So what’s the evidence?

 

Can anyone think of a worse time to deliberately put weaker candidates into our winnable parliamentary seats? I refer to the All Women Shortlists (AWS) proposal being put to the York conference. Now I can hear the howls of protest, “women are NOT weaker candidates”. Indeed, that’s why this measure is totally unnecessary.

We all want to see more women in the parliamentary party and agree that there is a real problem. However AWS are only a solution if women are not being selected by Local Parties.

So what’s the evidence? Ten MPs stood down in 2015 (including nine men). Six women and four men were selected to replace them. The men included Redcar where no women applied. When the man dropped out in Brent Central he too was replaced by a woman. Looking at the next tranche of target, or recently held, seats the list was dominated by excellent female candidates; Oxford East, Chesterfield, Camborne, Guildford, Winchester, Harrogate, Hereford, Watford, Hull East etc.

AWS are used in the Labour party because their membership tends to be mysoginistic. Living in an area where Labour use AWS I see the negative impacts. Headquarters deciding which seats are AWS undermining local democracy, female candidates dropped in from afar, able local males unable to try and an angry local party, constantly in turmoil, not supporting their MP.

AWS also take the voters for granted treating them as cogs in a party machine. Each constituency of voters surely deserve the best MP they can get.

I fully support all the enabling work done by the highly successful gender balance task force and have been a mentor to female candidates. That work should be stepped up even further but adding AWS is not the answer.

AWS are demeaning to women, insulting to voters and deeply illiberal. Read the preamble to the Constitution on your membership card and ask whether you can really support enshrining sexual discrimination in our selection processes.

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82 Comments

  • Eddie Sammon 5th Feb '16 - 12:09pm

    I only support positive discrimination when candidates are equal. AWSs throw many male CVs into the bin before you’ve even had a chance to consider them.

    I’d probably still vote Lib Dem if they went ahead though. I wouldn’t have done in 2015, but Lib Dems now have no women MPs and people seem to have realised that thousands of years of gender roles are not going to be eliminated in a few parliaments. This is what you would think by the way people were talking in 2012-14.

  • Bill le Breton 5th Feb '16 - 12:58pm

    The points that Ian and Simon make are strong. So let’s look behind what happened.

    The reason we have no women MPs is not that they were poor candidates or in less favourable seats.

    No. The reason we have no women MPs is that we had men in every top position of power in the election campaign and the campaign was weak, ineffective and wrong.

    Where there may have been women in the team they had men ‘above them’ in positions of supreme authority.

    These men were so powerful that they were unchallengable. That was the culture, the chaps culture, that they were responsible for creating.

    All resources, all preferment were rationed by these men which intentionally or unintentionally protected them from challenge.

    They screwed up big time in management of the Coalition and in the creation and delivery of the campaign.

    That fact is inescapable.

  • The deselection of Alison McInnes MSP is the most egregious evidence.

  • You make an interesting point Bill. I think you’re underestimating the influence of Olly Grender, Sal Brinton and above all Hilary Stephenson. Even if you’re right then quotas for the Campaign Team is the answer not AWS.

  • You cannot have positive discrimination without negatively discriminating against someone else.

    Don’t know if The short lists are a good idea or not. But if you do this it’s being in favour of both positive and negative discrimination which is just plain old fashioned discrimination.

    I guess it depends upon how badly you want a certain outcome as to whether you’re prepared to use discrimination to get it or not.

  • By posting the above I am not saying that AWS is the only or best solution but you most certainly have a problem that demands a solution.

  • Stephen Howse 5th Feb '16 - 1:51pm

    Peter – and? If you asked them to name a male Lib Dem then unless the quiz was being held in a held seat the answer would likely be “Nick Clegg”.

  • Well surely a post for fireworks. But an important perspective. You argue the principle; I tend to stick to the pragmatic issues.

    The AWS approach appears to have be advocated by people who seem unwilling to accept that the LibDems don’t have “safe seats” and they are not the LibDem parties to allocate.

    Female candidates can be both good but not suited to one of the perceived “safe seats” (try dropping a Londoner in to a Glasgow seat?) it would be better to support a good female candidate in a seat that fits well with her.

    Also an AWS would undermine the good female candidates who would have been selected anyway, the opponent would undoubtedly point out that they were selected this way and suggest that they wouldn’t have be the candidate anyway. It would be better to have the money and effort follow the candidate (could also be applied to ethnic minority candidates), the LibDems have lost safe seats in the past and won unlikely seats.

  • The other point that needs making is that one of the most important points is that female PPCs need to be properly looked after given support, getting good ones in is important but you need to keep them and support them. That is an issue where the Party has a terrible record.

  • Sadie Smith 5th Feb '16 - 2:28pm

    Psi. All candidates need support and encouragement. Women tend to have a slightly different style which the Party has not been good at understanding. But having strong women is an advantage.
    Bill is right about the reasons.

  • AWS fails to address the underlying problems about diversity and representation that we must
    address at every level within the party.
    It is never acceptable to offer a solution about the lack of representation of one group predicated on limiting the opportunities of another.
    AWS proposal is profoundly illiberal.

  • interesting that most of the posters are not women.

  • Sadie Smith

    I’m thinking about observations on here from the likes of Ruth Bright about her experience of how constituencies handle a PPC having a baby. I haven’t heard that there is any new approach, there are probably other little issues with the likes of childcare that are likely to be an issues for at least some of the time if a candidate is in place for 10 years or so before getting elected. Also there is the issue from a few years back.

    Bruce

    “interesting that most of the posters are not women”

    Is it? I find the interesting aspects of these topics are ideas about how we get more female candidates (and LibDems more generally) elected, who brings those ideas seem rather dull.

  • Maria Pretzler 5th Feb '16 - 5:08pm

    Funny how nobody ever wondered whether we had the best people on the list when we had all-male shortlists.

    Odd, isn’t it? What was the evidence then?

    Generally, if you assume that talent and suitability are evenly distributed across the population (and not dependent on having a Y chromosome and male genitalia) then what really should make you worried is that the elected representatives we have are all male (and white and middle class).

    They may all be brilliant, but it’s unlikely that we have the optimal team if that team is so unrepresentative of the population.

    As long as this is the case, I find anybody focusing on, of all things, the idea that all women shortlists will deprive us of the best candidates rather offensive.

  • A Social Liberal 5th Feb '16 - 5:44pm

    Maria

    When did we choose to have all male shortlists? Are you suggesting that some constituencies deliberately blocked women from shortlists – please name and shame if you are doing so.

  • Mark Valladares 5th Feb '16 - 6:38pm

    I’ve been involved in most aspects of the candidate selection and approval systems of the Party over more than a quarter of a century and, I must admit, been sceptical of the likely benefits of AWS. And I still am. But for the purists among us, there is a tricky question to be answered, i.e. is a liberal outcome (a more truly representative Parliamentary Party) more or less important than the ideological purity of the means?

    For what it’s worth, the test of our current systems will be whether, if we gain seats in 2020, our Parliamentary Party is more representative and to what extent. I don’t think that the suggestion that current programmes aren’t working when you just lost forty-nine of fifty-seven seats is terribly valid.

    So, for the time being, I remain to be convinced.

  • Shaun Roberts 5th Feb '16 - 6:41pm

    I’ve never been in favour of AWS and I can’t give any firm evidence they will change things for the better.

    Although you could argue they have been a success in other political parties. I’ve also seen some fairly backward behaviour from local parties that currently goes unchecked – and often women can be on the receiving end of it.

    All that said, I don’t think anyone can argue that there is considerable, if not overwhelming, evidence that the current approach has failed.

    So maybe the burden should be on those that don’t like AWS to prove why it would be worse than what we have now and not the other way round?

    For me selections will only ever be part of the problem – party needs to get serious about supporting the right candidates once selected.

  • Good comment by Maria Pretzler.

    If there were no tacit (or sometimes not-so-tacit) negative discrimination going on, the people complaining about the unacceptability of a little positive discrimination might have some kind of point. But the lack of diversity in the Lib Dems makes this seem unlikely – and this being so, there’s a powerful pragmatic case for using AWS. Both in this country and in many countries overseas, it’s been proven to be the one thing that actually works in increasing female representation, when all else fails.

    @Ian Swales
    I think you go overboard in trying to paint a negative picture of the use of AWS by Labour. The Labour Women’s Network – while obviously lamenting that such things should ever be necessary – are very positive about it :-

    http://www.lwn.org.uk/all_women_shortlists

    As a man I want to see more women in Parliament. I think it will enrich our politics enormously. I want something that works, preferably within my lifetime (give me another 30 or 40 years). Let the people who object to AWS come up with an alternative that actually brings some results. If they can’t – ignore them. The lack of diversity within the Lib Dems is a major reason why I, as a non-Lib Dem, would find it very hard to support the party.

  • @A Social Liberal
    Are you denying that tacit discrimination is – in modern parlance – “a thing”?

  • Lots of interesting comments. Maria, I do support the policy of having at least one woman on a shortlist. However I remain to be convinced that the party is discriminatory against women in how it actually selects candidates. Isn’t one of our core principles equality of opportunity? Departing from this is a major step.
    Stuart, I’m really not surprised that the Labour Womens Network think AWS are a good idea!
    I strongly support all the enabling work, the mentoring and everything else we do. At the end of the day politics is a rough sport where all players need a lot of backing.

  • Stuart
    Where is the strong evidence in the Lib Dems of tacit discrimination against women. Do you mean there are some misogynists about? No doubt, but again, like Mark Valladares, I have had considerable direct and indirect involvement in selection, and have never seen anything more than an occasional person with difficult attitudes. They are normally sifted out of shortlisting panels. I agree with A Social Liberal, those who make that claim should try to ensure facts are reported, and whistles are blown. I have not seen a satisfactory answer from anyone that AWS or any other positive discrimination at the selection stage will help. For at least 3 General Elections, there has been positive action, the candidate numbers have reflected the relative numbers of men and women coming forward, and there have been relatively more women at MP replacement and “winnable” seats. How was AWS meant to help with that issue, if women are being disproportionately not voted for, which appeared to be the case. If you believe that male candidates in these seats were disproportionately supported, that, surely is where you need change. Again, I have neither heard of, nor seen any evidence of that.

    Neither has anyone satisfactorily answered PSI’s point about the lack of safe seats for the Lib Dems when compared with Tories and Labour?

    The only answer that seems to come, under challenge, is that AWS “at least proves we are doing something”. That really isn’t good enough, I am afraid. Good female candidates very definitely do get selected.

  • Louise Ankers 5th Feb '16 - 8:12pm

    Electorate does NOT discriminate against women, proven again and again

    Many male Lib Dems lost, indeed some of the male MPs who lost are a great loss to Parliament

    However Lib Dem local parties can and do discriminate against women. Using any of the results of this highly anomalous (to us) election is daft anyway but if you must, at least recognize lots of male Lib Dems lost too and stop this ridiculous “we select women, the electorate don’t vote for them”

    It’s just stupid.

  • I do feel quite conflicted on this issue. As a liberal, I have a problem with imposing gender-based lists on local parties. But as a liberal, I am also disturbed by the lack of female and minority MPs – or I was when we had substantially more than we do now.

    Can we all be sure that even though we are liberals, there is still no subconcious bias at work in the selection process? AWS is certainly harsh, but it would firmly kick-start the process of getting more female candidates standing.

  • David Allen 5th Feb '16 - 8:24pm

    Here is a compromise.

    All the male candidates must first fight a pre-selection at which their number is reduced to one.

    Then, that candidates joins all the short-listed female candidates in a final selection.

    This way, positive discrimnation is achieved, but, nobody can say that an outstanding man was barred from success by a discriminatory rule.

    This can also be applied in all seats. AWS can only be applied in some, and as the OP points out, choosing which is horribly contentious.

  • Louise Ankers 5th Feb '16 - 9:06pm

    Well if you read this article from the Atlantic it appears the MORE you THINK you are meritocratic the more you aren’t

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/12/meritocracy/418074/

    I am not sure how truly gender blind applications would work in a selection so in the absence of being able to do this I think AWS is a blunt instrument at least until people can see that women, with their childcare, and their high voices and their emotions and their hormones can be as good MPs as men, and stop having unconscious or conscious bias against them. I’ll speak on this at conference of anyone wants me to.

  • Louise, I think you’re right about the voters – that they tend not to be biased.
    You also say “However Lib Dem local parties can and do discriminate against women.” We need some real examples where this happened. Do you have anecdotes, anonymised if necessary?

  • William Summers 5th Feb '16 - 9:40pm

    It is ridiculous in my view to (theoretically) promote a privileged woman with, say, a highly paid job and a private education over a man from a low income disadvantaged background, purely on the basis of gender.

    It is a very simplistic view of humans, opportunity and political representation. People now come in 3D.

  • Tony Greaves 5th Feb '16 - 10:05pm

    No-one has yet answered the underlying practical question posed. We have no safe seats to guarantee automatic election. At the next election we will have to fight very hard just to hold on to our eight seats and perhaps scrape a few more. So if (I say if) the best (perhaps only) person likely to hold a particular seat next time is a particular man – do people think the local party should be prevented from choosing him? In other words do they prefer to lose with a woman than win with a man?

    Tony Greaves

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 5th Feb '16 - 10:39pm

    Interesting piece and comments thread. Given that we now know (if we ever didn’t) that there are no safe Lib Dem seats, I can’t help thinking that AWS will make people feel like something is being done whilst probably achieving very little. And if by introducing AWS we feel like the problem is solved, will we neglect the things that really can make the parliamentary party more diverse?

  • Totally agree with you Ian. It is neither liberal nor democratic. I don’t think there is any such thing as ‘positive’ discrimination. It is discrimination and it is wrong. The party can barely find a single person to stand in s I me places and now they want to BAN half the population from being candidates. Banning men from standing also includes men from ethnic minorities. We have less ethnic min or it members than women. So how do you square that circle? How is tgat fair to EM men????

    The problem does not lie in selection. As you say, female candidates were being selected. The problem is in recruitment and training of minorities, not in selection. And surely it should be a case of ‘best person for the job’ rather than dependant on what bits you were born with.

    This will backfire. If this is voted through at conference they can have my membership card. How’s that for increasing female representation. They’ll have at least one less.

    I don’t see how the party can call itself Liberal Democrats if it supports this. What nonsense.

  • Apologies for the typos above. I blame my phone!

  • I had no responses on a thread about police and crime commissioner elections , and my view that those who would not have brought in such a role ,should at least back our party fielding a candidate, because crime matters and if our party does, it must show it! The reason I raise it here is because individuals count .It should be the thrust of our party and it goes beyond male and female , or any issue of race or sexuality ,yet all of those make up who each of us is .You cannot , in a party that really lives that , easily expect to enthusiastically back All Women Shortlists .

    I feel each and every party member should have it in our own personality to discriminate in favour of excellent candidates in any unrepresented grouping or section of society . We should not need it written in as a code .I cannot understand why , when women are so prevalent even in our party , compared to BAME and disabled candidates or authority figures , the new illiberal consideration of this ? I feel Floella Benjamin would have been an excellent London Mayoral candidate .A double for positive discrimination .Would it have been more or less of a step to have had Duane Brooks or Caroline Pidgeon? The fact that we have Caroline and Sal , and Lynne and Jo , and Shirley etc , is an exact illustration of our ability to see talent regardless of gender .

    Lord Greaves points this out , there are no safe seats for our party . Which is why as I began this comment , I believe local talent , like the excellent candidate and mayor Dorothy Thornhill ,s hould STAND FOR ALL ELECTED OFFICES !!!

  • P.S. Totally agree it is about supporting candidates too and changing our culture , the hours of parliament do not favour any one wanting any sort of work life balance , woman or man !

  • I agree with Maria, Louise and Stuart. If those against AWS were not all male and showed a bit more recognition that there is a problem I would give them a fairer hearing.

    I also like the idea of a maximum of one male candidate in the final selection.

  • John Barrett 6th Feb '16 - 9:43am

    There is a similar debate going on regarding candidate selection north of the border.

    The proposal there is to have All Women Shortlists in the five most winnable seats.

    If charles Kennedy had survived, would we really want to change the rules so that he could not even apply to fight his old seat and in my own constituency of Edinburgh West, do we really want to say to Mike Crockart that if there is a by-election here, he can fight it, but if there is not, he must stand aside while the party selects another candidate.

    A sure way to tear apart a local party in a winnable seat, if ever there was one.

    The proposals also assume that women will apply for all the seats where there might be all women short-lists. If only men apply to any of the seats in question, it means that we stop people who want to contest an election from doing so, while we find others who did not want to apply to change their minds and put their names forward.

    Another sure way to undermine local parties.

    The proposals are bonkers.

  • @Simon Shaw
    “As I asked in the first posting, if people really would prefer us have 5 MPs, one of whom was female, rather than 8 MPs who all happened to be male, why don’t they say so?”

    Perhaps people are not saying that because it isn’t what they think?

    I don’t think people are saying anything other than they’d prefer 8 MPs with some degree of gender balance to 8 MPs with no gender balance whatsoever.

  • @Tim13
    “Where is the strong evidence in the Lib Dems of tacit discrimination against women.”

    Tim, you say you haven’t seen much evidence of such discrimination yourself, but the whole point of tacit discrimination is that people are not explicit about it so you can’t see it directly! It’s like looking for the Higgs Boson – we can’t observe it directly, so we look for its effects. If you were on a selection panel and another man on the panel said he didn’t want to appoint a woman, that by definition would not be tacit discrimination.

    I’m not a Lib Dem so claim no knowledge of what goes on in closed rooms at your selection meetings. Nor have I claimed to have strong evidence that tacit discrimination goes on in the Lib Dems. What I would say is that tacit discrimination is rife in our society – there is plentiful evidence for it, the stubborn refusal of male/female pay to equalise decades after legislation being the most obvious example; and in the absence of evidence to the contrary (e.g. larger numbers of females in your ranks) I take it as quite likely that such discrimination exists at least to some degree in the Lib Dems. In the six years I’ve been reading LDV, plenty of well-informed Lib Dems have shared my suspicions, including several other posters here.

    You can’t blame the voters – as Louise points out (and I did my own analysis of this after the 2010 election and posted here about it), where the electorate are offered female candidates they are just as likely to vote for them as the men. Nor can you blame the low number of Lib Dem MPS – this has been going on for decades.

    I’m not claiming that there is more tacit discrimination in the Lib Dems than in other parties. Perhaps the opposite is true. But at least other parties have recognised the problem and taken steps to solve it. The Lib Dems have not, and this leaves you with a unique problem in the British political system.

    @Nick Thornsby
    “And if by introducing AWS we feel like the problem is solved, will we neglect the things that really can make the parliamentary party more diverse?”

    Nick, if Lib Dems had been doing these unspecified other things to make the party more diverse, and they had worked, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

  • @ Simon Shaw

    Why stop at five? A Parliamentary Party consisting of Mark Williams, Mike Crockart, Jenny Willott and Kelly-Marie Blundell would be better than the current shower.

  • @William Hobhouse I feel it is demeaning to women. It implies that they can’t get selected on their own merits. If I were to stand i’d want to be selected because I a as the best candidate and not because of what I happened to be born with.

    There may be isolated cases of favouritism of men, but I think far and few between.

    Anyone heard if the Laws of Probability? ?? Recruit and train more white men and you get more white men selected. It’s not rocket science.

    The party is trying to address a symptom, not the cause.

    And u just can’t get over such a blinkered obsession with women when we have far more of a problem with under representation of other groups. No one seems to care about them.

    Look at recruitment. Look at training . My experience of training from HQ has been dire. And that’s just the campaign training. God knows how bad the candidate training is.

    Recruit more minority groups. Train more minority groups well. Then the probability of them being selected will increase.

    Do not DISCRIMINATE. Do not BAN half the population from being candidates. We may exclude some amazing people.

    If the party supports this they have no right to be called Liberal Democrats. And I’ll be OUT!

  • David Evans 6th Feb '16 - 11:25am

    Very funny Richard. You are such a joker.

  • Tracy must be heard , a woman , in our party , listen to her voice too in the clamour !

  • David Allen 6th Feb '16 - 4:18pm

    John Barrett,

    “If Charles Kennedy had survived, would we really want to change the rules so that he could not even apply to fight his old seat?”

    Clearly that would be absurd. But what about a two-stage selection, in which he would first have to compete with all other male hopefuls and win, followed by a final selection in which the single male candidate competed with a short-list of female candidates?

    Charles Kennedy, I’d guess, would have breezed through that selection procedure. But there’d also be plenty of seats where that less-well-known lady who only just made it onto the shortlist turned out to be a brilliant speaker, and defeated the man who thought winning was going to be inevitable.

    It is possible to be fair to both sexes. You just have to be more imaginative than AWS or nothing.

  • @Tracy
    I think you are looking at this the wrong way. If it’s “demeaning” to help women by bringing in AWS, why would it be any less demeaning to help them (and other under-represented groups) by concentrating “recruitment and training” resources on them? If you seriously believe the current system appoints on merit, you ought to be defending it in full.

    If AWS proves necessary, this won’t be due to lack of merit in women. It will be due to decades of failure by men.

    @David Allen
    “It is possible to be fair to both sexes. You just have to be more imaginative than AWS or nothing.”

    I agree to a point. I think just about everybody who favours AWS recognises that it would be a highly imperfect solution. The trouble is, how much longer are people prepared to wait? I expect to see only 6 or 7 more elections in my lifetime, and at the moment, I’m not at all confident that anybody will come up with something else that works.

  • William. All Women short lists are, by definition, demeaning to women and disrespectful to voters. They only have a function if a man who is better is prevented from standing. If not the superior woman will win selection anyway. As I said in my piece women are winning selections in a high proportion of winnable seats all over the country on their own merits. A lot of people are confusing the desirability of having more female MPs with this specific measure. I’m still waiting for an example where a superior candidate has clearly lost out. Incidentally I’m not sure the Conference motion would deal with what’s happened in Scotland?

  • @Ian Swales
    “All Women short lists are, by definition, demeaning to women and disrespectful to voters. They only have a function if a man who is better is prevented from standing. If not the superior woman will win selection anyway.”

    That would only be true if tacit discrimination (not to mention the more overt stuff we’ve read about in recent years) did not exist everything was entirely on merit. I find that hard to believe. It’s not as if the average male Lib Dem MP is particularly impressive. Do you also believe that the much-studied gender pay gap is entirely the result of women not being good enough?

    “I’m still waiting for an example where a superior candidate has clearly lost out.”

    You’re assuming that women are just as likely as men to get as far as the selection process in the first place. Again, you are dismissing the possibility that the culture of the party might be holding women back. I’d suggest you read Helena Morrissey’s report. Though she finds AWS “unappealing” herself, she notes :-

    “At present there is a circularity: it is hard to change cultural behaviour without having a more diverse group (beyond simply more women) and it is hard to attract a more diverse group without improving the culture!”

    AWS is one way of breaking that circularity.

  • Well said Maria.
    8 Male MPs or 5 MPs one of whom is a woman …. I’d opt for the latter!

  • Ruth Bright 6th Feb '16 - 7:29pm

    One fascinating and rarely mentioned aspect of this debate is the huge number of held seats (including Redcar) lost to a woman.

    Ian Swales please read my article on this site about the discrimination I experienced as a female candidate. Creches at party AGMs, maternity leave for candidates (I was graciously granted 48 hours maternity leave with my first baby), proper bursaries for candidates all these things have met with little or no interest in the many years I have been raising them.

    This does not mean that AWS is the answer but it most certainly indicates a problem!

  • David Allen 6th Feb '16 - 7:45pm

    Stuart, “I’m not at all confident that anybody will come up with something else that works.” Would you like to explain why you don’t think my two-stage selection idea would work?

  • Mick Taylor 6th Feb '16 - 8:05pm

    The real problem is the complete denial by many men in our party that there is a problem. Forget 2015. We didn’t do much better in terms of gender balance in 2010, 2005 or 2001. There is a problem. By en large women do not get selected in our party for winnable seats and consequently don’t get into parliament.
    The party has tried all sorts of ways to solve this problem without success – except in the 1999 Euro elections where we had zipping and the result was a balanced European group with equal numbers of men and women and ethnic minority representation too. So what did we do? We abolished zipping! Gradually the number of women MEPs went down and the number of men went up.
    There is institutional bias in our party and an ingrained belief that women candidates do worse than men. I don’t see AWS as a panacea, but given the years of failure to get fair representation of women in our Parliamentary party then it is probably the only way left.

  • Thank you for the comments Ruth. I will track down the article.

  • Peter Watson 6th Feb '16 - 9:26pm

    @Mick Taylor “There is institutional bias in our party”
    I’m not a member so don’t know about that but would be surprised if it were true.
    From the outside it seems that the Lib Dems struggle with the dilemma that any form of positive discrimination, no matter how well-intentioned and desirable the outcome, is inherently illiberal.

  • I can’t believe “Would you rather have 8 all male MPs or 5 MPs with at least one woman” is even a question. Of course the latter is preferable. What’s the material difference to the party between 5 and 8 MPs? If we had one female MP we could have a female leader. It would make a world of difference.

    Genuinely baffled anyone would think that a question worth debating. Guess it shows we have a way to go.

  • My wife’s theory on lack of women candidates (and she has had over past years much more experience than me in approval and selection of candidates) is that many women are much too sensible to put themselves forward for a dysfunctional system like Westminster! I might say, having discussed this issue with many people, yes, men and women, that her view is by no means unusual. I am sure she would have made a fine candidate had she done so. Her view on my continuing to stand as a candidate were not always positive (to put it politely!!)

    As Ruth says above, one of the biggest hurdles is money and “opportunity cost” – this applies to candidates of either, or neither, gender. It particularly applies to people when their families are young – yes I remember your earlier article, Ruth. And particularly to those with limited resources. It is not so much of a problem for Tories or Labour for 2 reasons – firstly the presence of a pool of safe seats, which allows a system of “prove yourself in a difficult seat, and then you may have access to a safe seat”. Secondly, there is more money available, for the likes of bursaries to support the candidate and maybe even staff.

  • William. I guess you and are having a heated agreement. The important thing that few people are mentioning is that a high proportion of our target seats DID have women candidates in 2015. That means the enabling work AND selection processes were delivering. It was the voters who didn’t. I remember discussing the situation after the first dozen or so high profile seats had selected. I think they were all women bar 1!

  • Ruth Bright 7th Feb '16 - 9:42am

    I suppose the key Ian is whether those women come back to stand again.

    In my experience the attrition rate for female candidates is terrible. Very few women take the Ming Campbell, Tim Farron, Paddy Ashdown route of fighting a seat over several elections and winning after a decade/decade and a half. 80% of women are mothers and my (I admit) anecdotal evidence is that many female candidates and female councillors bow out because they are not supported to juggle family and party commitments when they have children. Has anyone even bothered to ask those candidates who don’t stand again why they bowed out?

  • Again, attrition rates of all candidates are not good, for a variety of reasons. Certainly family reasons are one. Money (should I say, lack of money) reasons are another. Even interpersonal issues in campaign teams / local parties can play quite a part.

  • David Evans 7th Feb '16 - 11:09am

    I really do worry when informed party members like Mick Taylor come out with statements of fact which are quite simply totally wrong. Firstly I have seen no denial by men in the party that there is a problem. We all know we need to get more women elected. Perhaps there are one or two who have said as much, but to state there is “complete denial by many men in our party that there is a problem,” is simply incorrect. However, even worse to state that “By en large women do not get selected in our party for winnable seats “ is simply not true (I presume Mick meant to say “By and large …”). As Ian Swales has clearly stated, in 2015, we selected more women than men in seats where a Lib Dem MP stood down – six women and four men. In 2010 it was even, with four of each (allowing for the extra seat in Cornwall). These are by definition the most winnable seats and we have selected more women! What is the tragedy is that in 2015 none of our new candidates in held seats won, and in 2010 we only held three, and sadly none of the successful candidates were women. Clearly there is little wrong with our selection process in this area. The problem is in our ability to get women elected and that is the difficult issue to address.

    Perpetually changing the fuel we put into the car because we can and it is easy, when it is the engine that is not working correctly, and that is very difficult to correct, is just looking for something to do, rather than actually trying to solve the problem.

  • Good points Ruth and I found your article interesting. The while situation is fraught, with the unavoidable givens being the huge amount of work Lib Dems have to do to get elected and the fundamental family unfriendliness of the MP job. That’s not just about working hours in parliament. In fact for MPs like me who were simply away from home for 4 days a week that’s irrelevant.

  • John Barrett 7th Feb '16 - 12:46pm

    Sarah – It’s not preferable for everyone. Just because an MP is a woman does not automatically mean she will be impressive. My current MP (female) who replaced my former MP (Lib-Dem and male) is currently suspended from her party, is helping the police with their enquiries, has an abysmal voting record and has just opened her constituency office – nine months after her election.

    David Allen – The two stage process is not an option being proposed in Scotland. The conference motion being debated is for All Women Shortlists in the five most winnable seats, so the scenario I outlined is not so absurd.

    We will have real problems finding candidates for many seats at all levels in the future. Stopping any good candidates from going forward because of their gender is madness. I would be as happy as anyone to support a candidate of either gender, but if women, disabled or any other group do not apply for a seat, while good male candidates have applied, to stop the process, or them standing, will only result in disaster.

    When I was a councillor in Edinburgh, the Lib-Dem group was 50% male and 50% female. The leader was female, but like most women in the group, who all clearly had the ability to win elections, she, and others, decided not to stand for Westminster. I encouraged her to stand and also offered to run her campaign, as I had been the election agent when we won the seat at the previous election. She declined and supported me instead, which resulted in my election to Westminster in 2001. The only female member of that council group who stood for the Scottish parliament was also the only one with young children. She was elected to Holyrood and became the MSP in the same constituency.

    There are clearly problems with diversity, but now the problem of winning seats is much greater and is the real problem that needs to be solved.

  • Mick Taylor 7th Feb '16 - 4:00pm

    @David Evans, I have been a party member over 50 years, both as a member, councillor, PPC and officer. In my experience, women (a) don’t come forward and (b) don’t get selected, because of a clear (but wrong) view within the selectorate that women are not going to do as well as men. {and please don’t tell me that’s not so, because I have heard it said umpteen times] There is also a clear institutional bias that judges women on their looks and their appearance and men on what they say. The worst offenders in this regard are sometimes not the men in the party but the older women. [My late mother, bless her, was always very critical of women candidates]
    The argument that selecting a limited number of seats by AWS risks not winning is basically the same argument. Any new candidate has to start from scratch. This means their gender is irrelevant to the result, it’s the campaign that matters. Are opponents of AWS saying they won’t campaign to win? Are they saying they won’t put in the time and resources to a candidate selected by AWS?
    Believe you me that after being a member of the party since I was 14, I have seen a myriad of attempts to improve the number of women coming forward for selection and almost every permutation of methods to select women in winnable seats. In 2015 we did do better at selecting female candidates, but none were elected. At every general election in my lifetime we have never had anything near the number of women and ethnic minority candidates either selected or elected. Labour have shown us the AWS guarantees the selection of women candidates and in a more favourable electoral climate would lead to women actually being elected. As I said in an earlier post the only time we did in effect have AWS (we called it zipping) that guaranteed the top slot in half the Euro constituencies to women we ended up with a balanced group of MEPs and then we abandoned the experiment. I am loathe to support AWS but have come to the reluctant conclusion that it’s the only way to ensure that enough women get selected so that we at least have the chance to elect a parliamentary team where gender balance would no longer be an issue.
    One final point, the resolution to conference also covers the issue of ethnic minority representation and this must not be forgotten.

  • Paul Holmes 7th Feb '16 - 4:11pm

    John Barratt, like myself, was first elected to Parliament in 2001. We made good friends out of that intake in people like Patsy Calton, Norman Lamb and Ricky -Younger Ross who had all been elected on their third successive attempt in the constituency where they lived -or Annette Brook who got elected on what was I think her second attempt in her home area. I can think of others elected on their third local attempt such as Ming Campbell -or second local attempt such as Jenny Willott, Tim Farron or Paddy Ashdown. Lynne Featherstone I believe built up a ‘Labour dominated Black Hole’ where she lived, until she could win.

    Perhaps one answer is in not looking around the country for ‘winnable seats’ that involve moving long distances, disrupting career and family etc and just adopting a long term plan to incrementally build up a constituency. Yesterday Mark Pack’s News wire highlighted the 8 point plan Paddy Ashdown put forward in 1976 in his bid to take the Liberals from third to first in Yeovil.He achieved that by 1983 over two General Elections instead of by his target of three which would have been 1987. His Eight Points should be compulsory learning for all PPC’s.

    Looking at those who won FPTP Westminster elections for our party over the last 40 or more years I would suggest that the majority of those who are going to get elected to Westminster in 2020, however large or small that number proves to be, are a) Already known in their constituency b) Already campaigning in their constituency.

  • John – I’m not sure how one anecdote about a female MP not being up to much really helps things.

    I don’t think anyone here would dispute that bad apples come in all shapes and sizes. I don’t think having a few women in the mix makes that any more or less likely.

  • You’re right Paul. In my case it was being local, and winning at the second attempt (and learning from you at Conference!).
    Frankly if candidates can’t convince a Lib Dem selection committee that they’re the best in a fair fight they’re very unlikely to have what it takes to win. The irony is that women have been doing just that in large numbers of “winnable seats” recently. Selection is not the problem!

  • PS Tessa Munt also took 2 attempts in Wells. Important as she is the only woman to break through in the last 2 General elections.

  • John Barrett 7th Feb '16 - 6:12pm

    Sarah – I only mention it to show that there are good and bad MPs of each gender.

    The automatic assumption, by some who think fewer Lib-Dem MPs elected is still a step forward, as long as we lose men but replace them with women, or that female MPs will be better than the men they replace (inside or outside the Lib-Dems) is not necessarily the case.

  • John Barrett 7th Feb '16 - 6:26pm

    Paul – well said. Edinburgh West used to be a safe Conservative seat. We campaigned for years to win Council wards, to build up the community campaigning, to increase membership and after many many years of hard work and two terms as a Councillor, I was elected as the MP.

    If campaigners have made their mark in a constituency, or have been elected at Council level – and in Scotland under STV the council wards are massive and can now cover up to one third of the Westminster seat – they should at least be able to apply to be the candidate and not be dismissed, simply because they are men.

    It is a sure way to undermine or destroy local parties, lose or at least undermine active campaigners and drive a nail into the coffin of the party in some areas.

  • David Evans 7th Feb '16 - 8:08pm

    Mick Taylor, All I am saying is that your experience does not reflect the reality of what has happened over the last 10 or more years, where we have had more women candidates than men come forward and get selected for our most winnable seats, i.e. those we already hold. To take what Ian said at the very start “So what’s your recent evidence?” because to my mind there is very little evidence being put forward, but much more a laudable desire to *do something*.

  • Happen to agree with John Barrett, Ian Swales, Paul Holmes……………… and heaven forbid, just for once…………. Stuart Shaw.

    One’s genetic equipment should play no part in the selection process. As someone fortunate enough to be married to a dynamic successful woman I can tell you that when she heard about the motion in question at Conference she snorted in derision.

  • Laurence Cox 7th Feb '16 - 8:44pm

    @Mick Taylor,
    Propagating outright untruths does nothing to strengthen your case.

    You wrote: “The party has tried all sorts of ways to solve this problem without success – except in the 1999 Euro elections where we had zipping and the result was a balanced European group with equal numbers of men and women and ethnic minority representation too. So what did we do? We abolished zipping! Gradually the number of women MEPs went down and the number of men went up.”

    Actually, our only current MEP is Catherine Bearder, so that group is 100% female. Had we got a slightly higher share of the vote in 2014 it would still have been 100% female because Sarah Ludford (London) would have been returned as well. The MEPs elected in 2009 were six men and five women; had we retained zipping it would have been seven men and four women because the top two places on the South-East list were held by Catherine and by Sharon Bowles, who stood down in 2014.

    In the London elections our mayoral candidate is a woman (Caroline Pidgeon) and the top three places on our Assembly list, the only way we have ever had candidates elected to the Assembly, are all women with one being from an ethnic minority.

    I don’t think that we have a problem as a party in putting forwards female, or ethnic minority, or LGBT+ candidates for election. The problem we have is getting the electorate to vote for them in sufficently large numbers. It may be that some people who normally vote for us are more conservative than we are, and are choosing not to vote for us if our candidate is not a straight white male. This is the downside of being a non-tribal party; Labour know that they could get a donkey elected in some seats as long as it wore a red rosette – we have to convince voters that our candidate is the best.

  • You’re right David and a lot of people who would benefit from it agree too.
    Here’s just a few comments from a NE blog on the subject:-
    “I would not stand for selection if they introduced AWS” Female PPC from 2015
    “discrimination however you package it it still discrimination and it hurts me that my disability will define me as a candidate in a LIBERAL party” A disabled male
    And my personal favourite –
    “As a woman with a disability I find this patronising and insulting I want to see best candidate selected. I would never be part of an all woman or all disabled shortlist.
    Remember any woman wanting to be equal to a man has no ambition!”

  • Stuart

    “tacit discrimination is rife in our society – there is plentiful evidence for it, the stubborn refusal of male/female pay to equalise decades after legislation being the most obvious example”

    I think you are looking at the issue from the wrong perspective. Women under 30 out earn men and it is roughly equal 30-40 then men start to out earn women to such a degree that the total average shows men out earning in full time work (women out earn men in part time work).

    The issue is made up of a number of factors, there will be historic discrimination factor in the older generation that can’t really be addressed but the younger you get the potential women to fall behind will be due to the “parenthood gap” the fact that it has only been the last couple of years that shared parental leave has even made sharing that burden legally possible (though take up will take time). A lot of this comes from the belief that the situation would be resolved by “rights for women” when actually changing the “carer norm” actually took “rights for men” so it is not discrimination as much as choices that people are forced in to by bad structures.

    As others have said the “winnable seats” were evenly split so the actual outcome of the selection process seems reasonable it is the outcome of the elections that seem to be a problem, I’m not sure you can point to evidence there is discrimination in the election process (sucha as more resources to men) so that is not really a thing.

    The lack of support for women is a problem but I’m not sure I would consider it “discrimination” as there will be men with responsibilities who it will adversely affect too.

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