Norman Lamb MP writes…We can’t wait another 5 years to have a woman in the party leadership

The campaign for the leadership of our party is now underway and I am excited by the prospect and humbled by the many messages of support and encouragement I have received.

However as a party we need to look at how we operate and what we look like to the outside world. One issue, in particular, now has an urgency to it which we can’t ignore. We have danced around gender imbalance at the highest levels for too long ….. and I am not prepared to wait a further five years before women are able to feature at the leadership level. Given that there were no women elected to the House of Commons and so no woman can stand for the leadership, I believe it is essential that the deputy leader is a woman.

Consequently, as leader I will immediately propose to the federal executive that we should move to elect a Deputy Leader who is not required to be a member of the House of Commons, but who will play a major role as one of the party’s leading voices and campaigners. She could be one of the former or future colleagues mentioned below; a peer, a member of a devolved chamber or the European Parliament; a leading councillor or seasoned campaigner.

The need for action was forcefully brought home to me on Tuesday when our much diminished parliamentary party met for the first time. Amongst the many absent faces were brilliant ministers with fantastic records of achievement in international development and employment rights such as Lynne Featherstone, and Jo Swinson and dynamic campaigners such as Tessa Munt, Jenny Willott and Lorely Burt. I had also started the campaign expecting to be joined by a host of new, talented colleagues such as Dorothy Thornhill, Lisa Smart, Jane Dodds, Christine Jardine, Vikki Slade, Julie Porksen, Layla Moran and many others – who could have doubted that amongst this group were future leaders of the party?

So we must put in place the mechanism to let our members – including the fantastic avalanche of new members — to make the choice. 

Some might say that putting this special election in place will have a cost. But failing to act will have a greater cost, not just in image and reputation but also in terms of the insight and perspectives that a female deputy leader will bring to our collective task of renewal and recovery.

I want to have the benefit of that wisdom on a daily basis, and want to work in harness with a deputy whose presence ensures that our party is starting the process of becoming properly representative of liberal Britain.


* Norman Lamb is MP for North Norfolk and was Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health until May 2015. He now chairs the Science and Technology Select Committee

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  • Charles Boney 15th May '15 - 7:28pm

    I am sure that Norman did not mean to sideline our Party President but surely she is party of the ‘leadership of the Party’
    Surely by Deputy leader we are referring to the need to have someone to speak for the Party in Parliament if the Leader is not available?

    There is also the fact that we have many good women in the Lords who are also leaders within the Party. I really don’t think Norman has thought this one through.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th May '15 - 7:28pm

    I agree Norman. Good idea by Caron too. I’d also support a move towards “diversity shortlists” where possible.

    I know I’ve been very sceptical about these moves in the past, but I think it has got to the stage where further action is required. The handling of the Rennard situation also dealt a blow to the party, so that needs to be resolved.


  • I believe it’s essential that the right person to be deputy leader ends up being deputy leader. Whether that person is male or female is irrelevant to me.

  • Pramod Subbaraman 15th May '15 - 7:37pm

    Dear Norman

    I like your embrace of diversity, but please do not let it be a limited embrace.
    Too often when I’ve broached the subject, I’ve found that our party is very keen to embrace the idea of diversity as it applies to women ,
    but does not show the same enthusiasm with ethnic minorities. Cast the net wider will you, please?

  • paul barker 15th May '15 - 7:37pm

    This sounds like an excellent idea to me but another ballot wont leave much change from £100,000, perhaps the Deputy could be elected at Conference instead ?

  • Helen Tedcastle 15th May '15 - 7:40pm

    Should we select a woman as deputy leader because she happens to be a woman? Why that category and not others like BME?

    This is the problem with selecting people on the basis of a category of identity/gender.

    It makes more sense to me to have an MP who deputises for the Leader, also an MP.

    And we have a female President already, as Charles Boney notes.

  • Bill le Breton 15th May '15 - 7:48pm

    This is an example of a minister losing the support of his civil servants and being ‘lost at sea’. Would a professional please go to Mr Lambs house this wekend and see what he really, really believes in and then construct a narrative and a campaign for him.
    Norman, do you fancy a walk on the beach tomorrow?

  • Liberal Crusader 15th May '15 - 7:53pm

    Why not get the Party President to have a greater media role? I expect that would happy anyway given our huge losses.
    Is Lamb also in favour of All Women Shortlists?

  • As others have said this threatens to demote the position of Party President. However there is merit in the idea. With only 8 MPs it is far from evident that a deputy leader in the Commons is needed. However there is currently far greater representation in the Lords, so an amendment that allowed members of the Lords to be deputy leader could make sense.

    Of course we already have a Leader of the Lords: perhaps you should have a conversation with him. Whatever the arrangement voices from the Lords will need greater prominence.

  • Can the election of any person to a senior role within the Lib Dems other than on merit really be acceptable? I am tired of
    women being patronised.

  • James Sandbach 15th May '15 - 8:35pm

    There are other ways to tackle the imbalance such as appointing able women within the most senior roles in the Party – eg Chief executive, leader of the Lords, senior staff etc – if we’d had any number of high achieving women professionals as out head of strategy rather than a bloke called Ryan perhaps we’d done slightly better . I’m not sure the proposed change is quite what is needed; the Deputy Leader is the Dep leader of the Parliamentary Party and there to deputise on the commons benches when the leader needs to be out and about it is a specific Parliamentary role surely?

  • When I or any other woman applies for an advertised job we have to compete with all comers. I don’t expect
    to be favoured because I happen to be a woman. We have to challenge prejudice of course, but special favours are simply nnot
    acceptable. Merit alone has to be the yardstick. That is true equality.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 15th May '15 - 8:42pm

    This article is, unfortunately, a reminder of the lack of respect shown by some senior figures in the Party towards the Party Presidency – the role intended as a conduit for the views of ordinary members to the Leader (amongst other things).

    I am sure that Norman means no intentional disrespect towards Sal Brinton, but if I were her, I’d be more than a little ticked off.

    But what is a Deputy Leader for? Are they to be a media presence, in which case just use some of our excellent female Peers or senior councillors. Are they to exercise power within the Party, in which case I refer Norman back to Sal.

    And finally, Norman wants to change the constitution. Fair enough, but taking the power to do so away from Federal Conference is hardly an encouraging sign in terms of demonstrating an understanding of how the Party works.

  • I agree with Norman, why not make it a rule that we always have a Leader and Deputy Leader, one must be from each gender.
    I also think Sal Brinton is a fantastic communicator and I would be keen to keep her to the fore as we continue the fight back.
    Note that UKIP is split, so we need to show unity while selecting the next Leadership Team.

  • No, no, no. Stop the internal navel gazing and start campaigning on the HRA and the Snoopers’ Charter.

  • The Tories might not last 5 years

  • One of the advantages of devolved regional governments would be the opportunities it would give party members who, due to the political climate, might be excluded from the HoC.

  • We seem to have been able to produce details of new members social profiles – eg age – recently . What about gender? What is the gender breakdown of the party’s membership?

  • What Alex and Mark said

  • Norman is responding to the suggestion Caron made in an earlier post:

    ‘Doesn’t it make a whole load of sense to have a Deputy Leader with different experience? I think it probably needs to be someone who is elected at some level, but I’m open to persuasion on that one. It’s a different role to the party president, who is there to advocate for the members. The Deputy Leader role would be another voice representing us in the media. There may be no guarantee of diversity, but at least there’s a chance of it.’

    Read more:

    I think (and commented at the time – as did many others) that it was a great idea and I’m delighted to see Norman formalising it as part of his leadership campaign. Gets my vote (as does Norman).

  • PS on a technical note for the forum: am I the only whose comments thread is somewhat obscured by the advert side bar?

  • Wayne:
    I have the same problem. I am using Firefox on Ubuntu. I have just checked on Chrome and there is the same problem.

  • Eddie Sammon 15th May '15 - 11:56pm

    I see Norman seems to have offended some people. I respect people’s views on this, but surely calling him “glib, rude, ignorant or all three?” is unfair. Of course no one chooses to take offence, but it is likely to be off-putting to others if people are easily offended and definitely if they resort to name calling.

    Not pretending to be a saint in this department, by the way (especially given my record), but it is worth thinking about. 🙂

  • I agree that it would be nice to have women represented at the highest level – in my opinion mixed groups always work better then single sex groups. However no-one seems to have considered the possibility that there are some jobs that men will fight for, that women would not touch. (And vice versa) Although we are the same species we have very diferent biology and that must affect our preferences sometimes. Equality of Opportunity is absolutely essential, but the generosity of offering equal opportunities must be matched by the generosity of allowing women (or men) to refuse to take up those opportunities. If that makes sense, why are we so obsessed with head counting? Why are we so determined to make many of our great female party members who have held high office, feel guilty about not standing for leader or deputy ? Surely they are free to make up their own minds when they feel that the time has come?
    Mind you, if they or my mother, wife, daughter or grand-daughter want to be leader or deputy leader then I will be up there with them fighting for them to get the job that they want. We must stop obsessing about head counts, though.

  • Jane Ann Liston 16th May '15 - 1:20am

    Wayne & Martin

    Ditto the comments disappearing behind the side bar – I am using Safari on a Mac.

  • I agree that the underrepresentation of women in the Party at all levels is a serious problem and one which calls for radical remedies, as sitting around and hoping that the problem will disappear on its own simply has not worked.

    What I do not see is how Mr Lamb’s proposal addresses, other than superficially, a problem which is manifestly systemic (though one may disagree about exactly where in the system the problem is located).

  • @ Hi Eddie. It’s not so much that I was offended by Norman’s piece – I am sure it was well-intentioned – but with the leader of the SNP now being a woman (and doing her job brilliantly) and with the leader of Plaid Cymru now also a woman (who really performed well in the election debates I thought) and with 3 out of 5 of the candidates standing for the Labour leadership election now also women we do not need special help, It goes without saying that we have a great President in Sal Brinton. I think we really have finally moved on and talking about quotas and all women shortlists seems to deny what women have achieved on their own merits – simply because they are good at what they do. If the Lib Dems have not been that welcoming to women in the past the reasons for that may need to be looked at, but that is no reason for special favours – which would ironically only entrench any residual prejudice.

    I would like to say though that Norman was an absolutely outstanding Health Minister who did so much to put mental health on the map. Thank you Norman.

  • Until the party has parliamentary seats in the hundreds we are very unlikely to be able to address gender imbalance. When one takes into account incumbency, winnable seats and the vagaries of the electoral system it’s always going to be an uphill struggle.

  • Apologies
    That last comment of mine should have started —
    Why not make the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Wales  the deputy leader?    She’s a woman.

    For some reason the “in Wales” disappeared making the sentence nonsense.

  • Robert:
    What you write is an important dose of common sense. LDV itself seems to be dominated by male contributors: can anything be done about that? Whilst the Party can do its best to reach out to women, who it appears are less attracted to politics, it is hardly in a position to manipulate the outcome of the electoral system.

    P.S. to Wayne and Jane, I did notice that this page worked OK on an Android system – really odd.

  • Martin – you point out LDV is dominated by male contributions. Any idea why? Once again I ask the question – what is the gender breakdown as far as membership is concerned?

  • The speed and consistency of the rebuttals show the Farron Attack Dogs have been let loose. Norman Lamb clearly thought this was a convenient bandwagon to jump on, but the response is worrying.

  • Gender breakdown in membership is roughly 25% women and less than 1% genderqueer/other.

    LDV is dominated by men past their percentage of domination in the party, especially in the comments, for reasons which have been VERY well covered by psychologists and are easy to find with a bit of googling.

  • Does calling people whose comments you disagree with “Farron Attack Dogs” comply with the LDV policy of being polite?

    Especially when it comes from someone using a pseudonym and who therefore might be a Farage Attack Dog
    (always assuming that Mr Farage has any attack dogs left on his side as the chief UKIP attack dog seems to be attacking Mr Farage)

    Oldliberal 16th May ’15 – 9:41am
    The speed and consistency of the rebuttals show the Farron Attack Dogs have been let loose. Norman Lamb clearly thought this was a convenient bandwagon to jump on, but the response is worrying.

  • David Warren 16th May '15 - 11:05am

    I think the Deputy Leader should be an MP.

    Given it looks highly likely that there will be two candidates for leader, how about the loser becoming Deputy.

    The party should give a higher profile to non MPs particularly given we only have eight!

    That includes prominent women including the President, the leader in Wales and in London.

  • It’s clear that with only eight MPs we are going to have to use every single bit of Lib Dem talent out in the country to represent the party on the national stage. That means peers, council group leaders, councillors with high local profiles and former MPs who are willing to make a five year commitment early on to win back their seats. In that sort of grouping we can realistically aim for gender balance and showcase the very strong female campaigners we have.

    I retired from writing Focus leaflets some eight years ago but I have had a twitch all week!

  • Eddie Sammon 16th May '15 - 12:59pm

    Hi Judy, I wasn’t talking about you when I said some seem to have become offended. For a few years I used to get into a lot of arguments about this subject because I am passionately against all women shortlists, but I think the handling of the Rennard case changes things because Lib Dems have got a real reputational problem with many women now. It is only for deputy leader, I wouldn’t support them for parliamentary seats.

    We’l discuss diversity another time. Good talking to you.

  • Gwyn Williams 16th May '15 - 1:37pm

    Even in 1949 when the Party’s position was even worse than it is now,we appointed Megan Lloyd George as Deputy Leader not to win women voters but to try and reunite the Party. For Liberals there are different reasons at different times for the Deputy Leader. Norman is absolutely right to raise the serious problem of not having any women MPs when presenting our policies to half the electorate.

  • @ Eddiie Good talking to you too! I know I can get a bit worked up on this issue but no one wants to achieve anything through preferential treatment, women included.
    @Huw I agree, Headcounts are a very superficial way of assessing things – and actually deeply illiberal!

  • Peter Andrews 16th May '15 - 2:53pm

    As I said in the comments to Caron’s piece about the Deputy leader I would support opening up the Deputy leadership to the whole Parliamentary Party, i.e. including all Peers as both possible candidates and as the electorate for the Deputy leadership election. This would ensure the Deputy Leader remains a national Parliamentarian which i think is important in case they have to take over the Leadership on a temporary basis for any reason whilst vastly increasing the diversity of possible candidates whilst not imposing another costly all members ballot or duplicating the role of Party President.

  • Matt (Bristol) 16th May '15 - 11:58pm

    The more I think about it, the less I think we need either a federal deputy leader, or a deputy MP group leader of a group of 8 people (if the federal leader is in the Commons).
    We do desperately, desperately need either elected regional leaders in England, or an elected English leader, though. If it’s good enough for Scotland and Wales…
    And I don’t see why the Federal leader needs to be an MP any more, as long as they’re nominated by the requisite number of MPs and others. They can be a council leader for all I care, as long as they’re elected in some capacity (but if the federal leader is not in the HoC, then we do need an MP group leader).
    If Sturgeon, Farage. Bennett and Wood can go head-to-head with Cameron and Miliband in TV debates, the desperation to have an MP leading the party can surely lessen.

  • peter tyzack 17th May '15 - 12:45pm

    this whole question needs to be on the agenda at Bournemouth, not referred to the Fed Exec. The membership need to be involved in such a change, so the Deputy Leader election should be left until October. The cost of the election can be much reduced by sending the papers out as part of the next all-member Ad-Lib mailing.

  • Michael Nicholl 17th May '15 - 11:35pm

    Firstly, as many other’s have noted, it appears that Norman Lamb has completely over looked our President. Secondly, this idea of wanting to select someone because of their gender, race, class-standing etc (ie. positive discrimination) shouldn’t be allowed. We should pride ourselves in electing someone on the basis of merit, and not factors which one can not control.

    The question of wether the Deputy Leader should be from the HoC, or if we need a Dep. leader at all is a more interesting one. I don’t really see the point in having two leaders in the same chamber. That would mean that 1/4 of our MPs would be in the leadership! If we are to have Deputy Leader then perhaps they should come from somewhere else, HoL, EU, council, I don’t really care.

  • Sounds like he started the campaign in an over-optimistic frame of mind.

  • Malcolm Todd 18th May '15 - 12:06pm

    What is the point of the deputy leader?

  • Neil Sandison 18th May '15 - 12:40pm

    Its a shame Norman is talking in such traditional terms about posts and only in terms of gender .Perhaps we should be taking a leaf out of the Greens and SNP book and start looking at conveners or a similar title for a much more devolved and diverse leadership.

  • The main problem here and now is one of numbers. We have no alternative but to use the talented members of both houses to further develop our vision for the party. So Norman Lamb is right. Besides if 100 Archers could win The Battle of Agincourt and defeat a much larger French Army, we have enough to challenge tory rule-if we use our troops wisely!

  • Richard Underhill 29th Jun '16 - 10:17pm

    Imagine that the Tory Party elects a woman leader, such as Theresa May, although other Tory women may stand.
    Imagine that the Labour Party elects a woman leader, such as Angela Eagle, who impressed at PMQ.
    The SNP have a woman leader, Plaid Cymru have a woman leader, the Greens have had women leaders and may do so again.
    The DUP has a woman leader.
    The next US President may be female.
    Long before Mrs Thatcher was elected India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, …
    There seems to be a trend here.

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