In fact, the overwhelming bulk of the motion is not about All-Women shortlists, but I’ll cover that topic first. The motion says about AWS:
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;…
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;
Number 1 seems uncontroversial. If a local party wants to have an AWS or ADS, let them.
I’m very comfortable with number 4. I first attended a federal conference debate about AWS in the early 90s in some seaside place I can’t specifically recall. The diversity problem remains in the party. It seems the least we should do, to stimulate some change by having an AWS if any of our MPs stand down.
I haven’t done the maths, but I suspect number 5 will mean that about a dozen seats will have AWS. That seems relatively mild and proportionate to me.
Where I think the motion is particularly strong, is in areas which don’t directly involve AWS. In particular I like this paragraph:
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;
The motion also sets up a formidable practical mechanism to actively recruit diverse candidates “from both inside and outside the party”:
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;
I feel passionately that this motion is right. As a small personal note, I am member of Liberal Democrat Women, I am the “token male” in a female household and one of the reasons I stood down from the party’s approved candidate list, many moons ago, is because I did not want to be yet another white, male, middle-class, middle-aged candidate for the party and I wanted to give more diverse candidates my help and support, instead.
Often in life I find it is best to sit up and take notice when women are speaking. Indeed, like the husband of Mrs Bucket/Bouquet in “Keeing up appearances” I can often be heard, after my wife says something like “Turn left here”, saying dutifully and instantly: “Turning left dear”.
This is a case in point. Men, we need to sit up and take notice of what women (and men and others) in the party are saying here. This is an emergency, guys. I was very struck by Lindsay Northover’s piece yesterday. I remember when she was Lindsay Granshaw, plugging away at this subject like many of her colleagues, such as Lesley Abdela and indeed Sal Brinton, at conferences in the 90s. We’ve tried pulling all the other levers. It’s edged us onwards a bit but it hasn’t worked as it should. We must act now, and quite frankly, my response to the mantra of “it’s illiberal and anti-democratic” is, as they say in Mexico:
By the way, I note in passing that this motion is being championed by our President Sal Brinton. I have an awful lot of time for Sal and she has a particularly good track of shepherding through party change to improve diversity.
Oh. And by the way, part two.
Where’s the evidence?
…Appears to be the mantra.