Jo Swinson – why I now back all-women shortlists

Over on Lib Dem Voice, Jo Swinson – who was one of the leading opponents of all-women shortlists the last time the Lib Dems debated the issue at conference – has written a powerful piece about why she now supports them.

As with others commenting on the motion being debated on Sunday morning, Jo talks about her support for the whole package of measures in it, almost all of which are about improving diversity across the full range of diversity strands.

But as all-women shortlists are the controversial part of the motion, her comments concentrate on that:

My vision in 2001 [when I opposed all-women shortlists] was a comprehensive programme of action to seek out and support women candidates across our party. I put my heart and soul into making it work. We had some success…

My conversion to the need for all-women shortlists is not because I think women can’t beat men in selections – they absolutely can. I believe all-women shortlists are necessary because without forcing the issue, our party defaults to cultivating a list of candidates that is three-quarters men, and it is down to random chance whether the small number of women happen to be in seats we have any realistic chance of winning.

I believe all-women shortlists are necessary because the other parts of my 2001 vision – the proper funding and serious buy-in across the wider party from the leadership down – have proved impossible to achieve.

And I believe all-women shortlists are necessary because time and time again, our party has been complicit in the application of all-men shortlists. Where have the voices of opposition been when members have been asked to choose only from a list of men? Funny, the arguments never seem to get raised about whether a candidate from a single gender shortlist will be good enough when he’s a bloke…

Anyone who suggests there aren’t enough good women potential candidates around in our communities must have their eyes closed. As an MP you meet countless fabulous women working tirelessly to make a difference in your community. They may not be banging down our door to be candidates, but that’s why we have to go out there, find, persuade and support them. That’s what was supposed to happen at scale after 2001.

We pride ourselves on our liberal values and commitment to equality. Of course we want to think we don’t need to resort to these kind of measures, that we don’t share the problems other parties have with inertia, jobs for the boys, and outright sexism.

There is nothing currently stopping MPs and local parties from identifying, encouraging and mentoring women candidates. But there’s nothing making them do it either.

I can see how it happens – I’ve been there too, as a local party officer when you’re trying to fundraise to print the next leaflet, recruit members and volunteers to deliver Focus, lead canvassing teams, help in the nearest target seat and hold down a day job too. It’s easy for important things that don’t seem urgent this week to slip off the priority to do list.

All-women shortlists do help with this problem. They will force some local parties in our most winnable seats to make this talent-scouting a priority, rather than shrug and say with a reluctantly accepting sigh: “What can we do? No women put themselves forward”. It puts the ball firmly in their court, rather than hoping that someone else will take responsibility.

Her position is a widely-held one in the party – having preferred to take other actions but now concluding that all-women shortlists are part of the necessary steps to tackle the party’s long-running problem.

You can read her piece in full here.

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