Our failure to improve diversity has driven people away

Should I support the diversity motion at the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in York next week? My initial reaction is, yes, this is right, but it will be a hard decision to support something that will probably hurt many within the party.

I suspect some will argue the motion is not legal. I remember at conference many years ago when an all women shortlist motion was debated and lost. I saw highly respected women speaking against the motion because they believed local party members should choose the right candidate based on skills and experience. It seems things haven’t changed and we are still a long way from being a truly diverse party.

On a personal level, I had very high hopes for a good friend who is black, a very experienced community campaigner and politician and a strong supporter of diverse communities. However he was not selected in spite of having lived in the area for some time. It is people like him who have the potential to be a future leader who are not being given a chance. They selected a candidate who barely knew the area.

In the 1990s we attracted more BAME members to our party than the Conservatives because they saw us as more accessible and welcoming. Over the years the Conservatives have worked hard to win back BAME people through promoting their small businesses and embracing BAME cultural values. This has led to more BAME donors and members joining them, far in excess of the numbers attracted by the slumbering Liberal Democrats !

The Conservatives also targeted deaf and disabled people, again winning more support from those groups than us!

The Conservatives have a very strong and active Disability Group. What has happened to our disability group? I worked tirelessly to set up the Liberal Democrats Disability Association with three other disabled members in 1992. I am now the only founding member left. The other three left the party ages ago, disillusioned by the lack of opportunities for disabled people.

Many of my deaf friends keep telling me I am in the wrong party! They say if I joined Labour, I would have had a far better chance of becoming the first deaf sign language user to be elected to a national Parliament. Maybe they are right. But, no, I will always be a liberal and a firm believer in a fair and equal society, not controlled by unions or the rich! I would like to think that the dream I had when I was 20 of being elected to Parliament can still come true with this party.

Look at our own record in office. No disabled MP, no woman MP, just one woman MEP now. Things must change in 2020 and beyond and that is why I say it is right for us to support the diversity motion. Only by recruiting a more diverse membership and inspiring them to stand for election can the Liberal Democrats win back the voters.

* David Buxton is a founder member and vice chair of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association. (Photo courtesy of Sam McMullen)

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22 Comments

  • ……………..On a personal level, I had very high hopes for a good friend who is black, a very experienced community campaigner and politician and a strong supporter of diverse communities. However he was not selected in spite of having lived in the area for some time. It is people like him who have the potential to be a future leader who are not being given a chance. They selected a candidate who barely knew the area……………

    I would usually support, on principle, a ‘local’ candidate (regardless of sex or race) although I can see the logic of a ‘Name’ in some areas….

    However you don’t say whether the ‘candidate, who barely knew the area’, was male or female……………Again, diversity is about far more than men/women….In the modern world I consider white, privileged, well educated men and women to be pretty much interchangeable…

  • “No disabled MP, no woman MP, just one woman MEP”

    It does amaze me that the party only having “just one woman MEP” is a reason for more diversity when the LibDems only have one MEP.

  • David Evans 4th Mar '16 - 11:32am

    David – Ultimately we either trust people tempered with caution in which case we are liberals or we don’t and we aren’t. Just look at our record in office. We lost 49 MPs, we are down to only eight, we lost all but one of our MEPs. That is our problem.

    I always trust local parties over central bureaucracies to make a sound decision. They know the local area best.

    I don’t know if you attended the selection meeting for your friend, but if you did, did he perform well? You say the other candidate barely knew the area. Perhaps the others who had a vote didn’t agree with you. We all know of elections where the person we believe was the best candidate didn’t win. It happens nationally in General Elections, it happens locally in Candidate Selection. It’s called Democracy.

  • Yes we have failed miserably in this area, well at least at a national level. A poor example indeed.
    However on a brighter note, yesterdays locals showed polling for the party at probably its best level since the end of the electorally disastrous coalition, on the brink of making two gains from virtually nowhere. The Euro arguments in the Conservatives may, I hope, help us get close to 100 gains in May.

  • David Evershed 4th Mar '16 - 11:51am

    Is there a reason none of the women Lib Dem candidates won at the last general election?

    Were they the best candidates available for their constituencies?

  • Paul Holmes 4th Mar '16 - 12:05pm

    David I am puzzled by the reasoning in your title and your final sentence.

    Are you arguing that our electoral wipe out in 2015 was due to lack of diversity among our elected politicians? Yet these same Liberal Democrat politicians, in 2005 for example, were elected in the largest numbers our Party has seen in almost a century? 2010 saw a decrease after 3 successive record breaking elections in 1997, 2001 and 2005 but still had us at our second highest level of nationally elected politicians since the 1920’s.

    I sympathise though with your point about candidates with disability. When the Parliamentary Party used to debate ‘Diversity’ meaning female MP’s, I used to point out that they were not talking about the most under represented groups namely those with disabilities and working class northerners.

    They always, mistakenly, thought I was joking about the latter group.

  • simon mcgrath 4th Mar '16 - 1:15pm

    “On a personal level, I had very high hopes for a good friend who is black, a very experienced community campaigner and politician and a strong supporter of diverse communities. However he was not selected in spite of having lived in the area for some time.”

    If the motion is passed un-amended he would not even be able to apply for the seat (if it is a good one) because he is a man. How would that help improve our diversity ?

  • Tony Dawson 4th Mar '16 - 5:20pm

    This is one of those ‘stopped clock’ moments where I agree with Simon McGrath.

    This motion is being pushed by people who do not understand political realities. They do not want to believe the truth of what the British people have done to the Liberal Democrats and how they (mostly) feel about us as a Party. If we are to stand any chance of getting any MPs elected in the next General Election at all then each candidate in each and every one of the 30 or so non-incumbent seats where we might have a slight chance of winning must have the best possible candidate for that particular seat irrespective of their gender, sexuality, race, etc etc. Even then, to win any of those seats at all will be an uphill struggle. This move is not so much ‘fiddling while Rome burns’ as pouring kerosene onto the Colosseum.

  • Eddie Sammon 4th Mar '16 - 5:28pm

    We need a compromise on the policy. People feel very passionate on both sides and surely a sensible middle way can be found that doesn’t leave either side feeling defeated.

    Compromise isn’t always good, but I think people feel too passionate about this on either side.

  • David Warren 4th Mar '16 - 8:19pm

    The party just isn’t inclusive enough.

    It isn’t interested in tackling some deep seated cultural problems or dealing with certain local parties that are effectively ‘rotten boroughs’.

    How many of the new members who signed up after the General Election will renew?

    I will be very interested to see the figures.

  • Great to see you posting here, David. I am still on the circulation list, and still pay in as a member (I am not disabled, but many experiences have led me to want to help fight some corners which need it!)

    Our Town Council Leader, who is also one of the local District Councillors is visually very impaired, and his sight has recently taken a turn for the worse. We also have Councillors with considerable mobility problems. We have no ethnic minority councillors, and that is a weakness, but we have relatively small minority populations here anyway.

  • Well said David.

  • Peter Watson 5th Mar '16 - 9:07am

    @expats “In the modern world I consider white, privileged, well educated men and women to be pretty much interchangeable”
    I agree with the sentiment, but then again, it is the “white, privileged, well educated men” that have messed up the Lib Dems so perhaps any measure that reduces their influence has some merits!

  • Peter Watson

    Both men and women helped build the party and both played their part in messing it up.

  • Toby Keynes 5th Mar '16 - 10:19am

    “In the 1990s we attracted more BAME members to our party than the Conservatives because they saw us as more accessible and welcoming.”
    I agree, David.
    That’s the target we need to be aiming at: we need to ensure that our party is as accessible and welcoming as possible, whether you’re female, LGBT+, ethnic minority, disabled or – yes – working class.
    The motion, as it stands, says a lot about the various ways in which we try to achieve this; positive action doesn’t have to be in conflict with fairness and a democratic process.
    Women-only shortlists is undemocratic and unfair, denying some candidates an opportunity and denying members their say; it also makes things worse for many would-be candidates who come from every other various disadvantaged groups but are not female.
    It’s also tacking the problem from the wrong end. We need to identify the reasons why candidates from all these disadvantaged group do not come forward, and the barriers that they face along the way; we need to tackle those problems, to find new ways to draw people in, and to give them the skills and encouragement that they need in order to stand.
    So I support the diversity motion – but with the rather large exception of Women-Only Shortlists, and I have reservations about zipping.

  • You are right David, our party has been slumbering! Worse, it has been sleepwalking towards the disaster of the 2015 GE, so what should we do? Should we carry on as before or should we wake up, give ourselves a huge shake and show everyone that the majority of members are serious about equality of opportunity? We have a chance to show that we have learnt our lesson. The Conservatives may have done better than us on equality in the last few years but their cruelty towards disabled people will provide us with many opportunities to show how we differ and our Peers are doing a good job of this already. Voting for the diversity motion is just the start of the wake up call, so thank you for deciding to vote for it and writing this article.

  • elwyn watkins 6th Mar '16 - 11:49am

    This comes down to who is most able to select the best candidate to both get elected and to represent Liberal values. Is it the national/regional party or the local party? I am very clear on the answer.

  • Ben Jephcott 6th Mar '16 - 11:58am

    I supported zipping as practised in the 1999 European elections, because it was flexible enough to work properly, and the process led to a long term and sustainable male / female balance within LDEPP.

    The motion as currently framed will result in the exclusion of far too many candidates with the greatest connection and profile with their local communities, including former MPs or BAME, which will make our recovery at the next election more difficult or even impossible. Using regions as building blocks for required exclusive shortlists when we have so few realistic targets left in most regions is not sensible. I hope a compromise can be found or I will have to oppose it.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 6th Mar '16 - 1:39pm

    David

    A terrific article, your work and campaigning over so many years must be seen as a really important contribution.

    I know who I think you mean when you describe your friend who is a talented and hard working black member of our party, if he is who I think you are referring to , I agree, I have seen him in action, we need him !

    We must put BAME and disability and LGBT out there more as significant glaring omissions.Women are being discriminated against , but we do have powerful women in our party, yes to the motion, but with a recognition that white , middle class , highly educated , able bodied women , often well connected in party oriented families, are not lacking in influence or prevalence on this party, or society as a whole other groups are !

  • Paul Holmes 6th Mar '16 - 3:07pm

    @Sue S A similar question to the (unanswered) one I asked David. Are you and he arguing that our worst election result in a century and a half was a result of ‘lack of diversity’ when in fact in our Target Seats we had the greatest diversity of candidates we had ever fielded?

    As for sleepwalking towards that disastrous result, to myself and many others it seemed like we deliberately galloped towards it at full speed like the proverbial Lemmings racing for the cliff edge. Our eyes were wide open but as a Party ‘we’ willfully ignored the consistently awful opinion polls from 2010-2015, the consistently appalling election results in 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 and the string of appalling by election results and Lost Deposits. Not one of which had I ever before heard anyone attribute to ‘Diversity’ issues.

  • David Evans 6th Mar '16 - 3:15pm

    Sue S – The problem with your point is that the lesson the public want us to learn from the disaster of coalition isn’t the lesson you want to give. The issue is trust in the Liberal Democrats, and replacing male Lib Dem candidates with female ones won’t change a thing – they still won’t trust us. Indeed it will simply confirm to ever more of them that Lib Dems are so far up their own existences that they don’t care.

    AWS is another step the way to personal satisfaction in the perfection of electoral irrelevance. I believe we have to change and fight back but not on irrelevances like this.

  • nigel hunter 7th Mar '16 - 12:03am

    If we led the way in the 1990’s ,before my time, it shows a lack of continuation, resting on our laurels. You cannot sit back smug faced whilst others catch and overtake, politics is constantly evolving.

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