation, profession and class. However I am in favour of getting to the route causes of the lack of diversity, not just fast tracking some diverse people at the top and then claiming we are an equal society or an equal party.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Jul '13 - 4:15pm

    Oh and by the way, I also don’t accept the argument that we need more women in politics because it will encourage more to come in. If anyone doesn’t want to go into politics because there are “too many white males” then they are exactly the sort we need to keep out of politics.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Jul '13 - 4:23pm

    By the way, I don’t want to hijack the post, so just focus on what the author has said. I didn’t like the scaremongering about the negative press coverage (mainly in the Guardian) if we don’t increase diversity in 2015.

    The author says “and we’re unable to satisfactorily explain the reasons why to the public at large”, well I can satisfactorily explain it by saying we’re against all forms of race and sex discrimination but there are problems with diversity nationwide and we need to get to the underlying causes of this.

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Jul '13 - 4:30pm

    My blood is boiling over this, there is nothing “positive” about gender or race discrimination. It is not fair that white males are less welcome on leadership programs.

  • David Evans 21st Jul '13 - 5:00pm

    Has Nick been on the leadership programme? It might help us in 2015 if he did.

  • paul barker 21st Jul '13 - 8:37pm

    A good article, pity the 1st comment is another sneering at Nick Clegg. If all the anti-Clegg posters got together they could launch an attempt to replace him as leader. They wont do that but unfortunately they wont shut up either.

  • All sounds very positive. Though are you sure that the quote wasn’t Sarah Connor? I thought that she taught it to him?

  • Jonathan Brown 22nd Jul '13 - 12:18am

    You have to love an article with a healdine like this!

    It’s good to hear something positive about the leadership programme because we desperately need it to work.

    @Eddie Sammon – it’s not unnusual for 2 (or more) positive princples to clash, or rather 2 alternative approaches to achieving the same end. We have to make a judgement call individually and as a party as to how we reconcile these differences.

    I think it’s just not good enough to say that we have ‘equality of opportunity’ and so should not have any special policies or programmes designed to address our lack of diversity. I don’t love the somewhat clunky mechanisms we have to consider to do so, but we are catastrophically letting down the public – and ourselves – by not being a more representative party. It’s not good enough to say that there’s a level playing field when that playing field has developed over time to suit the interests of white, middle class men – consciously or not. Which is obviously not to say that it’s impossible for others to get on, but we need to recognise that there are many things holding them back. And one of those things – in our party – is the lack of diversity.

    If we think that we are operating a level playing field and that the only reason we’re so white and male is because there simply aren’t enough good enough female/minority candidates to select from, then we’re wrong – and a laughing stock. The public know that it’s not true. Women and minorities know it’s not true.

    We are at a disadvantage compared to the other parties in that we don’t have safe seats we can hand out to talented candiates to improve our representativeness – a big disadvantage – but that just means we have to try something else.

    Good luck Chris – hasta la vista, baby!

  • It sounds like the seeds are sown for a new faction within the party to be overcome by those not fortunate enough to be selected to participate or be supported by the “programme”.

    Good luck with the new network but remember to look outwards rather than inwards. 2015 may become the election marked by open primaries rather than stitch-ups.

  • “Race and sex discrimination is unacceptable, even against white males. The goal we need to work towards is to remove all discrimination and focus entirely on merit.”

    Given that the liberal democrats have to lowest proportion of non-white, non-male MPs compared to the other main parties suggests discrimination against white males is not a problem, indeed quite the opposite…

  • jenny barnes 22nd Jul '13 - 8:44am

    Eddie “My blood is boiling over this, there is nothing “positive” about gender or race discrimination.”

    Calm down sweetie. You’re privileged, and you don’t realise it, and you feel a bit sad that your privilege is likely to be reduced. If you don’t think that white male middleclass cis/hetero non-disabled people are privileged, you have much learning to do. You could start here : http://www.amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html

  • @g “Given that the liberal democrats have to lowest proportion of non-white, non-male MPs compared to the other main parties suggests discrimination against white males is not a problem, indeed quite the opposite…”

    The opposite would mean that the party had been discriminating against non-white, non-male MPs which, if that is what you meant, would be utter nonsense . As someone who interned for a female LD MP and then worked as a organiser for a BME candidate I have seen how the party has made real efforts to reverse the male and pale make-up of the Parliamentary party.

    The Leadership Programme is a great organisation and a positive step forward for the the party.

  • “Good luck with the new network but remember to look outwards rather than inwards. 2015 may become the election marked by open primaries rather than stitch-ups.”

    Unlikely – the vast bulk of target seats across all parties have either selected or the process has started and there is no sign of legislation for funding primaries.

  • ATF, clearly the party has been discriminating, wholly unintentionally I’m sure…

    The Leadership programme seems to be a reasonable means of rectifying this, and I’m not challenging it. Just the angry, white male objections…

  • Eddie Sammon 22nd Jul '13 - 5:02pm

    Jenny Barnes, I might be “privileged”, but I want to be treated equally, not disadvantaged.

    Jonathan Brown, yes I am aware of the problem of two positive principles clashing, which in this case is treating people equally and increasing diversity. However I just don’t see what the end goal is with the diversity agenda. You can always get “more diverse” until it gets to the point where you may as well pick parliamentarians at random like the jury service. And I don’t agree with that.

  • David Evans 22nd Jul '13 - 6:28pm

    Caractacus

    “For a party which is meant to view the FPTP electoral system as corrupt and outdated – it is extra ordinary how the Lib Dems let it dictate how their candidates are selected and who is elected.”

    I don’t know what you are trying to say here, but candidate selection is by STV, not FPTP, and we are stuck with FPTP determining who is elected for another generation after someone thought it was a great idea to get a referendum on AV as part of the coalition agreement.

  • Jonathan Brown 23rd Jul '13 - 12:36am

    @Eddie Sammon – No one is suggesting (or would support) taking ‘diversification’ to the bizarre conclusion that you seem to worry about. The end goal is not ‘a random selection of MPs’; it’s ‘a group of MPs who roughly represent the people and communities that make up our country’. We might expect some divergence from this to take in to account the constituencies where our MPs are elected, but the stereotype of there being mixed cities and a white countryside is no longer true – or at least, not in large parts of the country.

    I personally worry that the Leadership programme is not going to be enough, although that said, looking at an election in which we’re likely to lose MPs rather than make many gains, there’s unlikely to be any system that will do much to help in 2015. Still, we must at least make a start, be seen to be making a start, and must suceed – at least in part.

    Indeed, it’s vital not just to our credibility but to our improving our chances of actually making any gains in 2015. If large parts of the population think that we don’t represent them, they won’t vote for us, it’s as simple as that. And no matter how well-intentioned our MPs may be, they really can’t do a good job of representing the country unless collectively they become more representative of it.

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Jul '13 - 1:35am

    Jonathan, I accept that fundamentalism isn’t good because it prevents one from achieving other aims. I suppose I was wrong to go fundamental on discrimination, but it was genuine and partly a result of my fear and dislike for aspects of the diversity campaign.

    People will say that a government that looks more like society will get better results, and I agree with this to a degree, but not as much as others think.

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