Vince Cable calls for all BAME shortlists to tackle Parliament’s lack of diversity

Speaking to an audience of 4000 people at the Grand Mawlid Conference in Birmingham today, Vince Cable called for all BAME shortlists to tackle the lack of diversity in Parliament.  Currently, the law only allows exclusive shortlists for women and disabled people and the party elected MPs in both categories this year. Stephen Lloyd was selected from an all disabled shortlist in Eastbourne and Christine Jardine was selected on an all-women shortlist in Edinburgh West.

Vince said:

There remains a serious lack of diversity in Parliament.

There are just 51 BAME MPs. Despite being a record total, they represent only 7.9% of all MPs, against 14% of the British population. There are still too few opportunities for BAME people to enter British politics at all levels.

Parliament is supposed to set an example to the rest of society. We should be showing that we are willing to tackle issues of lack of diversity head on.

Although advances in gender balance have been made partly through all-women shortlists, we still have this loophole that all-BAME shortlists are not allowed.

I have written to Damian Green, the de facto deputy prime minister, calling on him to close this loophole through legislation. It is time to unify the country by giving everyone the opportunity to move up in life.

Thanks to the diversity measures taken by the party, our gender balance is getting towards respectable. I do think the more radical action in Scotland championed by Willie Rennie was more fruitful, resulting in a 50/50 male/female split. The Scottish party passed a motion which said that the top five seats had to have all women shortlists. Had we not lost North East Fife by a heartbreaking two votes, we’d have sent a majority of women MPs to Westminster.
This stuff actually works in terms of improving diversity but it is only part of the solution. There has to be a change in the culture of the party and we still have some way to go with that.
The Alderdice Review, which is looking at the barriers faced by BAME people in the Liberal Democrats will report next year.  John Alderdice will make recommendations to deal with them and the party needs to get on with implementing them. That work will go hand in hand with making sure that we have a diverse range of candidates whenever the next election comes along. It’s unlikely that the law will be changed by then to enable us to have all BAME shortlists but we need to do all we can to ensure that our parliamentary party looks like the country we want to represent.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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30 Comments

  • Not only is this an unambiguously anti-liberal move, but it’s also highly unlikely to increase the number of Liberal Democrat MPs who are BAME. Might work for would be Labour and Conservative MPs who are BAME.

    Overall deeply disappointed that the Liberal Democrat Leader has so little confidence in liberal principles to run the party. Obviously if one has little confidence in liberalism to organise us internally, it stands to reason that the same people have little confidence in liberalism to run the country

  • Meral Hussein-Ece 9th Dec '17 - 7:24pm

    Similar comments & opposition were made against all women short lists. Without them, we would be nowhere near the 35% women MPs. There was opposition to women having the vote almost 100 years ago. What’s liberal about a white male dominated Parliament?
    How is that radical or even a representative legislature?

  • OnceALibDem 9th Dec '17 - 8:14pm

    “Stephen Lloyd was selected from an all disabled shortlist in Eastbourne and Christine Jardine was selected on an all-women shortlist in Edinburgh West.”

    It must be open to debate whether either of these made a difference. I mean how meaningful was any contest in Eastbourne!

  • Meral – just on your AWS point – Jo Swinson was the former MP; Layla Moran was already the candidate in the previous election; Wera Hobhouse was selected without an AWS; and arguably Christine Jardine would have been selected anyway even without the AWS.

    We’ll see what happens anyway. Personally, I consider these type of shortlists a misguided solution to a problem.

  • If a party I wanted to support tried this I would vote for the party most likely to beat them, and having discussed this with a range of people in my favourite watering hole, so would many others, it’s not the answer.

  • Excluding qualified and approved candidates from a short list on account of either their gender or racial origin is completely illiberal and discriminatory.

  • I think at this point it’s probably best to rename the party to SDP.

  • Geoffrey Payne 10th Dec '17 - 7:10am

    This is needed but even more important that we go out and recruit a bigger number of BME members in the first place. And we make them feel welcomed when they join.

  • I agree completely with David Raw. What attracted me to Liberalism as a “mixed race” teenager over forty years ago was its belief that everyone should be treated as an individual regardless of their background. Since then I’ve worked for our cause in various capacities and I’ve felt that the offices I’ve held have been on the basis that I have been the best person for the job. However, I was recently asked to stand for a position “so that we can tick our diversity box”. To my mind that is insulting and illiberal in its failure to treat me as an individual on the basis of my strengths and weaknesses.

    Yes, we desperately need more BAME candidates (and I write as a candidate assessor) but all BAME shortlists are not the reason for the better record of the Tories and Labour in this regard.

  • Geoffrey Payne 10th Dec ’17 – 7:10am
    “This is needed but even more important that we go out and recruit a bigger number of BME members in the first place. And we make them feel welcomed when they join.”

    We also need policies that attract them to join us and when we have those policies we should shout them from the roof top and not put them in the “too difficult to deal with drawer”. The biggest issue for Muslims this week is surely Trump’s insulting recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel without saying the same thing about recognising East Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital. Jo Swinson and Vince Cable have both criticised this decision and Jo urged immediate recognition of Palestine by the UK government in response. We should go further and press to upgrade our Consulate General in East Jerusalem to be our Embassy.

  • Nom de Plume 10th Dec '17 - 2:30pm

    @John Kelly

    Embassies stay in Tel Aviv.

  • Sue Sutherland 10th Dec '17 - 2:35pm

    If it is illiberal to try to reduce inequalities by positive action what are Liberals to do to remedy injustice? This is a failure to understand the results of hidden bias, or prejudice. In my view the cries of white men losing their privileges to a small extent, resembles the cries of those who do not want to pay tax.
    I think the fact that conference supported all women shortlists created an atmosphere in which women were considered more seriously as candidates than in the past.
    Labour and the Tories do much better than we do at attracting BAME candidates and we have to show positively that we are a party that welcomes diversity. Only when the playing field is level can we judge the skills candidates display in a fair way.

  • Simon McGrath 10th Dec '17 - 2:36pm

    @merel – the only one of our female MPs selected via AWS was Christine Jardine . The rest were all selected because they were the best person for the job.
    Jo Swinson might have technically been selected by aws but everyone knows she would have been selected anyway

  • Graham Jeffs 10th Dec '17 - 3:39pm

    David Raw – yes, you are absolutely right. This is the illiberalism of political correctness and undermines our ability to advocate genuine liberalism.

  • @Sue Sutherland – what injustice are you talking about? The majority of this country is white and you think having a majority of white MPs is injustice? And whatever injustice exits, you think shortlists is the only answer to it?

    And there’s no real “if” about it. It is illiberal, and no, you aren’t “reducing inequalities” by “positive action”. This is fundamentally providing an unequal opportunity via discrimination. You can spin it whatever way you want by calling it “positive action” or “positive discrimination” but in the end it’s discrimination.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see how “white male privileges” are being addressed by completely shutting them out as candidates for constituencies. Maybe BAME-shortlists would do that if white-male-shortlists existed but as far as I’m aware of, they don’t.

  • Two simple but important issues are at stake:

    1. Can a political party (which makes much of being more highly principled than its rivals) operate a system where the ends justify the means,

    2. Operate a system which implies it doesn’t trust its members to have sufficient liberal principles to choose the best candidate on merit regardless of race or gender.

    If it does, it can’t claim to be either liberal or principled.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 10th Dec '17 - 9:09pm

    So, David, let me get this right. Are you calling me, Vince, Jo Swinson and Willie Rennie illiberal and unprincipled for taking action to end the embarrassing and utterly illiberal situation where our parliamentary groups at Westminster and Holyrood were all white male?

    If you are, then I think you are very, very wrong.

  • Richard Easter 10th Dec '17 - 9:40pm

    “Positive” discrimination is still discrimination and utterly toxic amongst the electorate who absolute despise this sort of social engineering. What if we were to say “white working class lads should be ineligable to apply for jobs as mechanics or on building sites, because there aren’t enough minorities / women applying”? Do you think these people will say “bravo, thank god for diversity” or would it drive them into the arms of UKIP?

  • John Barrett 10th Dec '17 - 10:50pm

    James and those others who pointed out that Jo Swinson was the former MP; Layla Moran was already the candidate in the previous election; Wera Hobhouse was selected without an AWS; and arguably Christine Jardine would have been selected anyway even without the AWS”. and OnceALibDem who noted that “Stephen Lloyd was selected from an all disabled shortlist in Eastbourne but that it is doubtful as to whether that actually made any difference at all to the selection in Eastbourne. Make very valid points.

    I am sure that Christine Jardine would have won the selection here in Edinburgh West regardless of there being an all-women shortlist.

    So the question we need to answer is just what difference did either AWS or the all disabled shortlist make? I suspect that the true answer is nothing at all.

    Vince’s comment, “I do think the more radical action in Scotland championed by Willie Rennie was more fruitful, resulting in a 50/50 male/female split (at Westminster).” is beyond belief. Someone should brief Vince as to the actual situation north of the border.

    The probability is not only that the action relating to AWS in Scotland had absolutely no effect on either selection where we ended with a female MP, but the total lack of action by Willie Rennie resulted in not one woman being elected as an MSP with the one female MSP being replaced by a man because no action was taken to ensure that anything was done in Scotland to tackle the issue. We now have an all male group of MSPs for the first time since the Parliament was formed. Hardly a radical step forward.

    I do not think AWS deals with and of the problems Meral and other would like us to believe, but to then claim they have delivered much more than they can be really given credit for shows that someone is peaking with forked tongue.

  • John Barrett 11th Dec '17 - 12:34am

    I may have mistakenly credited Vince with a statement made by Caron, but my comment on the conclusion remain exactly the same.

    David Raw’s comments “Excluding qualified and approved candidates from a short list on account of either their gender or racial origin is completely illiberal and discriminatory” are not only true, but stick in the throat of many members and if the evidence is that discriminating on such grounds has had little or no positive effect, but it has had a negative effect as expressed by David, James, Tynan, Graham, myself and others, who see the party drifting away from our core values. We should not then be surprised that when our party cannot convince long term members it is heading in the right direction, that the wider public also fails to be convinced by that same message.

  • John Barrett 11th Dec '17 - 8:19pm

    Caron – you credit Vince, Jo Swinson and Willie Rennie “for taking action to end the embarrassing and utterly illiberal situation where our parliamentary groups at Westminster and Holyrood were all white male?” People above have expressed their thoughts on the situation at Westminster.

    Maybe you can answer the question, “what exactly did they do to end the group at Holyrood being all white male?”

    When (for those who are not aware) that group is now all white and male, although it never was before.

  • Look at Ore in strictly: he falls under the BAME banner and yet his education, his class, his profession, his birth city are incredibly well represented in parliament. He represents a subsection under the BAME banner who don’t necessarily need the corrective action we are talking about here, whereas a white Muslim (for example) may need more help. It needs to go deeper when talking about “all X” shortlists.

  • Sue Sutherland
    “In my view the cries of white men losing their privileges to a small extent, resembles the cries of those who do not want to pay tax.”
    *Control F*
    “losing their privileges”
    *only origional text*
    “losing our privilege”
    *no results*
    “losing my privilege”
    *no results*
    Ah.

  • John Kelly
    “The biggest issue for Muslims”
    Perhaps it is not being represented as a hive mind? Many people have concerns about American foreign policy, but I don’t think trying to speak for a demographic is a great start to showing that the LibDems are a party that values them as individuals.

  • Meral

    I’m curious as to who out of Jo and Christine you think wouldn’t have been selected if it were not for AWS? In fact do you think it is better to be the party who had to have AWS to get to 4 women MPs or would it be better to have had all 4 elected with no AWS? Personally I think it always looks better to not look as if someone was easing the way for you especially if you were going to get it anyway.

    It is interesting that you bring up the opposition to AWS, there were many suggestions made at the time to help improve the chances of women being selected without AWS, I didn’t see any that would have fallen foul of the law if used to increase ethnic minority representation. Why do so many rush to copy the blunt objects of the Labour party when there are more subtle ways to help those before any change is required? If you aren’t trying everything currently within the law it doesn’t look like it really matters that much and is just hot air.

  • Last quick point All X Shortlists are only really effective where you have safe seats, as almost all of our former leaders seats show (isn’t the only one we are still holding O&S) the LibDems don’t have those.

  • Peter Watson 11th Dec '17 - 10:50pm

    @Tim13 “The current Lib Dem case is 33% (4 out of 12) and is as James describes it. We can never tell, but I think Labour would have reached its current numbers without AWS, and with a great deal less internal strife.”
    In a parallel thread (concerning the average age of party members) ad posted an interesting link to this article: https://labourlist.org/2017/10/tim-bale-inside-labours-massive-membership-base/
    It suggests that 36% of Lib Dem members are women (compared with 47% in Labour) so 33% of Lib Dem MPs being women would be representative and if there is an issue it is in attracting women to the party rather than promoting them within it.
    However, other stats quoted in that article give the impression of a party over-represented by southern upper-middle class white men with degrees, so perhaps Lib Dems need to demonstrate that their commitment to equality extends further than ensuring that posh white women have the same opportunities as posh white men.

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