Details of Lib Dem all-women shortlists plans released, and they’re not just about women

Post updated 7/2 with further information and to correct error in newspaper report and 23/2 with further information on the legal situation.

The reason for the quotes in my headline should be readily apparent given how the details of the plan extended much more widely when it comes to improving diversity:

Criticised for a lack of diversity in the House of Commons, the Lib Dems will also impose all-women shortlists on seats currently held by their eight MPs should they choose to step down in 2020. The party has no women MPs after its disastrous election result, but even in the last Parliament only seven out of 57 were female.

Leader Tim Farron has drawn up a motion that will be taken to the party’s spring conference in York next month designed to broaden its representation in Parliament…

Also, any region that the Lib Dems were particularly successful in last year will have to field at least two candidates from under-represented groups in the constituencies it covers. The party will establish a 2020 Candidate Diversity Task Force to coordinate the plans…

A senior Lib Dem said parts of the strategy had been “directly lifted” from Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister who successfully reshaped his party. [Independent on Sunday]

I’ve carefully selected the words quoted above (and edited them since first publishing this post) as the Independent‘s story is not fully accurate.

Party President Sal Brinton has now published the full text of the motion on her blog.

The core of it is:

Conference therefore resolves that to increase the proportion of Liberal Democrats from under-represented groups in the House of Commons the Liberal Democrats will:

A. Continue and extend support for individuals seeking approval or selection as Westminster candidates from under-represented groups, thus building on the work that has been done in the past including the Leadership Programme;

B. 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. This will include a focus on recruiting candidates with more than one protected characteristic and from minorities who are under-represented even within under-represented groups. The Task Force will work with ALDC and our cohort of councillors, recognising that, whilst local government is important in its own right, it can also be a good recruiting ground for potential Parliamentary candidates. It will report to the Federal Executive, working with the Diversity Engagement Group as appropriate. The Task Force will have one representative each from the three state parties, the Federal Executive, ALDC, EMLD, LDDA, LGBT+, LDW, Liberal Youth and PCA and be led by a Candidate Diversity Champion appointed by the Leader and the President. The Federal Executive Report to Conference will include updates on the work of the Candidate Diversity Task Force.

C. Through the work of the 2020 Candidate Diversity Task Force and Candidate Diversity Champion, in association with SAOs, AOs, ALDC and parliamentary candidates, examine the party’s approval and selection processes, and the role of PPCs after selection, to identify barriers that may exist for under-represented groups, including those identified in the Speaker’s Conference on Parliamentary Selection, as well as disadvantaged groups including those from a low socio-economic background. Solutions will be proposed to overcome these barriers; to seek to make proposals to increase diversity at all levels in the party; and to bring forward proposals on how to address the emotional, practical and financial challenges facing candidates from under-represented groups;

Conference recommends that:

1. Any local party should be able to vote for an all-women shortlist or an all-disabled shortlist, or reserve some spaces for candidates from other under-represented groups;

2. As a minimum the three state parties should follow the Canadian Liberal Party practice of requiring the relevant Local Party to provide documented evidence to their region or state (as relevant) of a thorough search for potential candidates from under-represented groups before being granted permission to start their Westminster selection process; this should apply in those seats where the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate received more than 15% of the vote in the 2015 General Election but the seat is not held by the Liberal Democrats;

3. In Scotland, Wales and each Region of the English Party, take measures to move towards a slate of candidates that reflects the diversity of the state or region, in line with the Leader’s ambition of having at least 50% women candidates and at least 10% BAME candidates across Great Britain;

4. If any sitting MP elected in 2015 decides not to contest the next General Election, his replacement should be selected from an all women shortlist;

5. In Scotland, Wales, and each Region of the English Party where there are two or more non-held seats which gained 25% or more of the General Election vote in May 2015, the regions should designate as a minimum of one seat not held by a Liberal Democrat MP to select its candidate from an all women shortlist. Where these seats are affected by boundary changes, the party’s rules on re-running selection processes will apply;

6. In addition to the one seat identified in 5. above, where the Liberal Democrat parliamentary result at the 2015 General Election was in the 10% of seats which had the highest percentage vote without returning a Liberal Democrat MP, the selection shortlist for the 2020 General Election should, subject to sufficient applications, include at least two candidates from under-represented groups.

Explain the motion, Party President Sal Brinton has said:

It will not be the first time we are looking at these under-represented groups. We were the first party to set up a Leadership Programme (in 2011) to support our best candidates from under-represented groups (women, BAME, disabled, LGBT+) which was successful in giving us a diverse profile in our top seats for 2015, but this did not materialise into MPs. Those good figures mask a further problem: we have far too few candidates from under-represented groups on the approved list so the pool of candidates, especially women, is too small. In the run up to the 2015 election many local parties struggled to find women candidates to stand.

This needs to change, and it needs a revolution from the grassroots to make it happen: every activist and member needs to consciously encourage women, BAME, disabled and LGBT+ members to go for approval; for standing in local government seats (in addition to wanting to improve the diversity of our councillors, we know this is often a pathway to being a PPC); and to then stand for seats in Westminster, Europe, the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh and London Assemblies.

We know that there are local parties who already do this, and want to do more, so we want to give any seat that wishes to, the power to have an all women or all disabled shortlist, or have places reserved on the shortlists for those from under-represented groups.

She also points out:

The law says that we can’t have all BAME or LGBT+ shortlists, but we are permitted to reserve places on shortlists for these groups and women and disabled candidates too.

To say Tim Farron has drawn up the motion, as The Independent does, rather downplays the role of other people. The essence of the point, however, is true – that this is a move Tim Farron is fully behind and is investing a lot of political capital in the wide-ranging plans which go beyond gender into many other areas too The LGBT+ inclusion in “under-represented groups” helps move the plans away from viewing gender simply through the binary male/female prism.

As I wrote when first covering these plans:

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 complement 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).

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.

In the debate over that, one sentence in the middle of the newspaper quote above is worth emphasising again: “The party has no women MPs after its disastrous election result, but even in the last Parliament only seven out of 57 were female”. I pick that one out as quite a few people responded to my original post about the all-women shortlist plans with comments that the gender problem was down to the Lib Dems doing so badly in May 2015. It wasn’t. Even an amazingly good result which had seen us gain seats would have still left the majority of the population once again hugely under-represented in a male-dominated Parliamentary Party.

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The Lib Dem group of MPs have been massively male dominated after every general election in the party’s history – good elections, bad elections and mediocre elections. May 2015 isn’t the cause of the problem unless you think a Parliamentary Party that was 88% male (50 out of 57) was all fine.

It’s also worth emphasising that all-women shortlists have, actually, been used by the Liberal Democrats before, and that all went off without any of the dire consequences that some of the opponents of all-women shortlists confidently predict with absolute certainty. The evidence from reality is that their theoretical fears are misplaced. As I wrote before:

Here then is the unmentioned reality behind all-women shortlists. The Lib Dems have used all-women shortlists, they worked, and the sky didn’t fall in.

By contrast, for all of the party’s 29 years in existence we’ve tried the mentoring, training and exhorting approach to improving gender balance at Westminster and it has never succeed in producing a Parliamentary Party anywhere close to the female majority there is in the electorate.

Which makes the debate coming up at Liberal Democrat conference in York in some ways very simple: should we carry on trying the thing which has always failed, or should we try instead to do the thing that has worked?

One final point about what is, and isn’t, legal – which restricts what the motion can call for: all-women and all-disabled shortlists are legal but, for example, all-anything-but-white-men shortlists are not legal. See more details in What the law does, and doesn’t, allow the Lib Dems to do for candidate selection,

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