Should the Lib Dems have a male and female leadership team?

Labour’s deputy leader Harriet Harman is standing in for Gordon Brown over the summer and has chosen this time to air her views on women and political leadership. Yesterday she told the Sunday Times:

“Men cannot be left to run things on their own. I think it’s a thoroughly bad thing to have a men-only leadership. In a country where women regard themselves as equal, they are not prepared to see men just running the show themselves. I think a balanced team of men and women makes better decisions.”

Jo Swinson MP, the Liberal Democrat women’s spokesperson (and former Chair of the party’s Campaign for Gender Balance) commented that Ms Harman had the right sentiment but the wrong solution:

“I think there’s a danger of us couching this as ‘no to men’ and stopping talented men, when it should be about recognising talented women are being put off going into politics.”

So over to you: what should the Liberal Democrats’ approach be to the question of male and female leadership?

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26 Comments

  • Croslandist 3rd Aug '09 - 1:51pm

    Is that WLD article by Elizabeth Evans online anywhere? Sounds like it deserves a wider circulation than it gets in the WLD newsletter. 🙂

  • Richard Whelan 3rd Aug '09 - 2:52pm

    Surely what is important is having the best leadership team rather then having a leadership team of all men, all women or one of each just because they are men or just because they are women or just because there is a rule that states that one has to be a man and the other a woman.

    The reason I think we have the best front bench and the best leadership team we have ever had is because they were chosen on their merits and not because they were anything in particular, i.e. a man, a woman, black/white, gay/straight etc.

    If we want more women MPs the onus is on women to prove they are better then their male counterparts and they will get selected as PPCs and will beat off competition from our opponents to get elected. Implementing quotas and selecting candidates, not by ability, but by what rather then who a person is, could potentially lead to a second rate parliamentary party and thus a second rate front bench. Look what this is about to do to the Labour Party. So let’s not go there.

    P.S. By the way I am disabled and believe strongly that if I am to be selected as a candidate for future Council or Parliamentary Elections this should be based purely on merit and not because I am disabled.

  • Martin Land 3rd Aug '09 - 2:55pm

    ranters paradise. I can only speak for my local constituencies (5 in my group)
    1. Advertised; 2 male no women candidates; male PPC selected (this is a winnable seat, with some work)
    2. Advertised; 2 male no women candidates; male PPC selected;
    3. Advertised; no response at all.
    4. Advertised; no response at all.
    5. Advertised; no response at all.

    I’m afraid my experience is the opposite of yours; most LD local parties will bend over backwards to select candidates who are women or from ethnic minorities. The problem appears to be somewhere else. I have suspicions…

  • As liberals, it strikes me that the solution is obvious: we should have the best, most talented individuals in leadership roles. Whether that’s a man and a woman, multiple women, multiple men – we’re blind to that stuff. Talent and ability should rule over silly quotas and appearances. Ros Scott isn’t party president because of her gender, she’s there because she ran a great campaign and convinced a stunning majority of the membership that she was the best candidate.

  • Andrew Suffield 3rd Aug '09 - 4:04pm

    Starting down that route ends up with a ‘team’ constructed to contain every known group that might entail bias. It’s insane.

    Most of these problems in politics come down to the simple fact that most of the active people, on a local level, are old – and their attitudes are firmly fixed in the 1920s from which they came. This raises a further question – if it’s what the voting fraction of your constituents actually wants, should you really be fighting it? Aren’t these the people whose opinions you are supposed to be representing?

  • Darren, that’s a whole different point altogether. I was addressing the questions asked of what we should do about our leadership, and whether Harman was right or wrong in her assertion that you should always have a joint-gender leadership, which is quite obviously wrong.

    On your separate point, the evidence would indeed suggest that there aren’t enough women involved, but this isn’t a bad thing because it means we’re lacking women. It is a bad thing, but it’s bad because it means we’re missing out on talent and capability. Ros, for example – she’s good because she’s good, not because she’s a she. We don’t want women (and other under-represented groups) in top roles because they’re members of that group, we want them because they’re good at what they do and we’re currently lacking their skills. Incredibly patronising stunts like promoting people based on irrelevancies such as gender, as Harman suggests should happen in Labour, would do nothing to address that issue. Far better to have a competent and capable leader who happens to be a straight white middle class male than an incompetent one who happens to be female (or insert your choice group here).

  • I am tired of white, middle-aged men being singled out for opprobrium. Sorry, forgot to mention I am also Jewish, gay and differently abled. Let’s have the best candidates for the job, please.

  • On the point about the Greens getting rid of joint male/female teams; iwas a member for 15 years & the intention was always to drop the arrangement when it was no longer needed. The Greens no longer have a problem with gender but we do. Harmans point is common sense.

  • If it’s a given that females are every bit a good as we males and let’s face it they are overtaking us wherever I look , then their lack of representation at the very top level in Lib Dem politics is OUR structural problem and we need to sort it soon! Don’t forget that Parliament and the Lib Dem Leadership is supposed to be representative of the population and that means fifty percent female – so let’s have some measures to ensure that the handicaps imposed by society on our female colleagues are taken account of with training and support and then we can truly rejoice in the best people being at the top and half of them WILL be female!

  • If the Greens have a women leader as they do the deputy has to be male under their new system.

  • Jo’s absolutely right, the criteria for leadership must surely be talent. The problem is a broader systemic one in which women are often socially excluded from top positions due to various factors. Harman’s agenda addresses the symptoms and not the causes of this broader issue.

  • The Greens have currently adopted a system where there is either a Leader and Deputy Leader who have to be one man or one woman, or two Co-Leaders who are one man and one woman. Not sure what would happen if two women wanted to lead the party. You’d think the rules shouldn’t prevent two women from leading the party if they are together the best candidates for the job, but they do.

  • No, we shouldn’t even think about two leaders (some of us can still remember the 1987 GE campaign….)

    Part of me thinks that the reason women don’t come forward is more because they don’t like the testosterone-driven atmosphere of representative politics and are put off by the more childish aspects of it, like PMQs. It’s not really just a structural problem in our party, but one which is across all parties and all aspects of politics.

    What really gets me is suggestions of copying the Labour party in having quotas, all-women shortlists, etc. Put simply, this is just reverse discrimination, which in my mind is no more acceptable. We need to look at changing the whole atmosphere of politics – for men and women – to try and encourage involvement at all levels.

  • Martin Land 4th Aug '09 - 10:03am

    rantersparadise: Actually, my opinion is somewhat different. I believe the problem lies with our system for approving PPCs. It’s seen as too far a leap in our party and whilst I think the current system serves Target seats well, I do not believe it is very helpful for all the others. I originally thought this was an accidental consequence of Rennardism. Now I’m not sure that it’s an accident. I think we need a much more open ended system which would encourage people to move up in gradual stages to being a PPC.

  • Richard Whelan says that women need to prove that they’re better than men and get selected as PPCs. That’s sensible in theory, but perhaps not quite that simple in practice. Who’s doing the selection? Generally a bunch of middle-aged, white, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied men. Are those people making fair selections, or are they biased towards people like them? I’d be amazed if the former were universally true, for starters.

    In an ideal world where all the equality battles have been won, we can talk about simple contests of talent between candidates and promoting the best person through our current methods. Until then, we need to address the problem. That said, I don’t think that forcing gender-specific posts is a good idea (not least because I think that the gender binary is something we should be tackling), but a wider recognition that there is a problem would be a good start.

  • With women now outperforming men right through the educational system it seem likely to me that this problem will fix itself. Even at the last election the youngest winners in England, Scotland and Wales were all women and all LibDems.

    I find the accusations of discrimination pretty bizarre – I’ve been involved with lots (nearly 10) of selection processes in this rather conservative, traditional and elderly part of the country – also the strongest for our party. There hasn’t actually been a female applicant yet. If there had been she would have made the shortlist pretty much regardless of ability – barring a string of prison sentences or somesuch.

  • Malcolm Todd 5th Aug '09 - 8:59am

    There’s another point being missed here — apart from the need to recognise,as many of the above comments do, that discrimination exists and you don’t get rid of it just by reciting the mantra “best person for the job” — which is that the leadership of a party or a country, or for that matter any group of representatives, is not simply a collection of individuals doing distinct ‘jobs’ for which they were independently selected, but a college of people who discuss and decide the most important issues collectively. The nature and quality of that discussion will be different if the participants are all white, male and middle-aged from what it will be if there is a mixture of genders and backgrounds present. It matters that we have multiple perspectives present at top-table discussions.

    Unfortunately, when as local parties we select prospective MPs we are likely to think only about what will be “best” for our chances of winning locally, not about the effect that will have on the parliamentary party as a whole, which is why there is justification for nationally coordinated measures to influence local choices in a direction that will produce a better result overall.

  • Libdem Guru 7th Aug '09 - 12:59am

    Harriet Harman is an idiot and a sexist. We have one Leader (end of) and that’s it. Let’s get over this PC madness once and for all and get back to Politics and trying to win something next year. The Tories are our enemies, not Labour so start concentrating on the real policies and not this drivel.

    The best person should lead the party. Is that Nick? (you should be asking)

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