The Diversity Motion – a spring board to bring greater fairness, diversity and openness to our party

The Diversity Motion being put forward this weekend at the Spring Conference in York, is an important, necessary and long overdue motion, one that Liberal Democrats need to unanimously support. As a party we have always been committed to eliminating all types of prejudice, discrimination, inequality and privilege, and must continue to do so when it comes to the country’s elected bodies and party structures. For the myriad voices present in our society to be heard and valued, our political system must reflect the diversity that exists, not just a narrow section. This unfortunately is not case, and also is sadly not true of the Liberal Democrats.

There is wholly inadequate diversity among Lib Dem members of parliament and candidates. Despite efforts to increase diversity, in the form of the Campaign for Gender Balance and the Leadership Programme, there has only been a limited impact on the proportion of individuals elected from under-represented groups and low socio-economic backgrounds.

Having held office now for 18 years, it has been a source of deep embarrassment to one that as a party we have not done more to rectify this problem during my time as an MP. In percentage terms, the largest single under-represented group is women, who make up 51% of the UK population. I have personally pushed for candidates to be chosen from an all-women shortlist when a male MP decides not to contest his seat at the next General Election. Therefore I am more than pleased to see this as part of the Diversity Motion.

What comprises the Diversity Motion? A summary of the main resolutions are as follows:

  • Continue and extend support for individuals seeking approval or selection as Westminster candidates from under-represented groups.
  • Create a ‘2020 Candidate Diversity Task Force’ to co-ordinate party-wide efforts to actively recruit parliamentary candidates from under-represented groups from both inside and outside the Party.
  • Through the work of the 2020 Candidate Diversity Task, examine the party’s approval and selection processes, to identify barriers that may exist for under-represented groups. Solutions will be proposed to overcome these barriers; to seek to make proposals to increase diversity at all levels in the party.

These are all worthy goals. The Scottish Liberal Democrats are already taking the lead on this issue, not allowing seat selections to proceed unless 40% of the short-list is female, and seats being re-advertised where their efforts to increase diversity were not deemed sufficient.

But we can do even better. The party at all levels needs to ensure that candidates from under-represented groups are encouraged to apply and then selected to stand for elected office. To have a more diverse set of MPs, the party must concentrate its efforts on increasing the number of diverse candidates, in the most winnable Westminster seats.

I hope as Liberal Democrats we can show strong support for the Diversity Motion this weekend, and use it as a spring board to bring greater fairness, diversity and openness to the party we love so much.


* Tom Brake was the Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington from 1997 to 2019.

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  • Eddie Sammon 9th Mar '16 - 8:03pm

    If Tom Brake, as a white man who has held office for 18 years, wants to lecture us about equality and all women shortlists then he should offer his own seat in 2020.

    Tim Farron should arguably also be offering his own seat in 2020 and Willie Rennie should be standing down in a few months after the Scottish Parliament elections for dividing the party over a series of issues and seemingly failing to improve the party’s performance.

    If white men support all women shortlists without offering their positions then it is just pulling up the ladder.

  • Thomas Shakespeare 9th Mar '16 - 8:24pm

    Hi Eddie,

    As I understand the proposal isn’t to have All Women Short lists in every seat anyway. It would make no sense to reduce the ‘incumbency factor’ by forcing MPs to step down and no-one is suggesting that. I think Tim mentioned forcing constituencies having to work together to select 50% women between them.

  • I’m told there is a selling technique which involved asking a potential customer a number of questions to which they have little choice but to answer “yes”. You then ask the killer question to clinch the sale and they find it difficult, given what they have said before, to say no.
    This piece contains I number of propositions that we will all agree with : seeking greater diversity, doing away with discrimination, looking into reasons why some groups a under represented. So it follows we must support the diversity motion, which happens to allow positive discrimination. Hold on there…lots of liberals have a problem with ALL discrimination and putting the word positive in front of it doesn’t make it feel any less awkward.
    If we just adopted the concept of 40% of all shortlists being female, I think that would rapidly defuse this contentious issue.
    Oh, and Tom says there is prejudice and discrimination in our party structures (lines 4-5). Does he know that for a fact…and who are these people who are masquerading as liberals ?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 9th Mar '16 - 10:27pm


    Your often measured tone more feisty. So let us know ,what are Willie Rennies faults your comments mention ?

  • Paul Holmes 9th Mar '16 - 10:44pm

    @Paul Walter. Paul so sorry I have offended you by taking part in open and democratic debate. Is that going to be banned too?

    Until then every time someone writes an article claiming that the evidence shows that our Party discriminates against selecting women I reserve the right to point out that the evidence shows no such thing. As in the fact that from 2001 to 2010 we selected female PPC’s in more or less exactly the %’s they applied in. And in 2015 we did better than that by selecting female candidates in 40% of our Target Seats and 55% of seats where MP’s were standing down -despite women only making up 27% of the Candidates List. And in 2016 although all the top candidates in Scotland are male all the top candidates in Wales are female as are all the top candidates in London.

    How do those factual statistics show discrimination against selecting female candidates?

  • Eddie Sammon 9th Mar '16 - 11:08pm

    Hi Thomas, I think the motion is stronger than that, but I take your point. But I don’t see a difference between losing the incumbency factor and potentially losing the popular local activist factor, which Tony Dawson has spoken about.

    Lorenzo, I would like to stay on topic and I am English, so don’t want to talk about this much here, but I’m mainly speaking about Willie’s support for (mandatory) All women shortlists and overturning the fracking vote.

    There are other things to discuss after May 5th, but here I am mainly speaking about people lecturing others in often lesser positions about diversity. If they care about it so much they should offer their position and I think that would be honourable.

  • Matt (Bristol) 10th Mar '16 - 12:02am

    (NB: if I were at conference I’d be in favour of the diversity motion, but…)
    Is anything else being discussed at this Conference?
    Or does no-one in the party feel like mentioning it on this blog?

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 10th Mar '16 - 8:02am

    It just seems such a pity the all women shortlists element was included in this motion, because all the other recommendations in the motion are things that any true liberal will passionately support. Tom Brake makes the case for the motion eloquently and persuasively, but has chosen to ignore the AWS element. If only the AWS element had not been included, I am sure we would all be supporting the motion virtually unanimously, and it would have been uniting the party, instead of dividing us

  • Paul Murray 10th Mar '16 - 8:35am

    For those interested in figures, I’ve done a bit of data mining on the results from 2015.

    Had we held all 57 seats then we would have a parliamentary party of 46 men and 11 women. That’s 19% women which is still below the 43% women in Labour and 21% women in the Conservatives parliamentary parties.

    If we had won seats then the ratio would have changed. Assuming we won seats exactly in the order of closest second places from 2010 then these would be the percentage of the parliamentary party that would have been women:

    10 Gains -> 21% women
    20 Gains -> 23% women
    30 Gains -> 26% women

    At 30 gains we would have had parity betwee the percentage of women on the approved candidates list and women in the parliamentary party.

    But of course we didn’t have 30 gains.

    The party has no women MPs because it was almost wiped out and there is no evidence that the situation will improve in 2020. We can all agree that we need more diversity in our pool of candidates but imposition of quotas is no solution to the problem of electing Liberal Democrats.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 10th Mar '16 - 8:42am

    Paul Murray, thank you for discovering and sharing those figures. As a matter of interest, did you also discover whether there would have been any Lib Dem MPs from ethnic minorities, or any disabled MPs ?

  • Paul Murray 10th Mar '16 - 8:59am

    @Catherine – the data (which is from the BES) indicates candidate gender and race. It gives no further diversity data about candidates, but that would be very interesting.

    I can see that our 6th closest second from 2010 was Edinburgh South where in 2015 we had a candidate with a name of Asian heritage but I modify the mining program to get equivalent data based on the race column. Thanks for the prompt.

  • Tony Dawson 10th Mar '16 - 9:15am

    Intriguing this coming from Tom Brake. Had the Tories realised quite how well they were doing against us in the run-up to the general election, they would have put the same resources into the Carshalton & Wallington seat as they did into Sutton & Cheam – and Tom Brake would have lost and been barred, under his own proposed rules, from re-standing to try to regain his seat.

    So, how many over-70 MPs have we? How many under-40? This motion is being pushed by people in the Party who do not appear to have any idea of what is needed to win elections in a situation of severe adversity – and who are trying to pretend that the Party are not presently in such adversity.

  • Paul Murray 10th Mar '16 - 9:22am

    As per Catherine’s interesting request. The BES data includes the candidates’ “race” which is either White or BME. Here are the numbers for Liberal Democrats contesting in 2015 in held seats and the top 30 closest seconds:

    57 Held Seats -> 0 BME candidates
    1st to 10th closest seconds: 2 BME candidates
    11th to 20th closest seconds: 0 BME candidates
    21st to 30th closest seconds: 1 BME candidate

    So if we had 30 gains we would have had 3 BME MPs from a parliamentary party of 87, or 3.4%.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 10th Mar '16 - 9:54am

    Paul Murray, thank you for sharing that information. And did you discover any information about whether any of the MPs would have had disabilities? Perhaps that information is not available? If the information is not available, perhaps that in itself suggests we are not giving sufficient thought to ensuring that people with disabilities are selected as candidates?

  • @Catherine – no the data does not include disabilities. There are 260 fields per constituency but it is mostly around socio-economic data for the constituency.

    Perhaps the party itself has produced this data?

    It appears that overall the selection of women as candidates in “winnable” seats was broadly in line with the percentage of women on the approved candidates list and it is not consistent with bias, whether conscious or unconscious. The diversity of the approved candidates list is another matter, of course.

  • I have said my piece on this issue, it’s wrong and it discriminates. If the party really believes in this folly then let Willie, Tim and all the rest of the male MPs stand down and put female candidates in their place. No didn’t think so.

  • Adding to Paul Murry’s work, I note that according to Jo Swimson, of the eleven seats where Liberal Democrat MPs stood down in 2015, five selected female candidates without using all-female shortlists.

    The fact that such an outcome could happen under the existing system, just adds further evidence to suggest that those bringing the Diversity motion and AWS are tilting at windmills…

  • Support unanimously? You must be joking. Unless there’s an amendment to get rid of the bits calling for all-women short-lists, I’ll be voting against this motion without hesitation. It’s a grotesque insult to democracy to insist that in any seat of the 2015 elected MPs there *must* be an all-women short-list if the MP decides not to stand again in 2020.

  • Denis Loretto 10th Mar '16 - 11:21am

    I have always tended towards the view that any form of preference for any group is illiberal. However experience now tells me that this position is no longer sustainable so far as the quest to have more female MPs is concerned. The old cliche attributed to Einstein comes to mind – a definition of insanity is going on and on doing the same thing and expecting different results.” Our efforts to remove discouragement to put oneself forward, training etc. just do not work.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 10th Mar '16 - 11:26am

    @Paul Holmes: You say we don’t have a problem, but in the 57 seats where we had the best chance of winning, we put up 11 female candidates. That’s pretty rubbish by any standards.

    In our top 10 targets, we put up 2 women. Similarly rubbish.

    Even if we had won all 57 seats we held, we would only have gone from 7 to 11 women MPs, or 19%.

    We now have a chance, albeit one we would never have wished for, to grow to a much healthier proportion. We should take it rather than entrench another generation of white male incumbents.

  • Eddie Sammon 10th Mar '16 - 11:33am

    I’d just like to thank Catherine Jane Crosland for supporting a compromise. I don’t doubt that people are being sincere in their beliefs on either side, I’m just questioning the fairness of it, as others are doing on the other side.


  • David Evershed 10th Mar '16 - 11:39am

    This whole debate is

    a) insulting to women by implying they are not good enough to be selected as a candidate without banning men from applying and

    b) insulting to the local party members on selection committees, implying that they are not sufficiently intelligent, experienced or liberal to avoid being biased against women candidates.

  • John Barrett 10th Mar '16 - 11:57am

    Rather than everyone blaming the eight MPs for not being representative of a cross section of society and many using the insulting language of calling them “male, pale and stale”. We should give them some credit for managing to hang on to their seats in a really difficult election, when most of our other MPs, and candidates in seats where the incumbent stood down, failed to do so.

    As Paul Holmes has pointed out repeatedly, it was not lack of selected female candidates in our best seats that resulted in an all male group of MPs. It was the electorate’s decision not to elect any of them.

    As the majority of seats where the incumbent Lib-Dem MP stood down were fought by female candidates, it makes no sense to then say that the problem with the lack of women MPs lies in the selection of candidates. The solutions proposed in the motion being debated at York will not address the problem that exists.

    It reminds me of the motion in Parliament to bomb Syria. There was clearly a problem that needed to be tackled. Something must be done, everyone agreed. Dropping bombs is “something”. So let’s do something and drop some bombs! It did nothing to deal with the real problem and many would say it actually makes some think that a solution has been found while others believe it has made the problem worse.

    As long as we continue to take actions which are not going to deal with the real problem of the lack of diversity in Parliament, we should not then be surprised when the actual problem continues, or gets worse.

  • David Evershed 10th Mar '16 - 11:58am

    Paul Walter

    Do you sit on a candidate selection committee?

    If so, are you biased against women?

    And if not, what’s the problem?

  • Helen Tedcastle 10th Mar '16 - 12:33pm

    How is the party going to address the bias against white working class males if AWS passes, especially ones who are dug in as campaigners in seats which might well have this policy imposed.

    How is the party going to avoid selecting white middle class women from the south of England with Law degrees over local campaigners without Law degrees?

    I ask simply because the aim of AWS supporters seems to be to eradicate all bias…

  • @Caron – I don’t know what the top 10 targets were and the may well not be co-terminous with the 10 “best loser” results from 2010 but here is that group:

    Oldham East and Saddleworth Marbrow, Richard Man White -18.7
    Camborne and Redruth Goldsworthy, Julia Anne Woman White -25.0
    Oxford West and Abingdon Moran, Layla Michell Woman BME -13.1
    Sheffield Central Otten, Joe Man White -31.2
    Ashfield Smith, Philip Ashley Man White -18.5
    Edinburgh South Subbaraman, Pramod Man BME -30.3
    Truro and Falmouth Rix, Simon Man White -24.0
    Newton Abbot Younger-Ross, Richard Man White -18.0
    Chesterfield Cambridge, Julia Dawn Woman White -24.0
    Swansea West Holley, Chris Man White -24.2

    This is listed by closeness to winning and shows constituency name, candidate name, candidate gender, ethnicity and (gulp!) the absolute change in vote share for the Lib Dem candidate in 2015 relative to 2010. Three of them are women.

    If we then look at the next 5 down the list:

    Kingston upon Hull North Ross, Mike Man White -28.3
    Rochdale Kelly, Andrew Man White -24.1
    Harrogate and Knaresborough Flynn, Helen Woman White -21.7
    Watford Thornhill, Dorothy Woman White -14.3
    Montgomeryshire Dodds, Jane Woman White -8.5

    3 out of 5 are women. So of the “top 15” second places, 6 (40%) had women candidates. Obviously many of these constituencies would have been regarded as hopeless in 2015 but if you look at the seats with woman candidates I would suggest (and this is subjective) that they are disproportionately favourable for us. But of course we got thrashed across the country.

    I would also draw attention to the second posting I made about the data and which nobody has commented on: if all 57 Lib Dem seats had been held we would still have zero BAME MPs. In fact there is a small smattering of BAME candidates down at between target seats 230 and 250.

    I am not trying to play off one group against another but again highlight the lack of diversity in the approved candidate list. And unsubstantiated allegations that members are biased against women in selection processes do nothing for to help the party recover.

  • @ Paul Murray Paul, the stats in your post are devastating and say more about the impact of coalition than anything else.

    The Sheffield Central result was particularly spectacular. It may be because the white male candidate was otherwise engaged in editing LDV or, more likely, helping his beleagured leader in Hallam.

    Of course, on the gender issue, it might be, just might be, that potential women candidates had a bit more good sense and recognised that the deluge was coming and didn’t want to waste their time in adverse circumstances.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 10th Mar '16 - 1:59pm

    Simon Shaw, you are right, Caron hasn’t responded to my question about what action was taken against the constituency parties that apparently openly and illegally discriminated on grounds of sex and race. You said in your post that Caron had evidently “convinced” me. Just to clarify, I was only convinced that there did seem to have been SOME recent cases of discrimination, as I assumed Caron would not have made these claims without evidence. I was not convinced that discrimination against women in selections has been very widespread in recent years, as the figures suggest otherwise.

  • Bill le Breton 10th Mar '16 - 2:38pm

    We are now back in a political environment which is pre-1997, or even earlier. Those who will get elected are the tireless campaigners who are willing to fight at least 3 general elections. They will more than likely already be councillors.

    We shall not gain any seats in 2020. We shall do well to retain 4 … 2 is more likely, 0 a possibility. There will be no by-election wins in this Parliament even if Zac becomes Mayor of London.

    There will be no point in a Leadership Programme identifying and training persons to be ‘parachuted’ into a ‘good seat’. There never was, but there …

    Because evidence from former times suggests that qualities such as gender or anything else other than campaigning skill and zeal, and a local record of action and service matter, there is actually more sense in reserving the (say) best 30 prospects including held seats for open lists and deciding that the remaining 570 should be used to increase the diversity of our front line campaigners.

    Here is the reasoning: 8 seats we hold can only possibly be won by the sitting MP or a local person with an extensive local record as part of the local ‘team’. Next 10 can only possibly be won (in 2020) by someone who has campaigned in the seat in 2010 and 2015, or someone with a very good and local record with a high profile for competence. An even their chances are very very slim.

    Next 12 can only possibly be won in 2025 by someone who stood in 2015 and 2020 or someone with that record, that character and remarkable stamina more likely to be found by one of our young 2015 candidates. And could include someone who thought of moving into the constituency in the next couple of years and therefore willing to help the team and becoming a councillor for 10 or so years before becoming the candidate.

    So, any additional seats won in 2020 or more likely 2025 can be from a more diverse background in the 570 ‘reserved’ seats because they will have been working there from now for a minimum of 10 years, building a profile, a platform and team + finding out whether they are ‘campaigners’.

    Think about it. There are no quick fixes for mistakes made in the last 8 years.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 10th Mar '16 - 2:52pm

    Simon, the women I was referring to have long since left the party. And I’m not going to name names – they are their stories to tell. I do know one recent selection, though, where there were two male candidates and one female candidate. One of the men and the women had children born within months of each other. As he was going round the members, he wasn’t being asked about childcare arrangements. She was.

    In another selection, I was going round members with an older female candidate. Her male much younger opponent had several very young children at that point. She was still asked about her children and how she’d support them even though both of them had left home. Our members display attitudes, often in private, sometimes in public, that would simply not be acceptable in an employment setting. Those attitudes must have an impact on their votes.

    I could go on for a very long time.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 10th Mar '16 - 3:22pm

    Paul , as in Walter, of course
    Your honesty above on bias is typical of your decency, but your admission shows characteristics that are so atypical of you they astonish me ! I am seven or eight years younger than you , I am zero biased against minorities, in fact , practice positive discrimination if ever able to in favour of those minorities.I have never even given a thought to the mere possibility that a successful or appropriate position of substance should not be a woman , or someone , disabled , black , gay or an individual with any such characteristic.

    Maybe it is my part Italian and Irish lineage .Or that I am , predominantly, in the arts and particularly the performing arts . Or is it nature or nurture?

    What I do know is we gravitate to policies at best , as a result of experience and opinion in a balanced , measured and reflective sort of a mood.You are obviously like that .You are to be commended.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 10th Mar '16 - 3:56pm

    Caron, it seems important that there should be a proper appeals procedure to which the women who were treated in the way you describe could appeal, and action should be taken against constituency parties found to have been practicing discrimination. There obviously need to be clearer guidelines about what sort of questions are acceptable, eg making it clear that questions about childcare are not acceptable.

  • paula keaveney 10th Mar '16 - 5:09pm

    The trouble is that although you can make sure that questions about childcare are not asked at hustings, or selection panels, there is nothing that can realistically be done about informal conversations at social events or in people’s houses. Candidates fighting a contested selection will want to visit members in their own homes (I know I have done this in the past) and to a certain extent you have to let the members ask what they want. If individuals think a particular aspect of someone’s life is relevant or important or interesting they will ask. That, sadly, is life. That doesn’t make every question right of course but one of the skills of a candidate is dealing with unwelcome questions. If we launched an appeal every time an individual member asked a candidate about child care, we would be doing nothing but launching appeals and we would also drive people out of the party. If however these questions are being allowed at hustings or selection panel meetings, then action needs to be taken pdq but I reckon that returning officers are experienced enough to prevent this.

  • “The Diversity Motion being put forward this weekend … is … one that Liberal Democrats need to unanimously support.”

    Long live democracy! Long live the voice of the people! Long live Kim Jong-Un!

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