Opinion: The Gender Agenda: What Liberal Democrat Women can do for women candidates

Campaigning on the doorstep - Lynne FeatherstoneOn May 22nd I’m fighting my first local election as a candidate. I’ve been stuffing envelopes and knocking on doors for other people for 8 years, but with a seat on Islington Council in the balance, this time it seems a little more real.

But I’m lucky. I’m fighting – and fighting hard – alongside a councillor with 8 years experience, and an experienced campaigner who’s already fought a by-election. The ward has two Lib Dem councillors out of three, and if we all get elected, there will be two women out of three. And I also know I have Liberal Democrat Women on my side.

In fact, the newly formed LDW is here to help our hundreds of brilliant, committed women candidates.

When the new organisation was formed last year, it took the remit from the Campaign for Gender Balance to support and train women candidates and ran with it. Where CGB focused on Parliamentary candidates, LDW aims to help women in all political arenas. Where CGB spent more time on selection training, LDW wants to support women at every stage of the process, from selection to election and beyond.

When CGB was set up, it didn’t focus on local candidates for a pretty positive reason: our gender balance in local government was, and always been, much better than in parliament.

But parliamentary equality isn’t the only kind that matters, and we see no reason not to seek a gender balance in local government too. Watching women like my friend and fellow candidate councillor Tracy Ismail and other candidates in Islington up for election on May 22nd, its obvious we have many capable women invested in their local communities who would make fantastic contributions to local government.

Then there are those on roads that don’t lead to Westminster, but who still want to take steps forward. If you’re already elected whether you want to be a council leader, an MEP or an elected Mayor, women can and do excel. If I get a council seat on May 22nd, I’ll be thinking of role models like council leaders Liz Green in Kingston on Thames, and Dorothy Thornhill, Mayor of Watford, and Hull’s Abi Bell when I go for my first committee position.

Across the year, LDW offers training, mentoring, advice and support for women candidates at all levels. If you are interested in using our resources we’d love to hear from you: just get in touch at [email protected].


* 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.

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Simon McGrath 7th May '14 - 12:29pm

    This training and advice sounds excellent. But why not make available to all candidates?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th May '14 - 12:33pm

    Simon, I think the clue is in the name Liberal Democrat Women…

  • Richard Dean 7th May '14 - 12:36pm

    Sounds like double standards, Caron. What aspects of the training are specific to the female gender and not appropriate for the male?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th May '14 - 12:43pm

    Given the under-representation of women at all levels of government, it is entirely appropriate that LDW and the whole party, in fact, should prioritise getting more women elected. We do not have a problem with under-representation of men.

  • Richard Dean 7th May '14 - 12:57pm

    Ok, so rather than bringing this policy of positive discrimination in by the back door, how about opening it to some kind of discussion? Wouldn’t that be the democratic way?

  • Richard Dean 7th May '14 - 1:17pm

    This discussion so far looks like a schoolyard of bully girls and bully boys asserting one opinion and refusing to countenance the possibility that someone else may have a different one.. Not an attractive sight at all in a supposedly democratic party. If there have been “many, many” debates and motions about setting up specific training arrangements for women, then you might at least have the courtesy to cite one or two of them.

  • has anybody got – or is willing to give – a breakdown by gender of actual members of the party? How does this then reflect on the numbers who become candidates?

  • Hannah Bettsworth 7th May '14 - 2:11pm

    So I guess my thought that nobody would oppose giving more support to those from underrepresented backgrounds in politics was naively optimistic…

  • Eddie Sammon 7th May '14 - 2:14pm

    I think communicating feelings is important. I support feminism, but positive discrimination makes me feel uncomfortable. Women should likewise tell us all the things that men do that make them feel uncomfortable.

    People complain about “what about the men” comments, but I think positive discrimination is a men’s issue too.

    That is all I want to say for now. Best wishes and I hope you get elected!

  • @Dave Page
    I would be interested in knowing if there was a conference motion about this training.

  • Simon McGrath 7th May '14 - 2:32pm

    @Caron, Dave I agree we need more women LD councillors elected, but surely we need more councillors of both sexes. Its not a zero sum game – getting more men elected doesnt stop us getting more women elected. So if this training helps people get elected why is it only for women?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 7th May '14 - 2:57pm

    Simon, I think we need to prioritise getting more women elected so that the proportion of female councillors and MPs is somewhere between 40 and 50%. We’re a very long way from that. Until then, let’s concentrate our limited resources on under-represented groups.

    As it happens, it’s not just about training, it’s about mentoring through all stages. And, frankly, if LDW want to offer that training to women alone, then that’s up to them as an organisation. It doesn’t need permission from Federal Conference. In fact, it would be bizarre if an organisation aimed at redressing the gender imbalance didn’t confine their support mechanisms to women.

  • Grace Goodlad 7th May '14 - 3:25pm

    Blimey. Just got in from doing a daytime delivery round in the target ward in which I am a candidate.

    Decided to have a late-lunch sandwich and a read of LDV before the next lot, and I find this. It’s enough to make u=you weep.

    One word, Privilege.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th May '14 - 3:41pm

    Grace’s comment hurt me. As did Caron’s and Hannah’s. I’ve tried to keep quiet, but I can’t anymore. What hurts is putting all men into a privileged box. It hurts to assume poor men are more privileged then rich women. I like debate, but what hurts is just writing off our concerns as “privileged”. I can’t even afford to leave the house to go canvassing, yet the person having a break from it calls me privileged. There are people in a far worse position than me, but it is not fair to write off all men as “privileged”.

  • Richard Dean 7th May '14 - 3:57pm

    What aspects of the training and mentoring are specific to the female gender, and not appropriate to the male?

    While this may seem like seeking a gender balance, what it is clearly doing is setting up a special group within the LibDems who appear to see themselves in some form of opposition to others in the party. Is this kind of disunity a good thing?

    Being a successful candidate in these elections probably requires much the same skills from women as from men, and the kinds of support needed by candidates will surely also have much common ground between genders. What would be much more appropriate would be to follow the implication of Simon McGrath’s original comment: for the party as a whole to organize training and mentoring for all candidates, with some aspects of that training and mentoring focusing on issues that are specific to each gender.

    As far as the women’s group within the party is concerned, it would likely be a lot less damaging to the party, and a lot more successful within the party, if the group would focus on issues specific to women, and cooperate/participate with all other parts of the party on issues that are general.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th May '14 - 4:08pm

    @ Richard Dean, @ Eddie Sammon,

    I have a problem with two words. ‘Positive discrimination’.

    I don’t women or any group having their achievements undermined by accusations that they owe more to ‘positive discrimination’ that talent. However, the more I think about the concept, the more I realise that ‘positive discrimination’ is not positive discrimination at all, its about levelling the playing field.

    To do this it seems to me that one sometimes give more of a helping hand to some groups than others. For example, would you call ‘the pupil premium ‘positive discrimination?’. I think that the whole concept of ‘positive discrimination’ means different things to different people.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th May '14 - 4:13pm

    Apologies for the garbled typing.

  • Eddie, privilege is NOT something you either have or have not got, as you know, because you and I have discussed this before.

    I have privilege because I am white, come from a reasonably well-off background, am privately educated. I lack privilege in gender, sexuality and the fact that I am a single mother. None of this is difficult to understand, and I do wonder why you persist in pretending it is? Nobody is saying that your houseboundness (if you’ll forgive the term, I’m sure there’s a kinder way of putting it, but it’s not springing to mind) does not affect you, but your gender affects you too.

    Also, to not-just-Eddie, I genuinely don’t see how Lib Dem Women setting up women-specific training is positive discrimination? It does not affect election or selection criteria one jot, and nor is ANYBODY stopping any group from offering training to men. I am very much on the record as being against positive discrimination, unlike some posting here, but I have no problem with this whatsoever.

    Personally, I would quite like to see a group set up offering training to men if it would stop them making daft comments every single time an article like this is posted.

  • Alex Baldwin 7th May '14 - 4:50pm

    I don’t know whether LDW are some independent group (i.e. not funded by the party itself). If so it’s up to them to allocate their resources however they like. Personally, I don’t see that there is some area in which women need special training in order to “level the playing field” with men. I do imagine though that there must have been research done into what the root cause of their under-representation is. I’d be interested to see it.

    @Caron: “Simon, I think we need to prioritise getting more women elected so that the proportion of female councillors and MPs is somewhere between 40 and 50%. We’re a very long way from that. Until then, let’s concentrate our limited resources on under-represented groups.”

    If I were interested (and had time!) to get more personally involved in the LDs then I would take issue with this. This is all hypothetical, so just for your consideration (I’d be interested in your reply), but as someone who’s only under-represented in terms of class background (which people don’t tend to care about) I would be quite put off trying to run for anything in the LDs if I believed the sentiment you hold (that the priority should be fixing those numbers) was widespread. Do you see that as a potential problem? The intended outcome? Not an issue (maybe people don’t think like I do in general)?

  • Alisdair McGregor 7th May '14 - 4:53pm

    I think this comment thread proves the OPs point.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th May '14 - 5:02pm

    Jennie, you say: “None of this is difficult to understand, and I do wonder why you persist in pretending it is?”

    First of all I am being nothing but sincere. Secondly I don’t accept in the western world that it is somehow getting the short straw to be born a woman. During wars it is men who are mainly conscripted to the front line and feel the greater responsibility to fight.

    There needs to be a middle way between reacting negatively towards all attempts to focus on women and lumping all men into the privileged box. I don’t mind disagreements, but saying “I understand, but I disagree that men aren’t privileged” is different to just ignoring genuine concerns, sometimes even pain, and shouting “privileged!”.

  • Nothing wrong with women offering to help fellow women who wish to stand for office share their stories, advice and tips on the specific problems they face (and there are problems, of this most of us are aware).

    There is also nothing wrong in men asking – politely (make a note, this will be important later) – if aforementioned women would share the advice with them too.

    What is not OK, as this thread so sadly demonstrates, is for a whole deluge of men to come forward in what is, frankly, an aggressive manner, and demand EVERYBODY FOCUS ON THEM NOT BEING BAD MEN.

    I refer you back to the politeness issue.

    If people in your own party are putting up artificial barriers that put you off, just imagine what else lies out there…

    For the record, I don’t actually support positive discrimination in the slightest, but this? This isn’t it. A support network is not an all women shortlist, and we would be wise to remember this…

  • Alex Baldwin 7th May '14 - 5:12pm

    Does your “deluge” of aggressive men include me? That’s the difference between it being a deluge of three or of four people.

  • Hannah Bettsworth 7th May '14 - 5:17pm

    Oh boy. Ok. The fact that men were conscripted does not invalidate *centuries* of oppression against females. In some Western countries we don’t even have full reproductive rights. And we still get paid less practically everywhere. I’m not pro-AWS but if people insist in coming along and demanding that women get no additional support for us *alone* because *society is stacked against us* well maybe you should have to select more women. We need better representation, so stop grumbling at every slight effort to rectify that.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th May '14 - 5:22pm

    Hannah, I reacted politely to Alice’s article.

  • I don’t want to come across as some sort of MRA but we don’t have a problem getting women elected or even selected, we have a shortage of women candidates in the first place. This isn’t surprising considering the shortage of female activists (people don’t just tend to appear and become candidates overnight). As long as we fail to focus on fixing the problems in our membership and activist base then we’ll only ever be tackling symptoms, not causes.

  • Gosh, a bloke who doesn’t like the gays also thinks that having more women in politics would be a bad thing. There’s a shocker.

    The last train for the 1950s leaves just before eight o’clock, be sure to be on it.

  • Again, Eddie, nobody is saying that men do not have to struggle, merely that every individual has a different struggle depending on their individual circumstances, and some circumstances make it harder than others. Perhaps this will help:


  • Thomas – yes, but we could try fixing several parts of what’s broken rather than just taking them one at a time…

  • @Alex Not at all; I also disagree with fixing numbers and, as you rightly allude to, if you do it for gender then why not class or ethnicity?

    Tommy is right on this; if we work on getting more people (in general) involved from the very bottom, the numbers will adjust themselves.

  • Alex Baldwin 7th May '14 - 5:39pm

    I think a major problem at the moment is that the pathway from paid-up party member to activist (and then possibly to leadership roles) is really not clear. There need to be stories available to new members which tell them how this stuff works and where they can help out. If you do not make an effort to put these narratives out there then people will infer their own, and they might not be so shiny. I really hope somebody is looking at the difference between a person who pays their dues once and then lets their membership lapse and a person who becomes a member, goes out knocking doors, and then ends up a councilor.

  • Alex Baldwin 7th May '14 - 5:41pm

    By “looking at the difference” I mean surveying or interviewing members in order to find out what interventions/changes need to be made to increase the campaigning power of the party. I do wonder whether young members who join through student organisations tend to stick more? Or maybe its only those who join where the local party is particularly strong?

  • Andrew Emmerson 7th May '14 - 6:05pm

    I’m completely against positive discrimination, and i’m completely in favour of meritocracy. That’s exactly why i’d support training like this.

    Meritocracy only works if no one is handicapped in the race. It’s without a shadow of a doubt that being a woman is a handicap for most races because of the society we live in. One only needs to take a look at the everyday sexism project to see that.

    If this type of training removes those handicap’s then frankly we should applaud them . Full stop.

    As for the men moaning, as a man, you’re not handicapped, indeed you’ve already got a turbo boost. Why so afraid of a truly level playing field?

  • Richard Dean 7th May '14 - 6:12pm

    @Dave Page
    Because that was the message that was implied by the absence, prior to your contribution, of any attempt to answer my simple question: What aspects of the training and mentoring are specific to the female gender and not appropriate for the male?

    Bsed on those early responses, it seems to me that one aspect of the answer is to train women not to see prejudice every time someone asks them a challenging question. Candidates need to be able to communicate effectively with an electorate of various genders. Candidates need to be able to recognize issues and concerns other than their own personal ones. And a candidate’s identity as a LibDem candidate is not at all the same as that candidate’s gender identity.

  • Alex: I totally think that when people of all genders join up they should be given more information about how to get involved – the latest membership pack doesn’t even tell you which your local party is, let alone give contact details. As chair of my local party I do my best to contact all newbs, but it’s fallen by the wayside the last month or so due to election fever. I’ll pick it up on the 23rd…

  • Eddie Sammon 7th May '14 - 6:14pm

    No, Andrew, it’s not fair to say that. It is not a case of levelling the playing field, I don’t mind positive discrimination as long as it excludes the poor, ethnic minority and gay men (and whichever other discriminated against groups).

    It is not discrimination against middle and upper class men that I mind, it is raising further barriers towards disadvantaged men. We should be able to raise these concerns in a polite way without being shouted at.

    I understand the annoyance at blanket criticisms and negativity towards any attempts to help women, but some of us are being polite and voicing specific concerns.

  • “it seems to me that one aspect of the answer is to train women not to see prejudice every time someone asks them a challenging question”

    If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

    I would like to recieve challenging questions like “what would you, as a candidate, do about X situation?” not “but what about the mens?”. Sadly that’s not challenging, nor really a question, more a moan…

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th May '14 - 6:17pm

    @ Alex Baldwin.
    I think you might find work by the Fawcett society interesting reading.

    You might like to follow up on the research underpinning the 3 tier equality framework. This framework describes the three main strategies available for increasing women’s participation in politics.
    1. Equality rhetoric
    2. Equality promotion
    3. Equality guarantees.

    2. deals with the need for training. and financial assistance.

  • Alex Baldwin 7th May '14 - 6:25pm

    That looks like a good place to start reading, thanks.

  • Andrew Emmerson 7th May '14 - 6:26pm

    Eddie – let me make it perfectly clear. This is not a zero sum game, please do not try and play disadvantaged male groups off against women. That frankly is bang out of order, whether you meant it or not.

    Helping women does not mean those groups you specify can’t also receive help from the liberation groups representing them. It just means that LDW have taken the initiative to see more women have their handicap removed.

  • Richard Dean 7th May '14 - 6:29pm

    What’s challenging about this one: What aspects of the training and mentoring are specific to the female gender and not appropriate for the male?

  • @Richard Dean:

    I don’t know because I am not involved in the planning of, nor have I taken, this specific set of training.

    I DID do one set of training for women candidates. It mostly involved advice on how to dress and what make-up to use – this was in the era of Folletting – and I haven’t been back for any women-specific training since. I can see how some male candidates might benefit from such training (although not my candidate, who is VERY well-dressed), but it would almost certainly be different to female-specific training on what to wear.

    I’ll ask you a question in return: why is this even relevant? Anyone can set up specific training events. If you want one just for men, why not set one up?

  • Eddie Sammon 7th May '14 - 6:36pm

    Andrew, I am not trying to play any groups off anyone, I raised a legitimate 100% honest concern in a polite way and I shouldn’t be shouted at because of it. I don’t sit there and try to think of smart concerns, it results from a genuine feeling of discomfort, pain and sometimes anger that I try to put into words to help everyone.

    Best wishes

  • I think these initiatives are badly needed but they are sticking plasters over a much bigger problem.. Let’s face it, the Lib Dems are not a party which believes in advancing women, on merit or otherwise. The fact that there are no women LD Cabinet members is the strongest sign of this. And does anyone really believe that there not one single LD woman MP who was better qualified to be a member of the Quad than Danny Alexander? Or equally well-qualified? It’s a party which is institutionally and instinctively mysogynistic .

  • A Social Liberal 7th May '14 - 7:25pm

    I do find it strange that whilst there is this big push to get women into parliament, there is little similar effort for those who are disabled. Whilst I do find it unacceptable that women are not better represented I think it reprehensible that there have only been (I believe) only seven disabled MPs since 1966.

    What does Westminster, or even Great George Street do to help disabled people cope with the day to day rigours of working in Parliament. We have seen a plethora of family friendly changes designed to attract more women, but I have seen next to nothing to attract disabled men and women to serve as an MP

  • Andrew Emmerson 7th May '14 - 7:33pm

    Phyllis – FYI Jenny Willot sat at the cabinet table this week for us.

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th May '14 - 8:40pm

    If you need any evidence that women need special training you need look no further than the incident at Prime Minister Questions when David Cameron told Angela Eagle, an Oxford graduate to ‘Calm down dear’. or at the raucous laughter the put- down provoked amongst some of our ‘honourable gentlemen.’

    I think your contributions are valuable and I enjoy reading them. ( I don’t always agree with them though, I don’t always agree with my husband’s either).

  • Eddie Sammon 7th May '14 - 8:50pm

    Thanks Jayne. I never responded before because I didn’t have much to say and I am trying not to talk too much :). I also noticed Andrew Hickey’s comment addressing one of my points, but again I’m trying to keep it short.

    I have no big problem with positive discrimination and definitely not special training, I just want both sides to be able to debate the pros and cons as politely as possible. I do not have the best track record in this department, but the desire is there. I also look at feminism and women’s issues as a specialism, so I’m definitely not against focusing on a certain gender.

  • Ruth Bright 7th May '14 - 9:10pm

    Alice – thank you so much for your article. Good luck on May 22nd.

    Richard Dean – you ask what specific training women candidates require.

    I wish I had had training on how to deal with the local branch treasurer who told me: “Looks like you have got another one in there” when I turned up to a meeting a few weeks after childbirth and had failed to shift my baby weight to his satisfaction.

    I wish I had had training on how to deal with the former PPC who thought it OK to compare the breast size of two of his colleagues.

    I wish I had had training on how to deal with the councillor who told me that a member of the Tory group was a cow who should be milked.

    Yes indeed Richard Dean I would have dearly valued such training.

  • Richard Dean 7th May '14 - 9:21pm

    @Ruth Bright.
    Well that may be tough, yes, and people need to be prepared, but some men and women voters are like that too, or worse. One of your tasks as a candidate is to communicate effectively with them – we’re all trying to do that and probably there’s not much of a knowledge base to support a training scheme, maybe it’s more like learning as you go along and sharing the experience and tricks for success with others. One of the aims of being a candidate is to get a chance to improve this imperfect world, and we shouldn’t expect the job to have already been done!

  • Jayne Mansfield 7th May '14 - 9:24pm

    @ Eddie,
    I think many people have the wrong idea about feminism. It isn’t just about women’s issues. Feminists challenge gender roles etc. that disadvantage men too.

    One of the most wonderful social changes that I have seen during my life has been the way social expectations of male gender roles have changed so that men can now enjoy a relationship with their children, and express their love and commitment to their children in a way that was denied to my loving father.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th May '14 - 10:42pm

    @Jayne, I agree gender roles disadvantage men too, but for me it is mainly about the military and dangerous jobs, which as someone who nearly joined the Army Reserve I am acutely aware of the pressures that men can find themselves under to fight or put themselves at risk. I decided against it in the end, but it goes to show the calibre of women in society that we have women wanting to do these jobs in place of men.

  • This threat pains me.

    After reading a really inspiring and enthusiastic post about the great support a party group is giving someone who sounds as if they will make a fantastic candidate, what do the first few comments moan about?

    ‘Why do not they not help men, too?’

    I think the answer is because that is not the point of this ‘particular group’. It would be like me complaining that the Chinese Liberal Democrats are concentrating their support on getting Chinese candidates elected. (I actually have no idea of their policy before anyone picks me on this point; it was just an example of how strange this debate is.) This is a group set up to support women within the party, as someone else said, I am sure no one will object to use starting the ‘grumpy old men’ society if it is really needed?

    If this group is helping get talented and enthusiastic people, such as the writer of this article, elected, why the heck are we undermining it?

    Eddie, I believe I have said this before, speaking as someone who is a poor, working class, white male, I can sympathise with your point (ignoring semantic nightmare of a white, working class male sympathising with the empathy a white, middle class, male gives white working class males.) Class is very important and still something the party massively struggles to deal with. I remember being made fun of by party members because of my ‘northern’ accent (I am not from the North).

    However, the woes of white, working class males does not mean we should be against supporting the talented women within our party from helping one another to succeed.

    Men have been ‘passing on’ their experience for centuries; how is it discrimination for women to do the same? (Note, I am sure many of the talented women mentioned by Alice would be more than happy to support any white, working class male who wished to be a councillor; it is just that the LDW may not be the appropriate group to facilitate that mentoring!)

    Anyway, Alice, good luck; you sound like a truly great candidate and it is wonderful to hear about the support you are receiving.

  • Eddie Sammon 7th May '14 - 11:56pm

    Liberal Al, I see. I have a slightly different perspective, but I take your points and others and it makes me think. Continuous learning.

  • Richard Dean 8th May '14 - 12:54am

    @Liberal Al
    You seem to have misread the first few posts. Simon McGrath suggested that a good idea might be extended to all. Nothing wrong with that, nothing sexist or anti-women – widening ideas can often bring further benefits. Caron Lindsay then appears to have tried to bully Simon, and the thread deteriorated as a result. An object lesson on how to generate resistance rather than support, and maybe something that the LGW training scheme should take on board?

  • Jonathan Brown 8th May '14 - 12:54am

    My membership of LDW lapsed recently. If the original article hadn’t persuaded me to rejoin, this comment thread certainly has.

    Good luck Alice – and keep up the good work!

  • Richard Dean 8th May '14 - 1:08am

    Nice one Jonathan. Be superior – Condemn without specifying why. Helpful. Forward-looking. Well done! Not.

  • Jonathan Brown 8th May '14 - 1:20am

    All right Richard, here’s why:

    A new-ish candidate goes to the effort of writing an article. She talks about her experiences and about the positive work being done by LDW to support other female candidates. The comments thread is then immediately sidelined by people talking about other issues and implying – intentionally or not – that female party members should not receive any special help and/or that they face no specific challenges.

    I have been approached by female party members who have discussed some of the problems they have faced within the party, and they have told me about problems faced by other women too. So although I don’t claim to speak for any of them, I am well aware that we as a party are too often failing our female members. As should be obvious from the under-representation of women at all levels within the party.

    In failing our female members we also harm the party as a whole and fail the wider public.

  • Richard Dean 8th May '14 - 1:55am

    @Jonathan Browne.
    What a terribly patronizing approach! First off, the person you call “newish” has perhaps, and hopefully, learned quite a lot of value things from this discussion.

    The first commentator asked a simple question, the second commentator de-railed the discussion, and the third commentator made a simple request for more information that was then ignored: why?

    The issue of positive discrimination, or whatever it might be called, is relevant to this debate. And if you actually read the comments, you’ll find that the sideliners were those who didn’t seem to want to debate or expand the discussion in a valuable way at all, but preferred using it as a reason to complain about men.

    It’s one thing to support an initiative, it’s quite another to be disparaging about others who simply want to discuss it.

  • daft ha'p'orth 8th May '14 - 2:25am

    @Richard Dean
    ‘De-railing’ is in the eye of the beholder. Patronising, likewise.

    I look forward to reading all about the support offered to candidates by the Grumpy Old Men society. The more the merrier.

  • Jonathan Brown 8th May '14 - 2:28am

    I make the point about Alice being a ‘newish’ candidate simply to emphasise that we ought as a party to be encouraging our members, not dragging them down – and especially so when they are finding their feet and working out both how to contribute and how much they wish to contribute. (So Alice, if what I wrote did come across as patronising, I apologise.)

    You will of course say that your questions are entirely reasonable and harmless. And ‘what about the men?’ type questions do sound very innocent and reasonable. But the context is years of foot-dragging and failure.

    It’s not useful when talking about helping women (in this case) overcome barriers to change the subject to the barriers that face men. It’s not that barriers facing men don’t deserve discussion (perhaps in another LDV article). But I don’t see that the discussion here contributes much beyond creating a general sense of a party still not recognising that women face particular problems in politics in general / the party in particular.

    Several of the women who have posted here have given specific examples of problems faced by female party members. I am aware of others from discussions with other female party members. Having male party members change the subject to their own issues doesn’t to me seem like a very constructive way of addressing their concerns or offering support.

  • Richard Dean 8th May '14 - 2:47am

    Sorry if I was a bit rude Jonathan, but I still think your comment was patronizing! Or is “newish” your way of putting Alice in her “place”? A very typical male dominance strategy!

  • Jonathan Brown 8th May '14 - 3:04am

    No Richard, ‘newish’ is not my ‘way of putting Alice in her place’. I do actually know Alice – a bit – so I’m aware that this isn’t the first time she’s stood for election. (The previous one was something different, not a local government election.) I know that she’s written some really insightful blogs on subjects that are of interest to me, and that her work means she has plenty of experience at handling difficult members of the public.

    So ‘newish’ is my shorthand way of taking all of the above into account while also acknowledging that it will be apparent to readers of this blog that she is young and – compared to many readers – not particularly politically experienced. Hence my comment about it not being constructive for commenters to ignore the subject she’s writing about in favour of talking about men.

    As a relatively new member of the party, and _relatively_ young member of the party, even though I’m not a female member of the party, I find the above approach pretty disparaging.

  • Richard Dean 8th May '14 - 3:09am

    OMG! “not particularly politically experienced”! Wheras you, Jonathan, oh yes, the man has experience doesn’t he? The man can be relied upon, the woman has no experience, and even if she does, it’s just the wrong kind and she needs the man to guide her. OMG OMG OMG!

  • Tracy Connell 8th May '14 - 8:39am

    If women can’t even do training with men, how do they expect to be a Councillor or MP with a bunch of men?

    I really do not understand women-only training or groups.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 8th May '14 - 12:02pm

    Tracy, I could refer you to Ruth Bright’s comment above, among others.

  • Richard Dean 8th May '14 - 12:38pm

    I’ve got to agree with Tracy. The problem appears to be in the relationships and attitudes between men and women. While there can be value in having a private area to think in, the essential solution is surely not to withdraw from those relationships, but to work them?

    A typical management strategy to handle an irksome problem in some poorly managed companies is to set up a special group to look at the problem, then assume it’s solved or at least managed, then ensure that the group is under-resourced, and carry on as before!

  • Richard Dean 8th May '14 - 12:59pm

    @Dave. This initiative seems to be advertised as how to deal with …. MEN! Or did I just infer that from the comments? which, if you remember, started with a polite question by a man followed by a woman’s implied criticism of that man’s comment, essentially that it’s none of a man’s business!

    LibDems really do have a huge problem!

  • Old Liberal 8th May '14 - 1:27pm

    The problem with women candidates is not getting them selected for winnable seats, it’s the fact that once selected they lose much more often than men.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th May '14 - 1:49pm

    Richard, your approach isn’t helping us. The way I look at it there are two problems:

    1. Men jumping in unintentionally shutting down debates about women.
    2. Women and men shouting at men for voicing concerns.

    I think the middle way needs to be taken. The topic of the rights and wrongs of positive discrimination probably belongs in a different thread. However, I got into it because I felt people were making the second mistake too.

  • “Andrew Emmerson 7th May ’14 – 7:33pm
    Phyllis – FYI Jenny Willot sat at the cabinet table this week for us.”

    You’ve just proved my point. LD women are allowed to ‘sit at’ the Cabinet Table but not be full members. Shameful that Clegg values women’s abilities so low.

  • “Andrew Emmerson 7th May ’14 – 7:33pm
    Phyllis – FYI Jenny Willot sat at the cabinet table this week for us.”

    That just proves my point.

  • “Ruth Bright 7th May ’14 – 9:10pm
    Alice – thank you so much for your article. Good luck on May 22nd.

    Richard Dean – you ask what specific training women candidates require.

    I wish I had had training on how to deal with the local branch treasurer who told me: “Looks like you have got another one in there” when I turned up to a meeting a few weeks after childbirth and had failed to shift my baby weight to his satisfaction.

    I wish I had had training on how to deal with the former PPC who thought it OK to compare the breast size of two of his colleagues.

    I wish I had had training on how to deal with the councillor who told me that a member of the Tory group was a cow who should be milked.

    Yes indeed Richard Dean I would have dearly valued such training.”

    If that is the purpose of this training then I don’t think it’s the women who need the training. Sexist behaviour like this has to be confronted by the leaders of the parties and by all members of all parties. It’s also the case that men may be on the receiving end of inappropriate comments as has become apparent recently.

  • Very best of luck, Alice . Islington North doesn’t look especially fertile ground for Lib Dem candidates these days but hopefully you’ll make it. You’ll certainly have my vote.

  • Jayne Mansfield 8th May '14 - 2:56pm

    Yes, Good luck Alice. It takes some pluck to stand up for what you believe in.

  • Richard Dean 8th May '14 - 3:21pm

    “Us” is famous in the social sciences, and I wonder who your “us” is? Do you perhaps mean “men”? Ha! Or do you perhaps means yourself?

    Debates can get bogged down in the soggy middle ground, and it can help if someone shakes the tree. I think the communal shaking on this thread has been educational, and has produced some insights – Phyllis’s last comment is an example. Men need training in how not to be sexist, either explicitly or inadvertently, by implication or assumption.

    An example of the latter was an earlier comment to the effect that this thread provides Alice with an experience she should not have been subjected to. If we follow that line of thinking generally, then women will be continually denied experiences they need in order to succeed in debates and in the rough game of politics generally. It may have seemed like a considerate thing to suggest, but it can also be part of a means of oppressing women.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th May '14 - 3:48pm

    Richard, no by “us” I mean men who are concerned about radical feminism. There are plenty of women concerned about it too. I sometimes shake the tree, but I don’t know if i has done much good. One thing I definitely know is that if you shake it too much it strengthens the argument to exclude us from debates and training rooms.

  • Richard Dean 8th May '14 - 3:55pm


    DId you see this debate as a contest between men who are “concerned about radical feminism” and others, presumably men who are not “concerned” about it?

    “Us” wasn’t “us men and women discussing together how we can improve things, tripping as we do on the prejudices that prevent us doing so”?

    I am reminded of Mark Knopfler’s comment “There are so many worlds”.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th May '14 - 4:16pm

    Richard, no I don’t see it as a “contest” of any kind. I just want peace to eventually break out.

  • Alex Baldwin 8th May '14 - 4:21pm

    @Dave Page: “However, if we believe that everybody has potential regardless of their background and that liberalism is a philosophy open to all (and if we don’t believe that, why are we Lib Dems?), then if there are no barriers to progression within our party, then our membership, approved candidates, candidates and elected officials should be broadly representative of the communities they come from. Since they aren’t broadly representative, then it follows that there are barriers to progression within our party, either conscious or (assuming good faith) subconscious.”

    I agree the representation of women should be higher, but regarding this argument I assume you recognise that the barriers are only necessarily there if every group has an equal desire to enter politics in the first place? @Thomas Long was saying upthread that the gender imbalance starts at the activist level.

    @Andrew Emmerson: “This is not a zero sum game”

    In a world of of limited resources most things *are* zero-sum games. As Caron said:

    @Caron Lindsay: ” I think we need to prioritise getting more women elected so that the proportion of female councillors and MPs is somewhere between 40 and 50%. We’re a very long way from that. Until then, let’s concentrate our limited resources on under-represented groups. “

  • Alex Baldwin 8th May '14 - 4:48pm

    @Dave Page: “I don’t think anybody will learn anything of value from this comment thread – it was already obvious to just about everybody that announcements about ways to support a particular group of under-represented people will usually be hijacked by over-represented privileged people whining “what about US!?!?”

    The only interesting thing here is the depressing demonstration of just how badly initiatives like LDW are needed, even within a progressive, radical party.”

    “Just to observe that, not including this one, there are 77 comments to this article at the time of posting. About half a dozen are not specifically about men. Over 90% of the comments on an article about women, are about men. That’s massive derailment, and that’s why these initiatives are needed.”

    If the issue is encapsulated in the reactions of some people here to the article (there really aren’t many so I’d be curious to see your list of who is part of the problem), then I wonder as to why you’re saying that LDW will help with that. The immediate reaction to the comments though (here and on Twitter) was to call them sexist, whining, privileged, ugh men etc. Obviously there was positive engagement as well, but I think there’s something worth considering in what @Richard Dean wrote:

    “While this may seem like seeking a gender balance, what it is clearly doing is setting up a special group within the LibDems who appear to see themselves in some form of opposition to others in the party. Is this kind of disunity a good thing? ”

    Having said that, I personally think that having groups that advocate for the representation/interests of women and of minorities is a good idea. I also think that the disproportionate reaction (not in terms of saying they’re “overreacting”, but just to say these threads draw more comments) of the people outside those groups when those things get discussed here is due to a kind of jealousy. As we saw on the FGM* threads a few months back, campaigns on issues pertaining to women are much better organised than ones on men’s issues. A lot of the response was then “can we hitch our issues up to your wagon?” rather than “your wagon is excellent, we should build one”.

    * Obviously there are differences between FGM and male circumcision, which is one of the reasons why they need separate wagons.

  • daft ha'p'orth 8th May '14 - 4:52pm

    Phyllis, on one level your point is completely accurate: it’s not that female candidates are less capable or less prepared and so need special help or whatever. Rather, the problem is essentially that huge numbers of us (women and men) have a problem with seeing beyond gender. In some contexts that means we have a tendency to underrate female candidates, certainly in several STEM areas, I suspect also in politics. In other contexts it means we tend to dismiss male candidates – librarianship being a good example.

    None of these attitudes can be resolved by lecturing the general public about their shortcomings – the odd lecture is probably helpful, but it becomes counterproductive pretty fast. One can approach the problem by insisting that society will work it out on its own – let’s not patronise people by offering them extra support to get past the hurdle society stuck in their way – or one can approach it by giving people additional mentoring – or certainly there are other approaches.

    Me, I think mentoring is an excellent and unobjectionable idea across the board. Sure, women ‘need […] experiences in order to succeed in […] the rough game of politics’ (speaking of patronising remarks…) but I don’t see how it’s bad for there to be a mentor available to go and discuss those experiences with?? I wouldn’t begrudge anybody the chance to discuss their experiences with a supportive group of relevance to their situation, male, female, mixed or otherwise. I don’t even see why anybody sees that as an issue. Want a supportive group with a different focus? Go set one up. Report back to LDV when done. We can then have this same thread all over again.

  • Alex Baldwin 8th May '14 - 4:59pm

    @daft ha’p’orth: “Want a supportive group with a different focus? Go set one up. Report back to LDV when done. We can then have this same thread all over again.”

    Exactly, this is the kind of thing I’m talking about. Even if I were intent on believing there were no general differences between the personality make-up of men and women I would have to still notice how far men are behind women in terms of supporting one another.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th May '14 - 5:01pm

    I get hurt by comments such as “ugh men”. There seems to be a hatred and men’s feelings and pain no longer matter as much as women’s. It feels like a dagger to the heart to hear such uncompassionate views.

  • Alex Baldwin 8th May '14 - 5:07pm

    @Eddie Sammon:
    I understand that sexist comments can be hurtful, but in the interest of being supportive I will say that this is probably not the best place to go to in order to find validation for your feelings.

    I feel all weird now.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th May '14 - 5:19pm

    Thanks. I will have a break. I got angry thinking I want nothing to do with liberalism if it is full of man hatred, but then calmed myself down reminding myself it was just the minority and probably not aimed at me. I see the problem being a lot of the anti-male prejudice being promoted by the left wing media, which of course is reflected by anti-women prejudice in the right wing media. There will be women who think liberalism is full of women hatred too, as I see Jenny Willott getting angry about in the press today.

  • Alex Baldwin 8th May '14 - 6:10pm

    @Eddie Sammon:
    I think that when you go around carrying the idea in your head that people are going to treat you in a way that is sexist or hateful you will then tend to *see* people to act in that way, even when they are not. Our beliefs can colour our perceptions in extremely convincing ways. This is not surprising really, as without a set of core assumptions about how the world works the task of interpreting the things that happen would be impossibly complicated. Everybody necessarily carries this type of bias with them, and it can be a challenge to suspend it in order to deal with individual situations on their own merits, but doing so can be a great advantage if our assumptions were previously causing us problems.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th May '14 - 7:01pm

    Alex, thanks.

  • The reason why comments, such as the ‘question’ by Simon’ get disparaged is because this is not the group for it. This training and mentoring is clearly bespoke mentoring for our female candidates to help them ‘overcome’ the problems they will face provided by a group that exists to tackle the specific problems this particular group may be facing.

    Associated groups, such as LDW, exist not to tackle ‘general’ issues, but to tackle specific issues. Groups, such as LDW, would be pointless were they made deal with issues that are outside of their remit.

    This is not ‘positive discrimination’ or an exclusion of men in the same way that a charity firm dealing with Immigration cases is not racist because the issues it focuses on are dealing with issues facing immigrant groups. It is just the group focusing on its purpose.

    If this training needs to given to men, then it would need to be a different group to provide it because it is not the role of LDW to handle that.

  • Richard Dean 8th May '14 - 9:12pm

    Quite right, Liberal Al, your concluding remarks, being factually accurate, will surely be welcome to all right-thinking men. Women have problems, now they can go away and discuss them in LDW. Problem solved. Yes indeed, your accurate remarks allows us to forget any and all learning we may have achieved in the intervening 90+ comments, particularly about the vast improvements needed in the attitudes, assumptions, and behaviours of men.

  • daft ha'p'orth 8th May '14 - 10:12pm

    @Richard Dean
    It is very, very difficult to get the world at large to change attitudes and assumptions, especially when they are not consciously aware of them. It’s a valid long-term aspiration but in the meantime a bit of short-to-medium-term support couldn’t hurt. LDW apparently does that, which seems like no bad thing.

    By the way, it’s not about ‘the attitudes, assumptions, and behaviours of men’: it’s about the attitudes, assumptions and behaviours of people. Attitudes often persist across genders (for example, on average, female physicists will downrate CVs of people with female-sounding names…)

  • Richard Dean 8th May '14 - 11:07pm

    Absolutely right, daft. Well done! No point in trying to change the world. Not something LibDems should try at all!

  • Melanie Harvey 8th May '14 - 11:08pm

    Should the title of this and the point of LDW be the other way around? i.e How LDW can help women (and men for that matter given they are half of the electorate too?) I actually want to see women with a record of battles to speak.

  • daft ha'p'orth 9th May '14 - 12:26am

    @Richard Dean
    LDs probably would benefit from working towards attainable goals, yes, well done for noticing.

  • Richard Dean 9th May '14 - 12:39am

    Correct. Just as long as they don’t involve any change to the gender balance, eh? Or to how men “think”.

  • Eddie Sammon 9th May '14 - 12:52am

    To be clear, I don’t actually think there is a lot of “man hatred”, I just got angry and felt like throwing the same accusations back. I don’t think it is the right thing to do, but sometimes in the heat of the moment people just say the first words that come to their head.

    Best regards

  • daft ha'p'orth 9th May '14 - 10:44am

    @Richard Dean
    Good intentions will not change the gender balance or ‘how men “think”‘, ‘how women “think”‘ or even, as I persist in repeating, how people ‘think’. Lecturing from a great height tends to polarise and entrench attitudes. Seeing/enjoying visible attainment is much more likely to improve matters.

    Despite her politics and attitudes, Thatcher’s mere existence probably did more for gender equality than any amount of lecturing, because a generation of kids (including yours truly) grew up knowing full well that a woman could be Prime Minister. Compare with the situation today in which, remarkably, the LDs are able to boast a female Lib Dem Minister who is permitted to attend cabinet when ‘issues involving women are discussed’ (that is not to imply any disrespect for Jenny Willott’s excellent work – merely loathing for the bizarrely formed expression ‘issues involving women’).

    I would love to see a world in which gender doesn’t colour our perceptions of competence. In the meantime I would settle for a world in which people are better-supported in their aspirations to work in gender-atypical fields of occupation. I do not want to see a world in which the status quo is maintained despite lots of ineffectual grumbling. So yay for attainable goals, yay for supporting people in gender-atypical fields of endeavour, and yah boo sucks to wasting energy on trying to ‘change the world’ by moaning a lot, but not actually doing anything constructive.

  • Over and over again we’ve seen that trying to change outcomes by changing attitudes isn’t nearly as effective, or as lasting, as changing attitudes by changing outcomes.

  • Richard Dean 9th May '14 - 3:52pm

    @daft h’ap’orth

    Many thanks for your detailed response. May I ask what you personally plan to do to help correct the present gender imbalance in the LibDems? – an imbalance that is not present in other parties and whose existence damages us electorally and calls into question the motives and commitment of LibDems to LibDem values?

  • daft ha'p'orth 9th May '14 - 4:36pm

    @Richard Dean
    I’m not a Lib Dem – although I do think that LD Women is a good idea. Me, I work to address the gender imbalance in areas in which I have a personal involvement – STEM. To that end, I both mentor and am mentored.

  • Richard Dean 9th May '14 - 6:21pm

    @daft ha’p’orth
    Sorry for mistaking you for a LibDem. Although I must say it’s remarkable how many LibDems, and others here on this LibDem site, use the “I’m not a LibDem” ploy to avoid addressing real issues!

    Based on your independent perspective and experience in STEM, what would you suggest the LibDems need to do to correct the present disastrous state of imbalance? Say on a 1-year timescale for 2015, and a 6-year one for 2020?

  • daft ha'p'orth 10th May '14 - 6:52pm

    @Richard Dean
    Well, I was close to joining at one point… then I saw the way the coalition was going and realised my rosy dreams of a future getting involved in Politics I Could Believe In were based on the flawed assumption that my MP was a Politician I Could Believe In and on the equally flawed assumption that the Party would give a toss about my opinion or capabilities. So I gave up on the notion of joining, volunteering etc.

    If the Lib Dems were a STEM department :

    Try to make sure that committees of any kind at any level reflect a reasonable mixture of gender and social background to the extent possible (and if that extent is minimal invite some more people in from outside – just ensure that you’re not just doing it to improve your stats, but that you are actually ready to listen). Try to ensure that governance structures are not designed to encourage homogeneity. In practice it’s incredibly hard to do this even in a university department; as soon as you think you’ve knocked one sort of prejudice out of favour, along comes a whole new clique with a whole new set of excuses for doing what is in practice the same old same old. Keep doing it anyway. Also, to foil the cliques, insist on plain English, it’s surprisingly powerful.

    Take chances, put people in unexpected roles now and then. Question obvious trends like sweeping people off into stereotypically obvious roles (“only woman in department? She can have some sort of caring role. Or design stuff, everybody knows women are arty. Maybe women’s issues.”) If this situation is currently the case then question it and challenge it, which in our case might mean asking an individual to act as a mentor for female students AND have them teach a class in some not-at-all-fuzzy topic. The one does not preclude the other. Of course we should also respect ‘fuzzy’ stuff – it’s all good science – but there is a risk of developing gender-normative ghettos through laziness and inattention. That is not good for anybody.

    If there isn’t enough diversity around to do the above (and it sounds as though the LDs are close to that) then try to work with a broader population through affiliation at some level. The experience will probably help to clarify why this is currently the case and how the LDs can remedy that.

    Consider applicant pool versus pool of people invited for interview. We know that there is a problem there in many uni departments and that on average, regardless of our own backgrounds, we tend towards bias against the unfamiliar. We could do with more opportunities to reflect on the consequences of our approaches to recruitment (the lazy thing is letting the HR department do the reflection for us; their job is to ensure we don’t get sued and in general they suck at pointing out our failures). Gentle feedback is useful.

    Going to lib dem issues,2015 is going to be a rough year in general for reasons that will have nothing to do with the candidates themselves and it’s rather too close to do anything other than what is already planned (isn’t it all pretty much set up by now?) Regarding 2020, I’m probably supposed to say ‘All-women shortlists’ but I don’t know LD culture well enough to really comment. There are some great discussions on here about it, though. Personally I find many of Shirley Williams’ arguments compelling.

    It would be useful to think about how the LDs represent to the press, too; if a journalist contacts fora quote, who answers? What has worked in some disciplines (I don’t know if LDs currently do this tbh) is putting together a list of experts, so journalists looking for views on, say, mansion tax, can easily identify six people with expert knowledge who aren’t the usual suspects – it doesn’t harm the usual subjects, who generally still get quoted, and the journalists get a more interesting/complete article. Sure, it means that politically there is a risk of someone saying something unexpected, but a robust party should be able to cope with differences of opinion…

    So to the LDs: stay active, stay positive, listen to one another and give people time to speak. Reflect on institutional culture and how it can be changed. Maybe invite people like Elizabeth Evans around for a chat if you haven’t already. 2020 ought to be far enough into the future to reduce at least some imbalances, particularly in terms of visibility in the press.

    That’s all I’ve got at the moment. I don’t think it’s anything that the party won’t have considered before.

  • Jonathan Brown 10th May '14 - 8:48pm

    @daft ha’p’orth – Thanks for that post, and those really constructive suggestions. I think we’ve really lost out in you not joining the party. I hope you’ll change your mind on that one day!

    I would suspect that much – if not all – of what you suggest has been considered at one point or another, but speaking from experience it’s really difficult to turn that consideration in to practice. I’m not making excuses: I think you’re absolutely right that we need to change the way we do some things – and I hope LDW will contribute to this. It’s also a chicken and egg thing. If you’re surrounded by men, it’s easy to create a culture without realising it that is offputting for women. And when someone new joins the group (committee, organisation, office, or whatever) – female or not – it’s easy, again unintentionally, to fail to do enough to include that person, with the result that they leave and you’re back to square one. Or worse. Which is why it’s so important to change the gender balance!

    I think much of what you say is applicable with other under-represented groups too.

    Thanks again. I will re-read your comments again, and try to think if there’s anything we can do differently in our local party.

  • “@daft ha’p’orth – Thanks for that post, and those really constructive suggestions. I think we’ve really lost out in you not joining the party. I hope you’ll change your mind on that one day!”

    I just wished to echo this sentiment.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Nonconformistradical
    @Peter Martin "Raising taxes generally will, at the moment, benefit for younger people who are struggling to pay increased mortgage costs too." How, if they a...
  • Peter Martin
    @ Steve, It is the lending process by commercial banks that creates what is often referred to as 97% of the money in circulation. It also the spending proces...
  • Peter Martin
    Raising taxes generally will, at the moment, benefit for younger people who are struggling to pay increased mortgage costs too. I admit it will be a hard sel...
  • Chris Perry
    P.S. Just by way of clarification. It is my belief that although people born in these islands might identify with their place of birth they are likely to descri...
  • Simon McGrath
    Have the Tories really 'underfunded ' the NHS. According to the Kings Fund , spending was £150.3bn in 2018/19 and £181.7bn in 2022/23 (all in real terms ). ...