Opinion: Nick Clegg, want to win the women’s vote? Try working with one.

Lib Dems celebrate 100 years of women councillors - Photo by Martin TodThis week, Lib Dem Women went public with our campaign to lobby Nick Clegg to promote more of our brilliant women, and especially to ask one of them to join the Cabinet. This weekend, it was announced that he has no intention of another reshuffle before the General Election.

Here’s why that’s a really bad idea. It’s not just because the Liberal Democrats have plenty of exceptional and capable women who deserve more senior positions. We do, of course, but if we were talking about experience and ability alone we should have done this in 2010. Annette Brook taught economics for nearly two decades before she became a councillor, mayor and then MP; Susan Kramer had a long and successful career in infrastructure and transport finance; Lorely Burt ran her own award-winning training and development business; I could go on. Nothing about these women suggests they are less capable than, say, Jeremy Browne or Danny Alexander.

No, this is about voters in 2015 asking “where are the women?”. This isn’t a matter of empty image over substance, because our women have substance in spades. This is a legitimate request from voters for the party to prove that it practices what it preaches.

How can we criticise the diversity of big business and big banks when our senior management is entirely male? How can we talk about opportunity for all, when our leadership excludes 52% of the population? The Liberal Democrats have enough trouble at the moment convincing voters we mean what we say. If we keep talking a big game about gender equality, but we let the same biases we claim to want to end in other walks of life – unconscious or otherwise – keep great candidates out of a job, then we don’t deserve to be listened to.

I’ve heard the excuses. I know that there are sitting women MPs who have tough fights ahead of them, and for some of them the added burden of a government post would not be welcome. But there are plenty who aren’t: Lindsay Northover and Susan Kramer are in the Lords, Annette Brooke is standing down, and if Jo Swinson was promoted to Scottish Secretary it could even help her chances next May.

And it’s not too late. Yes, it’s been four years already, but in the next seven months we will pull away from the Tories and the coalition agreement to differentiate ourselves as liberals. Some of our biggest fights, and our most memorable achievements are still ahead of us.

So Nick Clegg may be reconsidering the reshuffle. But that is not enough to make me shrug my shoulders and declare the fight lost because this is too important. It is time to entrench the tagline ‘fairer society’ into the heart of the Party, and we intend to continue asking until Nick does just that.

You can help by joining us in our campaign. Write to your local Lib Dem MP or to Nick himself. Another great way to help is through social media. Send tweetsto @nick_clegg [email protected] using the hashtag #womenincabinet and include us too @libdemwomen.

If you have any questions, please email [email protected]

Photo shows Liberal Democrats celebrating 100 years of women councilors. Photo by Martin Tod.

* Alice Thomas is a member of the Federal Board and leads the FB Disciplinary Sub-Group. She is a solicitor based in Southwark who joined the Lib Dems in her hometown of Bromley & Chislehurst in 2006, just in time for her first by-election and has been campaigning ever since.

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  • “Nothing about these women suggests they are less capable than, say, Jeremy Browne or Danny Alexander.”

    Well that Is setting the bar a bit low. Liberal Democrat women are much better than that.
    Although to be fair to Danny , he was once press officer for the Cairngorms National Park.

  • paul barker 21st Oct '14 - 5:04pm

    I agree with this completely. Its certainly not too late, most of the time most Voters pay an astonishingly small amount of notice to Westminster Politics, the few months around a General Election are the exception.

  • Frankly it’s difficult to see why anyone who supports gender equality continues to support Nick Clegg’s leadership.

  • Igor Sagdejev 21st Oct '14 - 5:07pm

    A good idea!

  • Joshua Dixon 21st Oct '14 - 5:09pm

    Brilliant piece. Totally behind this 🙂

  • Robin McGhee 21st Oct '14 - 5:19pm

    Great article! Really can’t see a reason not to have Jo Swinson in as Scottish Secretary, at the very least.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 21st Oct '14 - 5:24pm

    #iagreewithAlice. This is a chance for Nick to right a huge wrong. We should have had a woman in the Cabinet a long time ago. I think that Alice has put the case, as ever, in a very reasoned manner. Come on Nick!

    I do think that Nick has been brilliant on some of the policy things, though – shared parental leave, he’s championed from the start, for example. We can’t take those good things away from him, but we can point out that there has been one glaring omission that needs to be rectified.

  • David Evans 21st Oct '14 - 6:16pm

    But Nick doesn’t do backing down, What makes any of us think he will change when he didn’t for Secret Courts, NHS reform or tuition fees? There are no women in his inner circle of true believers and that is all that matters to him.

  • Rather than waiting for Nick Clegg to eventually work with a woman, why not have a woman as leader of the party and solve both problems at the same time?

  • Alice Thomas 21st Oct '14 - 9:02pm

    JohnTilley – I agree but does it have to be an either/or? We could have a woman in cabinet now, and – I hope and expect – a woman among the leadership candidates during our next leadership contest.

  • Peter Hayes 21st Oct '14 - 9:19pm

    I sometimes wonder if the senior MPs have a death wish, no women in senior places and a financial spokesman who is seen as going native with Osbourne. Only reason for carrying on delivering is my current LibDem MP is a lot less bad than the Tory alternative, but I wish he had been more of a rebel at times.

  • Promoting a woman to cabinet for just 7 months out of a 5 year period in government would probably be seen as tokenism and a blatant attempt to win votes. The party is overly white and overly male in the Commons but the author correctly highlights the fact that there was a real opportunity to have promoted at least one woman to cabinet on merit. Clegg talks a good talk on breaking down barriers, but as with the intern issue the actions do not match the rhetoric.

    David Laws had to resign in disgrace and was brought back into government. Still he’s a white, male, privately educated, Oxbridge graduate, just what the Government was lacking. Still I suppose he only gets to attend cabinet but not raise his hand this time around…

  • Eddie Sammon 21st Oct '14 - 10:44pm

    If there is one cabinet minister I “smell blood” on, it’s David Laws. I think the others are exceptional and I wouldn’t be happy with them being removed.

    It’s nothing personal and I don’t know much, but it’s a high bar to get into cabinet.

    I am not sure which woman I would promote, probably Lynne Featherstone, with Jo Swinson a close second.

    Having said that, I think Norman Lamb also deserves to be in the cabinet, but for the sake of diversity I wouldn’t put him in. However, it is important to think about before people think only exceptional women get looked over.

  • Steve Way

    “Promoting a woman to cabinet for just 7 months out of a 5 year period in government would probably be seen as tokenism and a blatant attempt to win votes.”

    Well if it is the right thing to do, the fact it may look like tokenism would be a terrible reason not to do it.

  • @Psi
    Not sure where my comment says that it shouldn’t be done? It should have been done earlier, that would have been the right thing. Now it would (rightly) lead to questions around timing, questions that Clegg should be required to answer.

  • Richard Dean 22nd Oct '14 - 2:10am

    I agree too. The polarization that is evident in Nick’s choices, and reactively (I suppose) in this article’s headline, does no electoral good whatsoever.

  • Caracatus – I would add Davey and part-timer Laws to your list. Steve Way says that it “would be seen” as tokenism. He makes clear he is not opposing doing it. He is right, it would be seen in that light. Just to be clear, I am not opposing it either – of course we should have a more balanced team at all levels. A very clear signal was clearly offered to the media before Cameron’s reshuffle that “Clegg would carry out a reshuffle in October”. Was such a reshuffle planned at that time? If so, what has changed to render it null and void?

  • David Evans 22nd Oct '14 - 9:41am

    @Alice Thomas – I’m afraid you have missed the point in Nick’s strategy. After 2015, after we have another triumph like the 2014 Euros, we will have one MP, she will be a woman and hence she will be leader.

  • Caracatus and Tim 13
    Of the 6 Liberal Democrats in The Cabinet, 4 are English.
    3 of the 4 were privately educated.
    Before Huhne left half of the English Liberal Democrats in The Cabinet went to the same school!!!

    I can just imagine Clegg and pals propping up a bar and grumbling — “If these women in the party wanted to get on in politics why didn’t they get their education at a proper school lke Westminster or Eton?”

    Of course the Cabinet minister that Clegg really hates is that uppity grammar school boy from a working class family in the North. What makes it worse is that whilst Clegg’s CV includes being a Ski Instructor and working for Leon Brittan, the CV of Vince Cable is very much more impressive. Clegg would not want to highlight his own inadequacies further by appointing a better qualified woman to The Cabinet.

  • If something doesn’t happen in 4 years there’s probably a good reason for it – gender balance is not a priority of the coalition. Most cabinet members attended an all-boys private school, they’ve probably got no idea what you’re talking about. It is too late, politicians are in election mode and won’t be put off by trivia like under-representation of 52% of the population! If you’re a female member post-Rnrd you’re probably pretty understanding about inherent sexism, so there’s little reason for them to listen to you now.

    David Evans prediction presents the best odds of increasing the proportion of female Lib Dem MP’s in the short term and I agree with much of what Caracatus has written. None of this is good enough and I can’t see a Twitter hashtag changing anything. You’d need a campaign that creates headlines; then you can make a politician do anything you like!

  • Tony Dawson 22nd Oct '14 - 7:04pm

    Sarah Teather was definitely more able than Browne and Laws combined. What happened to her?

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