Tim Farron MP: We must show the world we mean business on diversity

It’s International Women’s Day, when we celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women.  But, the IWD website reminds us, the latest estimate of the World Economic Forum is that, at the present rate of progress, full parity between genders will not be achieved till 2133.  Our record in Britain, while improving, is doing so painfully slowly.  The pay gap between genders has not closed in spite of legislation, and has remained relatively consistent for the past 20 years.  Britain elected more female MPs than ever in May 2015, but still sits at 48th in the world league table, behind many of our European neighbours, and behind some of the world’s poorest nations. Lindsay Northover is right to point out that had it been based on the Lib Dems, the UK would be bottom, grouped with Yemen and Qatar.

Why is that? Well, because we have no women MPs any more, just 26% of our approved parliamentary candidates are women, and women are under-represented on many of our internal party committees.  We are in a similar situation where BAME, LGBT+ and disabled members are concerned.  I don’t know about you, but I find that shaming for a party that holds equality as one of its fundamental commitments.  In our constitution, we say that we “oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.” It’s time to show that we practice what we preach. 

We have an opportunity to do this at the Spring Conference in York, when we will be debating motion F20, Electing Diverse MPs, on Sunday morning.  While by law we can’t have shortlists reserved for candidates who are BAME or LGBT+, we can have all women shortlists (because women are not a minority), and we can have all-disabled shortlists (recognising the distinctly higher barriers candidates with disabilities face).  This motion proposes that we adopt all-women shortlists in seats where sitting MPs are standing down, and in some seats where we won more than 25% of the vote in 2015. It’s a way of ensuring that when it comes to the General Election in 2020, we have the best possible chance of returning several women MPs to Westminster, and setting our party back on track when it comes to standing up for equality and showing the world that we mean business on that front.

There are those, including women, who have resisted all women shortlists in the past,  Some say they ‘don’t want to be selected as a token’, but in our party, no woman ever could. Every female candidate has to be good enough to be approved and good enough to be short-listed by the local party. Any sub-standard ‘tokenistic’ candidate simply wouldn’t get to this stage, especially in our most fiercely contested seats. Some say that candidates should only be ‘selected on merit regardless of gender’, and that the ‘best person will always win’.  But the selection system is so skewed by factors like money and time, not to mention unconscious bias amongst local party members, so we cannot say that merit has triumphed if we have no women MPs at all.  Interestingly, many people in the party who might in the past have argued that all women shortlists were unacceptable are now telling me that they support the idea, as a time-limited targeted measure to get us out of this difficult situation. And I agree.

When we were in government, Vince Cable made it clear that he expected that FTSE 100 Boards should include at least 25% women, with the threat of quotas in the background.   During the last parliament, the number of women on those boards doubled, almost reaching the target Vince Cable and the Davies Commission set.  There was also a significant increase in the number of women on FTSE 250 boards.  That’s a fantastic achievement and one that we should be hugely proud of.  Alongside that, Jo Swinson battled to bring in shared parental leave, and the Lib Dems worked in Government to improve childcare provision.  Lynne Featherstone at the Home Office put in places measures to protect women and girls against violence.  Practical, vital measures to secure greater equality.

Now let’s do the same for our own party.  By supporting the motion, we will be doing for our party what we did for the country, ensuring that women have a voice and make a contribution as part of our parliamentary team. I will be supporting the motion next Sunday. Please give it your support too.

* Tim Farron is Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on Agriculture and MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale.

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57 Comments

  • *sigh*

    It’s nothing to do with tokenism, it’s to do with mistaking means for ends. As far as I am concerned the goal is an end to sexism. Masking sexism with AWS makes it HARDER to end sexism, not easier. And women elected under AWS are no more likely to be taken seriously or treated as equals than women elected the traditional way.

    I’d also point out that in the two constituencies I have in my patch we had a BAME man and an LGBT man for our candidates last time? Which one of those would you have got rid of?

  • Joshua Dixon 8th Mar '16 - 12:24pm

    Jennie – I’m not sure what evidence exists that AWS makes ending sexism harder. My view is that representation is an issue that needs to be tackled in conjunction with fighting the root causes that allow for discrimination to persist. We should not allow for the debate to be presented as a choice between the two when it doesn’t need to be.

    The proposals actually empower local parties to be able to employ quotas/reserves spaces for all under represented groups if they wish to. When we look at the Labour Party we see a party that uses AWS and has still managed to improve representation for all other under represented groups. Now, it could be said that the culture is still a problem there but why can’t we use that as a reason for us to do it better?

  • David Evershed 8th Mar '16 - 12:33pm

    The Liberal Democrat party constitution requires local parties to seek to have Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidates win their local constituency seats.

    Candidate selection committees should seek to appoint the candidate most likely to win the local seat.

    Is Tim Farron suggesting that local selection committes are currently biased against women and not selecting women candidates when they are the most likely to win the parliamentary seat?

    If so, this is quite insulting to local Liberal Democrat members who sit on candidate selection committees. Why do people at HQ think they are so superior to local party members?

  • Stephen Howse 8th Mar '16 - 12:38pm

    “It’s a way of ensuring that when it comes to the General Election in 2020, we have the best possible chance of returning several women MPs to Westminster”

    I really don’t think it is at all and think it could actually reduce the number of Lib Dem MPs we get elected.

    We are not the Labour Party with 200-ish safe seats to dole out to whomever we decide we want to be in our Parliamentary party, we are a party with zero safe seats and just eight seats across the whole of the United Kingdom. That’s why AWS worked for Labour and why I do not think it will work for us.

    The problem, as pointed out in this article, is that just 26% of approved candidates for Parliament are women. We should be doing what we can to boost that percentage. We should be putting in the hard work to identify women who could be great PPCs, approaching them to get approved, and then actively encouraging them to apply as and when ‘winnable’ seats become available.

    There are other issues which might deter women which are not related to the party itself but which the party cannot ignore. Women’s wages are on average lower, women tend to take on more childcare and caring duties, and women tend to end up doing more of the housework. We should therefore put up the money for a support programme which would be available to female PPCs and to local parties which select them.

    As has been alluded to by Jennie, this might also deter some excellent BAME, LGBT and disabled men, groups just as unrepresented in our cohort of MPs as women. Frankly in our current state we cannot afford to be wasting talent and turning people away – we need to make the best use of absolutely everyone. It’s not like we had dozens of people trying to break down the door to get selected for ‘winnable’ constituencies for May 2015, is it?

    AWS might make us feel like we’re doing something to tackle this problem and might make some people feel good about themselves but it is simply not an appropriate tool for our party to use under an FPTP system in our present state. I am glad Tim is focusing so heavily on diversity issues, I just think that he has chosen the most wrong in practical terms and the most divisive approach he possibly could have.

  • Jennie
    Sadly all rationality has left this debate. I have seen various claims that AWS will produces a shock to the system that will miraculously shift the culture. The truth is that cultural change in organisation rarely comes from some big rule change often it is a publicity op and then all is lost. Cultural change come from lots of tiny actions carried out all over. I have been very disappointed that in the discussion of this topic there were two specific changes identified as needing changing (from Ruth Bright’s 2011 piece), parental leave for cnadidates and child care facilities at (larger) meetings. The response? Deafening silence, but, but, but AWS!!!…!!!

    If it was just neutral that would be bad enough, as you correctly cite it masks a problem, but it may well do more than that. Cultures are heavily influenced by ‘myths and stories’ (these are actually normally real stories) and all we have had are a load of articles (I’ve actually lost count) telling everyone how women have no hope currently which doesn’t tend to encourage women to go for non-AWS seats. In addition for those who want to bring up unconscious bias, there appears to be little recognition of what the existence of AWS have on selectors in open seats, some peoepl may look to compensate for their impact. A roughlt equal man and woman may see the man now get selected if the neighbouring seat is an AWS (well he doesn’t have any other choice locally but she can always go next door). People often recognise that unforeseen consequences arise from public policy, the same is true of party actions.

    This is not to mention the possible effect where an AWS may filter a woman to a seat where her circumstances (current location, family links etc) may make her chances of winning in a different seat but it does not get picked by a quantitative measure of seats. If running (with any chance of winning) against a female (or even male) candidate who was not selected via an AWS you can be sure the leaflets will mention that the LibDem came from an AWS, just enough to put the implication of not being “good enough.” But this is all ok because it worked for Labour with its hundreds of safe seats…

  • Stephen Howse 8th Mar '16 - 12:47pm

    “Is Tim Farron suggesting that local selection committes are currently biased against women and not selecting women candidates when they are the most likely to win the parliamentary seat?

    If so, this is quite insulting to local Liberal Democrat members who sit on candidate selection committees.”

    Two words, David – ‘unconscious bias’. The very good Liberal Youth amendment to the conference motion calls for all selection committee members to undergo unconscious bias training. I think that would be a very good thing.

  • Geoffrey Payne 8th Mar '16 - 1:05pm

    Tim is right. It is utterly absurd that a progressive political party like the Liberal Democrats has no female MPs. It is also true that that applies to BAME people as well. The party has to go the extra mile to rectify this, and it is good to see Tim showing leadership on this issue.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 8th Mar '16 - 1:11pm

    Stephen, the Liberal Youth amendment is a wrecking amendment because it rips the heart out of the motion and puts us right back to square one. Every single seat could select straight white able bodied men if that was what we were doing. It’s just repeating what we know doesn’t work while also asking for something that is already happening. It’s actually the members who need unconscious bias training – and some have some pretty conscious biases too. https://www.libdemvoice.org/49596-49596.html.

    You can see that those sorts of attitudes put up some pretty major barriers to women getting selected.

  • Stephen Howse 8th Mar '16 - 1:24pm

    “You can see that those sorts of attitudes put up some pretty major barriers to women getting selected.”

    Indeed I can – I remember reading that when published and thinking “Ugh, *really*?” about the things the author had had said to her.

    I’d happily support mandated balanced selection panels – 50/50 gender balance and one person from another under-represented group (disabled/LGBT/BAME) unless the local party could demonstrate no suitable people were available to sit on the panel. Male, pale and stale selection panels selecting from AWS might well end up with biases against certain kinds of female candidates – e.g. overlooking those with children, overlooking older candidates in favour of younger, prettier ones, overlooking those deemed to be too ‘bolshie’, etc. We need balanced selection panels so that where those attitudes exist, they can be rooted out.

  • Eddie Sammon 8th Mar '16 - 1:33pm

    I agree that the Liberal Youth amendment is a wrecking amendment, I wouldn’t even go that far.

    I was thinking more about this last night. I can see the logic behind all women shortlists as long as pressure is maintained to make sure they are intersectional.

    I can even see the logic of doing away with class and only focusing on visible diversity, but then I begin to feel uncomfortable.

    But the big question is: can a BAME man feel represented by BAME woman and white men? Because if diversity is mainly to be introduced via all women shortlists then ethnic minority men are hardly going to get a look in.

    I’d be interested to hear more from Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats on this. I still urge some caution though.

  • Helen Tedcastle 8th Mar '16 - 1:45pm

    Tim Farron writes: ‘… many people in the party who might in the past have argued that all women shortlists were unacceptable are now telling me that they support the idea’

    And many are saying this is a very bad idea.

    What sense does it make to stop a local party from selecting a proven local campaigner from a modest background, who has the ‘misfortune’ to be male and living in a seat where AWS (or any other pc category) is imposed, and who is passed over by a list of middle class, privileged women who are neither proven campaigners nor local?

  • Peter Watson 8th Mar '16 - 1:47pm

    “While by law we can’t have shortlists reserved for candidates who are BAME or LGBT+, we can have all women shortlists (because women are not a minority), and we can have all-disabled shortlists (recognising the distinctly higher barriers candidates with disabilities face).”
    Given that all-something shortlists are obviously such a good idea ( 😉 ) …
    Are Lib Dems campaigning to change the law so that it can have shortlists reserved for BAME and LGBT+ candidates?
    Why is the motion not pushing all-disabled shortlists to the same extent as all-women shortlists?
    Why is LDV not full of articles and posts arguing for all-disabled shortlists?

  • simon mcgrath 8th Mar '16 - 2:03pm

    Tim quotes the party constitution but not the words preceding those he quotes. ” we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, colour, religion, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality”

    The Constitution is pretty clear – we reject discrimination on the basis of sex .

  • The depressing thing about this whole AWS debate is that it reveals just how much the Lib Dems are pre-occupied with their own internal naval gazing.

    Earlier on, someone (I’m afraid it was a female) majored on a “who ironed his shirt and looked after his kids” mantra – which frankly, if it had been the other way round, would have been dismissed as sexist prejudice and narcissism.

    And, yes, I can iron a shirt…… and I am also at an age when my four daughters (all of whom I am very proud of and respect for their very real achievements) can look after me if they so choose. I’m also at an age when I can remember being part of a serious party that people respected and listened to.

    If the party doesn’t get it’s head out of it’s own collective naval and start to tackle the real issues of poverty, inequality, the transgressions of the multinational corporations, the refugee crisis, climate change and green issues it will indeed sink below the waves – no doubt with the echoes of internal pre-occupations still bubbling to the surface.

    This party is getting like Newcastle United – full of pretension but very little substance. Getting 1 or 2 or 3% votes in a General Election is hardly likely to change even if one side or the other wins the AWS debate.

  • Why can’t the national party have someone to sit in on constituency selection meetings to observe and report on any form of discrimination ?

  • Caron Lindsay 8th Mar ’16 – 1:11pm……………………It’s actually the members who need unconscious bias training – and some have some pretty conscious biases too…………….

    Caron, I, and others, have commented on your apparent bias towards men in some of your posts (even though several women had posted against AWS, you persisted in referring to “Male posters being against AWS”…It isn’t just a one way traffic

  • Mick Taylor 8th Mar '16 - 2:23pm

    As Jennie well knows, AWS would not apply to either of our constituencies since we had lost deposits in both of them, unless we chose it.

  • Stephen Howse 8th Mar '16 - 2:36pm

    “This party is getting like Newcastle United – full of pretension but very little substance.”

    I’m a Newcastle United season ticket holder *and* a card-carrying Liberal Democrat.

    Life choices, eh. I sure know how to make ’em.

    The question is, which was the stupider?

  • Ben Jephcott 8th Mar '16 - 2:41pm

    This motion, as so far proposed, only tackles one form of diversity, due to the law, but is also employs a ridiculously crude mechanism in deciding where to impose AWS.

    In my region is likely to mean a very talented, local BAME candidate being excluded from the shortlist in a recently held constituency, or barring a former MP instead. That is just stupid as well as illiberal and will actually reduce diversity in a region which in recent history had a woman MP and a male MP, a woman MEP for 12 years until 2012 and women candidates in the most winnable other constituencies, including two recently held.

    In setting aside normal liberal principles of equal access, which should only happen in the last resort, we should not blithely ignore what the effects will be on the ground, which will not only remove our most electable candidates but actually *reduce* diversity by other measures.

    The motion does nothing meaningful to address the unequal representation of disabled, LGBT and BAME people where we have been demonstrably far less successful than in getting women into what were held constituencies until 2015.

    I am not totally opposed to affirmative action – I supported zipping in 1999 as it was wholly practical and self-limiting. I could accept AWS in certain circumstances as a temporary measure to reverse structural discrimination, but we have to be extremely careful in how it is applied.

    As it stands, the motion is not careful enough, and ignores all the other un-diversity that is the hallmark of the white, home counties, middle class organisation that we have become, while throwing away some of our best, most electable and proven candidates in seats with their deepest community links.

  • Ruth Bright 8th Mar '16 - 2:53pm

    David Raw in “the old mantra” about looking after the kids I was referring to the fact that two-thirds of informal childcare is done by women.

  • Catherine Jane Crosland 8th Mar '16 - 2:53pm

    Well Mick, although we wouldn’t have AWS in Calderdale, Jennie was making an important general point – In some of the target seats that would have AWS, there might be a similar situation. Should a woman automatically take precedence over a man who may belong to a group that is equally, or more, likely to encounter discrimination?

  • David Evershed 8th Mar '16 - 4:09pm

    If candidates of whatever gender, skin colour or sexual preference can not win the open hustings within the local party and have to be forced onto local selection committees, what chance will such candidates have when faced with the electorate?

    Local constituency parties should be able to use their judgement to select from any candidate that applies and not from a retricted list.

    Stephen Howse says “The very good Liberal Youth amendment to the conference motion calls for all selection committee members to undergo unconscious bias training. I think that would be a very good thing.”

    Surely it is better to have the selection committee use the same unskewed judgement as the electorate when selecting candidates on their merits. Once the majority of the electorate have undergone unconcious bias training (brainwashing?) then a majority of the selection committee should have the same training.

    The whole proposal smacks of central dictat from HQ and is totally illiberal. What price localism? What price freedom?

  • David Evershed 8th Mar '16 - 4:15pm

    My sympathy goes to Stephen Howse who admits to being both a Newcastle supporter and a Lib Dem member.

    Cheer up! At least you see everything in black and white terms.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 8th Mar '16 - 4:30pm

    @expats: Let’s get this right. In one post, just one, I asked the male commenters a specific question that applied only to them – how would they feel if they were in a world made by women for women where women held the vast majority of the positions of power in politics and business. I was trying to get them to see the whole picture of the world that women face. There is no need to ask the question of women because we are already in that situation.

  • David Allen 8th Mar '16 - 5:13pm

    “We must show the world we mean business on diversity.”

    Translation: “We must do something. AWS is something. Therefore, we must do AWS.”

  • David Allen 8th Mar '16 - 5:20pm

    “We must show the world…”

    It was Gordon Brown who saved the world, of course. The world did at least pay Gordon some heed. We’re not going to show the world anything about diversity in selecting candidates, because the world could not care a flying fudge.

    The world might just be persuaded to listen if we talk about refugees, or cannabis, because those subjects do matter to the world. Talking about our internal processes is just a way of showing to the world that we are only interested in ourselves.

  • @David Evershed
    “Local constituency parties should be able to use their judgement to select from any candidate that applies and not from a retricted list… The whole proposal smacks of central dictat from HQ and is totally illiberal”

    Though I’m neither a member nor a supporter of your party, my understanding is that candidates can only apply to a constituency if they make it on to a central “approved candidates” list first; so there is already a high degree of arbitrary central control in your system, and it doesn’t seem to me that introducing AWS to a tiny handful of seats will make much of a difference to that situation.

  • @ John Marriott,

    Hi John, Sorry. The dog ate my homework . I bet you were a demon headmaster (sorry, should have said Headteacher) with the red pen.

    As it happens I’m also blaming predictive text (something to do with Margot Asquith launching the Dreadnought HMS Collingwood in 1908. (Well I would, wouldn’t I ?).

  • David Evans 8th Mar '16 - 7:25pm

    I suggest to Tim that we need to show we are serious by accepting how deep a mess we are in, trying to be relevant to what interests the electorate, rather than a very vocal faction in the Lib Dems, and getting very serious about getting more Lib Dem MPs elected. Anything else and all we will be able to say is “We let 50 years of hard work go down the pan on our watch.”

  • @David Allen
    “Translation: ‘We must do something. AWS is something. Therefore, we must do AWS.'”

    I think this is a more accurate translation, certainly of my position: “We must do something. AWS has been shown to work in many other parties in many other other countries. The opponents of AWS have failed dismally for decades to come up with anything else that works. Therefore, AWS is worth a try.”

    One more random thought. I keep hearing that AWS will exclude doughty local male campaigners who would have the best chance of winning seats. If such people exist in large numbers, why was it widely reported just a few months before the last election that well over half of local Lib Dem parties had not even bothered to select a candidate?

  • David Allen 8th Mar '16 - 11:42pm

    Stuart, “The opponents of AWS have failed dismally for decades to come up with anything else that works.”

    Clearly I need to repeat my proposals for two-stage selection as nauseam until people stop claiming that they have not seen them. The first stage is for male candidates only and only one such candidate goes forward. The second stage is for that one male plus as many as is reasonable female candidates to contest. Inevitably this will promote good women who would otherwise get overlooked. Since it does not prevent any really strong male candidate from winning, it is not the objectionable gerrymander that is AWS. Hence it can be specified for all seats, not just a (hard-to-choose) few. Now Stuart, do you still think (with Thatcher!) that There Is No Alternative?

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 9th Mar '16 - 6:48am

    Dear Colelagues,

    For me the argument is a simple one.

    If society and our Party are willing to continue to block the retention and progression of our sisters who make up in excess of 50% of the population, then the Party will even more easily feel that it is appropriate to continue to maintain the barriers against other under represented groups.

    The proposed motion will not bring about all of the changes that the Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats and I personally desire, but it opens the door for future reform.

    The Party would benefit from returning to being the progressive and visionary one that it once was, for this will inspire a new generation of members and supporters who desire the creation of a genuinely social liberal and democrat society to see the Party as a relevance to them.

    The establishment of equality or opportunity does not appear following an evolutionary process, but is the result of revolutionary action, so the disorientation and negativity that we are hearing about the motion is natural . Equality though is required now, and the time for unnecessary blocking discussions is long past. The motion offers the opportunity for positive changes.

    Passing the motion on Sunday is merely the start of the necessary changes that the Liberal Democrat Party would benefit from taking to become more inclusive, but without this start, I personally genuinely fear for our future

    I am hopeful that the Liberal Democrat Party will ultimately realise that the minimum standards should be those enshrined within the Equality Act, 2010 which offers an evidenced based approach to the removal of the barriers that exist for underrepresented groups within society and can be found in our policies, procedures and practices, but this is for the future, perhaps at the Autumn Conference?

    If we as a Party genuinely believe in equality, fairness and justice then we as its members have a duty to demonstrate this by supporting the gender agenda and the proposed motion. I for one will be supporting this motion.

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Chair – Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats

  • Stephen Howse 9th Mar '16 - 9:29am

    “The opponents of AWS have failed dismally for decades to come up with anything else that works.”

    As has already been demonstrated, the leadership programme was making progress. It’s not the fault of the many excellent women who went through it and were selected for winnable seats that the national political situation meant none of them won.

    I liked the leadership programme as a concept – a way of levelling the playing field without banning half the potential players from taking part. I don’t see why we couldn’t beef it up (with, as I’ve proposed, financial incentives and support). It got 55% women selected for ‘winnable’ seats for May 2015, why wouldn’t it do the same (or even better) for 2020?

  • Tony Dawson 9th Mar '16 - 4:50pm

    @Stuart

    ” AWS has been shown to work in many other parties in many other other countries.”

    And how many of these countries have a bipolar first past the post system with more than 50 per cent of the total of seats essentially being ‘safe’ for the incumbent party and a (sic) ‘third party’ which doesn’t stand a hope in hell of winning more than 20 out of 660?

  • @Tony Dawson
    Whilst I recognise that this is not so straightforward for the Lib Dems as it is for the Tories and Labour, I’m afraid this “it’s all the fault of the voters / voting system” excuse simply doesn’t wash.

    In 2015, the SNP returned roughly the same number of MPs (56) as the Lib Dems did in the previous three elections. But 35.7% of those MPs were women, whereas the Lib Dems only managed to return 11.5% in 2001, 16.1% (an all-time high) in 2005, and 12.2% in 2010.

    If it’s in some way the voters’ fault, what does this say about Lib Dem voters? Why should a party that prides itself on being pro-equality appeal so disproportionately to people who will not vote for a woman? This makes no sense.

    The disastrous election result of 2015 actually makes this the perfect time for positive action, because most of the (male) incumbents have been removed, clearing the way for a more representative bunch of candidates in 2020.

    The efficacy of positive action (not necessarily AWS – the Tories use more “informal” methods) is seen very starkly in a graph (“Proportion of female MPs”) about half way down here :-

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-32601280

  • @David Allen
    “Clearly I need to repeat my proposals for two-stage selection as nauseam until people stop claiming that they have not seen them.”

    David, I find your proposal interesting and would certainly like to see it tried. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone who believes that AWS is perfect and wouldn’t be better replaced with another method. However, unless this idea of yours has been around for a long time, and has been either tried or at least actively debated, then I stand by my assertion that anti-AWS folk have been failing dismally for decades to come up with anything better. That is self-evidently true, though if you can come up with something better now – and actually do something to move it forward – then good luck to you.

  • David Allen 9th Mar '16 - 6:40pm

    Stuart – Well, I suppose a grudging acknowledgment is better than nowt. Whether I can “actually do something to move forward” the idea of positive action through two-stage selection depends, I fear, on whether enough people take any notice. I must have posted variants of this plea for a better way forward some five or ten times now. Mostly it has just been ignored – I suspect mainly because LDV has a lot more writers than readers. One other person did mention in passing that they quite liked the idea – and that has been the sum total response, so far.

    Actually, I don’t think it’s the specific mechanism that’s important, it’s the attitude of mind. There are other proven forms of positive action that can also be adopted, the Tory A-list idea for example. I’m afraid that the AWS supporters are so consumed by their (reasonable) sense of grievance that they fail to recognise that opposition doesn’t only come from male chauvinist pigs. It also comes from many rational people, not a few of them female, who don’t like gerrymandering, don’t like navel-gazing, don’t like tieing a “didn’t have to beat the men” label around the necks of female candidates, and don’t like an arrangement that almost seems designed to provoke conflict and discord.

    What is needed is a spirit of compromise, peace, positive action that works, and a party that can grow again. Sadly, what a majority in this “debate” seem to want is war, a fight to the death over rigid principles, and never mind what shape it leaves the party in.

  • David Evans 9th Mar '16 - 7:28pm

    Stuart, why do you describe the point of view of Tony Dawson as ‘this “it’s all the fault of the voters / voting system” excuse’? It isn’t what Tony said and you shouldn’t imply that it is. It demeans the debate in general and the AWS case in particular when such tactics are used.

  • “So I think it’s important, Ruwan, that you indicate clearly how it is that you think the Party is blocking the progress of women.”

    Easy. Lib Dem female MPs were blocked from holding Cabinet positions or from attaining the highest power – the Quad. Unless anyone wants to argue that the male Lib Dem Ministers were vastly superior to the women of Lynne Featherstone and Jo Swinson’s calibre. The Tories had lots of women and BAME round the Cabinet table, (and still do) the Lib Dems had none.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 9th Mar '16 - 7:52pm

    Dear Simon Shaw,

    Your theatrical disgust would be amusing if the matter were not so serious.

    Given the reality that it is obvious to all that females are underrepresented throughout our Party. So please feel free, in fact I would encourage you to prove the contrary to what I have said. You will note that there appear to be no female LibDem MP’s.

    Now if we adopted the Equality Act, 2010 in deed as well as spirit we would have in place an evidence based means to assure that our policies, procedures and practises where ‘fit for purpose’ and that the unconscious and conscious biases had been removed.

    Will you support the adoption of such an approach?

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Chair – Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats

  • Phylis – Perhaps the party would have been better to have given Jo Swinson and Lynne Featherstone Cabinet positions. However, you could make an equally strong case for people like John Pugh or Mark Williams, but unlike Jo and Lynne they didn’t break their pledge on tuition fees, so were never going to be offered a position. Maybe that’s why they held their seats and Jo and Lynne didn’t.

  • Malc – re: Jo Swimson
    Your reasoning in this case is flawed; Jo increased the actual number of votes she received in 2015 over 2010. It is clear she lost because of a large swing away from Labour and Conservatives to the SNP combined with a significantly higher turnout.

    I suggest the 2010 issues on tuition fees in England having much bearing on this are slim.

  • Hello Malc, I’m sorry but that’s a complete non-sequitur.

  • @David Allen
    I thought my response to your idea was quite enthusiastic! And I have said many times in these debates that I am entirely open to alternative forms of positive action. What I can’t quite grasp, though, is why somebody like yourself who supports other forms of positive action should find AWS not just disagreeable but downright offensive.

    As a non-Lib Dem this isn’t my battle… but as an outside observer it seems to me that the rancour you describe in the party is coming much more from the anti-AWS side. These people have had things 100% their own way forever, and those who disagree with them have by and large not sought to tear the party apart or threaten to leave. Yet that’s what a lot of anti-AWS people are doing now at the thought of only having things 95% their own way in future.

  • This thread has 3 times more men commenting than women.

  • Goodbye Lib Dems?

    @TimFarron – I am sorry to say, but today’s conference decision might be the final nail in my Lib Dem membership.

    This illiberal measure might seem ‘progressive’ and enlightened to some, but to me it just seems discriminatory. And I say this as a gay man with a condition (arthritis) that could class me as disabled).

    Any female or disabled candidate now standing for election will now have to face distractors who will claim they did not obtain candidacy as best in the field but as second rate tokens. This will be neither fair on the candidate nor the party.

    This motion has also just made standing as a gay man much more difficult – hardly the big step forward for diversity the Lib Dems were claiming it would be. Stephen Glenn has written about this much more eloquently than I could. To be clear, I have no plans to stand at the moment, but I do not want to feel discriminated against if I choose to do so.

    More than the above, there seems to be an undertone of misandry creeping into the party. Just yesterday I had to call out Millicent Scott on a tweet she made on Twitter. The Lib Dem website shows her to be parliamentary candidate for Hammersmith. I am not sure if this is still the case. Her tweet stated ‘In a fringe event at #ldconf about PR. One of my fave topics! 3 white men presenting. Qs taken from 3 more white men. I’m uncomfortable’ Imagine if ‘white men’ was replaced by ‘Indian men’ or ‘lesbians’ or black women’. Would that tweet have been acceptable? I would hope not – yet this kind of attitude seems to go unchallenged now in the Lib Dems. Even if this kind of tweet makes me angry, it is at the same time laughable; that someone who aspires to stand as a parliamentary candidate should feel ‘uncomfortable’ at a Lib Dem conference PR event. I would hate to think how uncomfortable she would feel answering questions in Parliament! 1/2

  • Jo Swinson

    “This thread has 3 times more men commenting than women”

    Please don’t tell me you want to ban men from making comments on LDV!

  • Mick Taylor 14th Mar '16 - 7:51am

    @gary A. I refer you to the amendment included in the resolution passed yesterday that makes explicit reference to using section 104 of the Equality Act to include on shortlists people from underrepresented groups in the party and that obviously includes LGBT+ and ethnic minorities. I will be asking my local party to do just that and I suggest you do so too.

  • David Evans 14th Mar '16 - 8:14am

    Jo Swinson – and one man spoke three times from the platform in favour of AWS while most members there didn’t get the chance to speak once. No-one shall be oppressed by ignorance?

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