Shortlists and Privilege

On Sunday, Conference voted for all-women shortlists. As part of the debate, I gave a speech outlining how my experience showed that lots of men simply aren’t aware of the privilege they have. I was surprised that this speech would immediately precede the rare event of a leader’s speech in a debate. Tim – I hope I set them up all right for you!

For the first 40 years of my life I lived as male. Transitioning to female in 2004, and starting my own software company at the same time, showed me what I had anticipated – that I had to work much harder to be treated as worth listening to. It didn’t come as a shock to me, as I’d observed this since childhood – in fact, it was one of the reasons I used to delay transition. But I know other trans women who have been surprised by this side-effect.

A few years ago, my sales director and I were discussing my experiences of gender transition. He was genuinely surprised when I explained how I felt I was now perceived in meetings, such as the one we had just left. However, in subsequent meetings, he found he also noticed it. People get used to privilege, and if you’ve always had it, you won’t notice until it’s gone.

Having campaigned on equalities issues for a number of years now, I know that success is measured in terms of outcomes, not in terms of inputs. If people need to see over a tall fence, you need to give each person an appropriately sized box to stand on. Giving everyone the same-sized box could mean that some people still won’t be able to see over the fence. It’s not about tokenism, it’s about opportunity. It’s exactly the same argument used to support Pupil Premium.

In my speech I also outlined the effect that not having representation has. Basically it means that you rely on allies, and laws can (and do) get passed without informed scrutiny from those with first-hand experience. Government can rest easy because it won’t have to look those affected in the eye. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to lose the amazing allies the trans communities have had within Parliament, but it would be even better still to have at least one openly (Lib Dem) trans parliamentarian, as long as we allow them the space to be expert in other areas too. And it should always be recognised that, like most things, gender is a spectrum, not a binary.

I’m relieved we are no longer being out-liberalled by the Church of England, who adopted all-women shortlists for the next few bishops. And I was surprised to see no mention of the all-men shortlists that must undoubtably have existed.

 

* Helen Belcher joined the Lib Dems after David Cameron’s human rights speech in late May 2015. She stood for Chippenham in the 2017 General Election.

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23 Comments

  • paul barker 14th Mar '16 - 8:33pm

    Great article but I have a tiny quibble about the use of “privelege.” Of course it exists but the way alot of people on the Left are using it now works to divide us, to build walls not bridges. The idea of privelege in its current form (check your …) is also a great tool for bullies & a way of closing down arguments.

  • Joshua Dixon 14th Mar '16 - 8:34pm

    Helen, your speech was one of my favourite speeches of the debate. The part about having parliamentarians with genuine real life experiences on the issues they’re legislating on is spot on.

  • Simon McGrath 14th Mar '16 - 9:55pm

    “If people need to see over a tall fence, you need to give each person an appropriately sized box to stand on. Giving everyone the same-sized box could mean that some people still won’t be able to see over the fence”
    or much better, you take the fence down

  • Surely privilege exists more in class and private education than it does in sex or sexual orientation?

  • dear Simon McGrath, sometimes you may want to see over a fence, not have it removed. Such as when looking at a pack of wolves at the zoo!

    Please don’t reply to this by telling me that zoos are appalling. Like Helen’s fence, it’s just an illustrative example, not the fundamental basis of the argument.

  • You made an excellent speech at Conference, Helen and I am sad you didn’t get to make the being out-liberalled by the Church of England reference!

  • I’m tired of weak analogies such as the Pupil Premium and I respect Sal Brinton even less for drawing it at the conference and you less for repeating it, Helen. The Pupil Premium gives a financial bias to disadvantaged children, or rather, not to them directly but to the school they go to. If that is in anyway the same as excluding the advantaged completely from school – which is a better analogy for AWS, I’m a Dutchman!

    Your analogy about fences is bizarre, too. As Simon says, the fence is the problem because someone designed it not to be seen over in the first place.

    We’ve had nothing but invalid analogies in this debate, and I think it’s intellectually poor. What’s worse is how Sal Brinton responded to a Lib Dem facebook debate page a month ago when I asked “What happens if there are no strong local women wishing to stand that year when one of our male MPs stands down and must be replaced by AWS?”

    To which her answer was “Why do you assume there will be no strong local women candidates?”

    I had to reply that I made no such assumption at all and was simply describing something entirely probable in a random distribution. There WILL be some constituencies in which in one particulary year no women will be putting themselves forward. Fact of life. Just as there may be no men in some constituencies, or no people from ethnic minorities even in constituencies with a high proportion of them.

    If I were an activist in a constituency that had long-elected a sitting MP after years of hard work, only to find that in 2020 and I were forced to accept a woman who was bused in from outside the constituency because thanks to fall of the dice there is no local woman putting herself forward that year?

    If I can put forward such a simple test for the policy and for it be misunderstood by the party president…well, heaven help us.

    If we can’t think of a more sophisticated, subtle and mathematically intelligent way to introduce a better bias for women, what future have we got?

  • Looking at wolves in a zoo? What’s that all about? If you want to display wolves in a zoo you use a wire fence that you can see through, don’t you? Or a glass panel.

    The fundamental point, Prue Bray, is not that you need to forcibly make people all of a minimum height, but that the fence most definitely is the problem.

    Are the Lib Dems really turning into the bad-analogy Party?

  • I’ll give you a better analogy. I remember on Sunday morning before the Diversity debate took place, I was stopped outside the York Barbican by one of several young women pushing leaflets and support for AWS.

    I said to her “If you’re trying to bang a nail in a wall you don’t just get a blooming great big mallet and bash it in with one blow. You put your thumb behind it and tap it in until it is straight and true and then you increase the force with the final few blows.” To which she replied “We’ve been trying to hammer the nail in for decades. I’m afraid it’s simply time to give the nail a big blow with the biggest sledge hammer we can find”.

    I sighed and left. Sadly, I was in too much of a hurry to give her my full answer to that which would have been “if you are still not capable of hammering the nail home, the great big mallet will still not and will never work. You will always bend the nail and probably completely wreck the wall in process. If you can’t use your thumb then you need to get someone to invent for you a more sophisticated tool to do the job. If you are not willing to do that and insist on smashing your wall to bits with a sledge hammer then it’s probably time to accept that DIY or the building trade is not for you”.

  • The AWS resolution carried at the York conference was, in my view, quite skilfully drafted, and it is not unreasonable to hope that it will achieve its intended result without causing serious injustice to disappointed white male candidates.

    What I am not at all so happy about is the position in Scotland, where the AWS provisions that have been adopted seemingly entail that Mike Crockart will be prevented from standing again in the Edinburgh West constituency, and it is difficult to see what the rationale for this could possibly be.

  • Stephen Howse 15th Mar '16 - 10:56am

    “What I am not at all so happy about is the position in Scotland, where the AWS provisions that have been adopted seemingly entail that Mike Crockart will be prevented from standing again in the Edinburgh West constituency, and it is difficult to see what the rationale for this could possibly be.”

    Mike was one of the very few Lib Dem candidates in 2015 who actually increased his vote, no mean feat given the situation across Scotland as a whole. Why would we not want him to stand again?

  • Stephen, because the people who dream rather blanket rules for AWS have absolutely no concept of reality and they are not capable of testing their back-of-an-envelope rules with a variety of plausible scenarios which could conspire to create the worst imaginable results. Such lack of sophistication, flexibility and rationale should be dismissed summarily.

  • Stephen Howse 15th Mar '16 - 11:23am

    Michael, I think the non-MPs most likely to win in 2020 (on current trends anyway) are those who stood in held/winnable seats and were unsuccessful in 2015.

    Where we have women in such seats (and they made up a majority of those standing in ‘change’ seats) who want to stand again, let’s back them, let’s build their campaigns, let’s fund them properly, and let’s give them the very best chance of making it onto the green benches. We have no time to waste here.

  • John Barrett 15th Mar '16 - 11:25am

    I suspect that Charles Kennedy would be spinning in his grave knowing that had he survived his party would not let him even apply to fight to regain his old seat.

    The Edinburgh West situation has even more complications than simply introducing an AWS for the next General Election. The party has ruled out Mike Crockart from standing at the next election, but there is a real possibility of a by-election in his old seat before then.

    It is also interesting to note the words used in the Scottish motion, in that the five most winnable seats with no incumbent at the time of selection will have AWS. This is quite different to saying that where no incumbent stands at the next election, there will be an AWS. This allows our only held seat, Orkney and Shetland, to return a male MP, regardless of whether the incumbent fights it or not.

    It is hard to believe that this was not designed to allow a favoured son to fight it if the MP decides to stand down.

  • John Barrett 15th Mar '16 - 11:36am

    Joshua – “The part about having parliamentarians with genuine real life experiences on the issues they’re legislating on is spot on.”

    While it is essential that MPs understand legislation, there are risks with this approach too.

    I remember Dr Evan Harris producing a paper on the NHS for discussion by his Lib-Dem Parliamentary colleagues, when one pointed out that in his discussion paper he had used the word “doctor” over thirty times and used the word “patient” once.

  • Stephen, yes, where we had women candidates previously or where new women are replacing old male PPCs who failed to get elected in 2015, let’s give them extra support. Let’s focus on supporting and promoting the women who were selected sensibly, not focus on badly selecting women.

  • Stephen Howse 15th Mar '16 - 12:24pm

    “Let’s focus on supporting and promoting the women who were selected sensibly, not focus on badly selecting women.”

    Hear, hear!

    But then that might actually take some effort and money, whereas AWS will take absolutely no effort or money at all but will tick a box.

  • @ John Barrett et al. In my view Edinburgh West Constituency Party are entitled to call a special general meeting of all local members to select who they like and to tell the High Heid Yins who pushed this policy through without reflecting on the implications exactly where to stick it.

    If they don’t, so much for localism.

    The Boston tea party and the Soviet Commissars comes to mind.

  • @Michael Kilpatrick
    “If that is in anyway the same as excluding the advantaged completely from school – which is a better analogy for AWS, I’m a Dutchman!”

    AWS in a tiny number of seats is hardly a good analogy for “excluding the advantaged completely from school”. It’s more analogous to – say – excluding the advantaged from the odd one-to-one session that some disadvantaged children get to have, which is exactly what happens in some schools of my acquaintance.

  • Stuart, again you’re confirming that the disadvantaged get a preferential boost at school – agreed. No argument there. Yet AWS dictates that in Sheffield Hallam no male will be able to succeed Nick Clegg if he stands down. Fullstop. No man will “graduate” to the House of Commons. That is not analogous to not offering the advantagd student an extra one-to-one session, for both he and the disadvantage student will get to continue their education, go to secondary school and then apply to university, etc, etc.

  • Helen Tedcastle 15th Mar '16 - 9:25pm

    ‘ If people need to see over a tall fence, you need to give each person an appropriately sized box to stand on. Giving everyone the same-sized box could mean that some people still won’t be able to see over the fence. It’s not about tokenism, it’s about opportunity.’

    So much for fighting poverty, ignorance and conformity then. According to this argument, the poor will always be with us, educational disadvantage will always exist, social acceptance of diversity will never occur, so let’s draw up a list and help some people (probably disadvantaging others in the process).

    Is that really what the party is about?

  • Helen, no. What various people are saying is that people seem to be hell-bent on choosing the wrong – and often worst – means of solving a problem. The fence is clearly the problem. If there is a pressing need for people to see over it then it shouldn’t have been built so tall or it should have been built out of wire or glass or wooden slats rather than solid panels. We’re just playing a game of who can think of the worst analogy, and so far (in my opinion) Sal Brinton is winning. Simon McGrath doesn’t want to give people a box because whatever we do there’ll always be someone whose box isn’t tall enough or, in fact, they won’t be able to climb onto it. THE FENCE IS THE PROBLEM, not the fact that people are different heights.

  • Helen T What practical measures do you propose to make the party more diverse?

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