political

All-women shortlists to be debated at Lib Dem conference in York

Houses of Parliament. Photo courtesy of http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4c/British_Houses_of_Parliament.jpg - some rights reserved

Radical measures to improve the party’s horrendous gender imbalance in the House of Commons are being prepared for debate at the York Liberal Democrat spring conference coming in up in March.

Tim Farron sets out an impressive plan for improving Lib Dem diversity

Put together and that’s an ambitious package Tim Farron has launched – which it needs to be, given the scale of the task. more

It is part of a push by both party president Sal Brinton and Lib Dem party leader Tim Farron to turn the rhetoric during their own elections into action. Tim Farron in particular set out a wide-ranging plan for improving the party’s lack of diversity during the leadership election, looking far wider than only gender or Westminster.

However, what propels the question of gender balance in Westminster to the top of the list is that this is an area where it is the majority which is so badly under-represented, and moreover in a particularly stark way given the 8-0 tally in Lib Dem ranks in the House of Commons.

What is likely to be put to conference is a mix of four measures:

  • all-women shortlists when MPs retire
  • all-women shortlists in a selection of other winnable constituencies
  • requiring more diversity on shortlists across all seats where there are sufficient applicants and, for this measure, defining diversity more widely than female representation to include ethnicity, disability and so on
  • more general efforts to widen the pool of candidates, support diverse candidates with extra support, training and mentoring, and working with relevant party bodies

The legal situation, put simply, is that the 2010 Equality Act permits action for under-represented groups (as explained in more detail here). The liberal situation is more complicated and there will doubtless be some who argue that liberals should not be in favour of such action.

I think such opponents are wrong, and wrong because they look at the issue in two ways which are flawed.

Choosing Parliamentary candidates isn’t just about the individual; it’s also about the team

When deciding rules for candidate selection, Lib Dem should remember they are selecting members of a team - and the best teams have a good, diverse balance. more

Selecting candidates is not only about selecting individuals, it is also about selecting members of a team.

Whenever you put together a team, whether at work, for a sport or in other circumstances, the overall balance of the team and how its members compliment each other matters. It’s not simply a matter of judging each person on their own. It is also a matter of considering how the overall team performs – and in politics, a more diverse team makes for better decision-making (as Vince Cable has long argued for business, when pushing for diversity in the boardroom).

Willie Rennie calls for all-women shortlists

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie is to seek to change his party’s rules to allow women-only shortlists for parliamentary selections. more

A more diverse team also, we should note, makes for greater electoral appeal. The electorate likes political parties which look like themselves rather than a group of others. That is particularly important for the Lib Dems given that the chunk of the electorate which shares our values – and so makes for our most fruitful ground for building a larger core vote – is disproportionately female.

The second reason opponents of all-women shortlists usually look at the issue wrongly is that discrimination exists in wider society. So the only way to be fair to would-be Lib Dem candidates is to take action to cancel out that wider discrimination. If you start with an uneven playing field, you need to tilt it back to be fair, not leave it alone arguing that to touch it would be to unfairly tilt it.

Procedural traps await

The full details of the proposals are yet to be finalised, and this is one where area where the plans may yet come unstuck. Getting the technical details of any proposals right is important, and far from a trivial matter when it comes to Parliamentary selections given the way the party’s rules disperse responsibility for them, especially if measures are to extend beyond England to include Scotland and Wales.

As we saw with the move to one-member, one-vote for Lib Dem committees and conference, failing to get the details right on procedural matters can cause an almighty problem.

More recently, the failure of Tim Farron’s team (understandably due to post-election exhaustion) to carefully manage the wording of the Trident vote last autumn made it harder for Farron’s view on Trident to win the day. It did, but it was harder than it would have been with a more cunningly worded motion which didn’t raise side-issues as reasons for disagreeing.

Will new Lib Dem members back all-women shortlists?

Managing the procedural details should be got right this time, but there is also another major potential obstacle: the huge surge in new party members since May 2015 which, combined with the move to OMOV for party conference, will massively change the make-up of those in the hall to vote on the measure.

Given that in the past Liberal Democrat conferences have rejected all-women shortlists, this big change may seem a good thing, and it might be. The big ‘but’ comes in the motivation behind most supporters of all-women shortlists in the Liberal Democrats. That motivation is one of reluctant last resort: the party has tried many other measures already and, in the end, they’ve all failed. So as a last resort, people turn to all-women shortlists.

We’ve seen this cycle in previous debates on the topic in the party, with previous opponents turning into supporters of all-women shortlists the next time round given the limited progress secured by other measures in the interim.

Perhaps the 100% male make up of the Parliamentary Party in the Commons will make new members also view the time as right for a measure of last resort. The big risk, however, is that newer members who have not been through cycles of try-and-fail will not feel that now is the time for a measure of last resort.

Lib Dem conference: what you need to know

The Liberal Democrats hold two federal (i.e. UK-wide) party conferences a year, a weekend in the spring and a week in the autumn. more

The Liberal Democrat conference in York will certainly be interesting. Which is a darn good reason for party members who have not been to conference before to make York their first party conference.

 

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21 comments
Sadie Smith
Sadie Smith

We have tried two lots of careful selection, all of good capable candidates and made a tiny bit of progress until the last election. There are some problems for women candidates to do with families. But we have cheerfully accepted all male lists for decades.

John Napper
John Napper

All-women shortlists, or any other kind of discrimination is wrong no matter how well-intended! If the party is not choosing enough women to be candidates you have to ask why that is and endeavour to redress the balance to ensure that sufficient numbers of high calibre female candidates are coming forward and getting selected. banning men in order to increase the number of women is a retrograde step that does nobody any good.


What is required is to elect the best possible candidate for the job irrespective of gender – or race or physical disability or any other characteristic that may appear to be under-represented.


History shows that electing a woman does not guarantee that she is the best person to champion women's issues. We once had a female Prime Minister who played the 'wife and mother' card when t suited her, but never did anything to help other women. 


I would like to think that brilliant women politicians like Dame Shirley Williams will always find their way to the top. The last thing we want is the infamous 'politically correct' situation where the person most likely to get a job is the fictitious one-legged black lesbian. Should such a person prove to exist and be a  very good candidate, then she would get my vote, but only on her merits as a candidate. The rest should be irrelevant.

Andrew Lye
Andrew Lye

The electorate didn't vote in the women. I was embarrassed at our exec on Saturday. 10 men until our President arrived. She was the only female there. Muir is 88.

Gigantasaur
Gigantasaur

@miss_s_b I'm not necessarily wholly against, but I think the reasoning for at this time is shoddy, and we should finish the follow up with

Gigantasaur
Gigantasaur

@miss_s_b I think it largely depends. In my head it is an absolute last resort if the liberal options aren't working. but I'm so convinced

Gigantasaur
Gigantasaur

@miss_s_b that implementing and running iwth the liberal option convincingly over a period of time will work then there'd never be need for

markpack
markpack

@HulbertMathew (a) I'm pretty confident. Happy to take a bet with that FCC member :) (b) Remember FCC don't have discretion over...

HulbertMathew
HulbertMathew

@markpack So, as we stand today, is the headline on your piece factually the case or not? Just so we're clear.

markpack
markpack

@HulbertMathew Yes, I fully believe it is an accurate statement of what will happen. (Unless meteor strike causes to be cancelled!)

Joshua Dixon
Joshua Dixon

Absolutely but we need to be careful not to whip up a bit of a frenzy among the membership who may jump to conclusions on what is, or isn't, being proposed. Particularly as AWS is something a number of people feel very passionately about.

Mark Pack
Mark Pack

Debating proposals before they're set in stone actually sounds a pretty good idea to me :-) Certainly one lesson I think we should learn from past problems with OMOV etc ist that more discussion within the party of proposals ahead of formal submission is frequently a good thing as that helps iron out problems with wording, detail etc. which can otherwise derail what is intended. There's a bit of a parallel here with how we think government and Parliament should be run - we're often calling for more publicity and scrutiny at earlier stages in the process as that ends up making for better decision making. Same applies here too I think.

Joshua Dixon
Joshua Dixon

Sigh. Nothing is set in stone yet on proposals and it's a shame this has come out before anything is even submitted!

Sadie Smith
Sadie Smith

We have a few MPs, all male, all white. A real problem.

Tracy Connell
Tracy Connell

The SOURCE of the problem must be addressed - ie the numbers putting themselves forward as candidates. The numbers being selected is a symptom not the problem!

Tracy Connell
Tracy Connell

Oh good grief!! No AWS. Never! What about Ethnic minorities, lgbt+, disabled etc. There is a lot less representation from those than women. Why such a blinkered issue focused only on Women. It's DISCRIMINATION! Crazy for a 'liberal' party to even consider such a thing!

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