It was pretty depressing listening and looks like it would leave us with a grand total of zero female Lib Dem MPs. A parliamentary party that is 100% male and 100% white. Wow! And given the inroads that Labour and the Tories have been making in recent years to increase their numbers of women MPs you'd have to conclude that a collapse in the LIb Dem vote will result in a better gender balanced House of Commons.
The thought of belonging to a political party that has no female representation in the Commons, well...I don't think it's really sunk in. I find it shocking and then just angry when I think of all the opportunities that we've had to put women into our least vulnerable seats (Eastleigh, anyone?) and for various reasons didn't. Because something else was always more important, that we just had to win this one, go for a safe bet of a candidate, go for someone local, wait another year or so, or whatever other reason that has been given as to why now is not quite the time to finally start delivering on real equality of power in the party.
And now? And now it looks like it's a little bit too late because the few women that the LIb Dems do have are in the most marginal and vulnerable of seats and they will likely be gone. Oh, yes, it is so very hard to increase the number of women when you're losing seats, isn't it? Except that the LIb Dems could have seen it coming, we could have mitigated against the risk by making sure we had women in safe seats (Eastleigh, again, anyone?) even years ago when we were on our winning streak. 'Cos lets face it, if you don't sort this stuff out when you're on your winning streak, then you sure as hell aren't going to sort it out when you'reheading for the new electoral landscape that we seem to be.
Yet no one, no one in a position of leadership has done anything that has made a blind bit of difference, not once, in the 15 years I've been a member of the Liberal Democrats, the 10 years or so that I've been active and the 6 odd years that I've been writing about the lack of equality in female representation (and power) in the Liberal Democrats. Lots of good words and hand wringing but no actual action.
The Liberal Democrats have lost so many good female activists over the Rennard debacle and sidelined others when they could have chosen to give them safe seats in by-elections. And what are these women doing now? Well, because so many of them are really good people they're off doing new and exciting things: leading the organisations they work for, sitting on the boards of major campaigning organisations, being fast tracked in their career, etc, etc because they're good. Good people have choices and they're not going to hang around where they don't seem to be wanted just waiting until the party gets around to thinking that equality of power includes it's female members as well as the voting public.
So come June next year, when the party sits surveying more lost councillors and many lost parliamentary constituencies and the likely probability of no female MPs, will that be enough to kick it into action on gender equality? I am not holding out much hope. Why would the mixture of complacency and incompetence that has been the hallmark of the party when it comes to gender representation to date change? Because, you know what the priority will be? To win seats back and we'll all just have to be pragmatic about it, won't we? And gender equality will, like all the other markers of power imbalance in Liberal Democrat MPs, be required to take a back seat until we're back in the race again. Or when we get Proportional Representation. Or something. Just as long is we understand that now is not quite the time.
This post was originally posted on my lifestyle blog Could Do Better; head over if you like your politics and feminism interrupted by posts of food, parenting and other stuff.
As a number of people have mentioned this morning on Twitter, at least we know who the core, against all the odd, support is in Rochester - all of whom have shown enough commitment to make them excellent members! Alternatively, it looks like the candidate managed to get his Facebook friends out to vote for him and not many others. Still, what a thankless task it, to be a Lib Dem by-election candidate these days.
So, looking at Liberal Democrat history to provide a model of a party coming from nowhere into Government, UKIP are cock a hoop. A party of protest, ridiculed and patronised by mainstream parties builds first one, then two, then enough seats to fill a car eventually where they are holding the balance of power in a coalition government and KER-CHOW!! (as Lightning McQueen might say) our membership of the EU is binned in spectacular fashion. Or perhaps even the threat of UKIP holding the balance of power is enough to get the Tories to come up with the idea of binning the EU themselves.
If we buy the proposition that this is not just normal by-election sabre rattling by the electorate and this really is the first steps towards a completely new political landscape then UKIPs new supporters, drawn from all the mainstream parties should be aware that Nigel Farage is no man of the people, he is drawn from the same establishment pool as all those other establishment politicians that the public love to pour scorn on. His alma mater is Dulwich College, one of the top nine private schools in the country with a reputation for producing, like Eton and Westminster, political leaders. He is a very talented communicator whom we should be very wary of because UKIP polices are really very nasty. It's not just immigration and the EU, they want to bring in a form of workfare, withdraw from the UN Convention on Refugees, increase military spending by 40% and create a national curriculum which is pro imperialist and denies climate change. The reason they are always having to apologise for their candidates is not that they pick the wrong ones, it's because their candidates are actually reflecting UKIP beliefs about the sort of country we want to be.
So, I am hopeful that this is not a new dawn of politics and that UKIP will not be able to follow the Liberal Democrat model into Government because , with the exception of the Tuition Fees debacle (which should never, ever have been a Liberal Democrat policy, let alone a key pillar of the campaign) the Liberal Democrats have policies which have been opened up to proper scrutiny; some people like them and some people hate them but we know what they are not least because the have been written down. But we know very little about UKIP policy, which changes on the whim of Nigel Farage and that when looked at more closely, favour the rich and invincible and do very little to help the type of people who are voting for them now. I think we should let UKIP have their day in the sun and know that when placed under scrutiny the British voter will see them for what they are.
This post was updated on Sunday 23rd NOvember 2014, with some extra links and some editing of text.
The first reason that his reinstatement at Sheffield United is unthinkable is his own attitude to his crime. He is a convicted rapist, that is a fact. However, he is convinced that someone as drunk as his victim was when he raped her is able to give informed consent. The law says otherwise, indeed the judge in sentencing him said of his victim that she:
was in no position to form a capacity to consent to sexual intercourse, and you, when you arrived, must have realised thatBut Ched Evans shows no remorse, no sense of understanding that he has a responsibility to ensure that the people he has sex with are able to give informed consent - no instead, we should all feel very sorry for him, a victim of justice! Note how he talks about the 'alleged victim' on his website - which just shows you just how far removed from understanding his crime he is - because he is a convicted rapist and there is nothing alleged about her, she was indeed his victim.
You can't rehabilitate until you recognise your crime, until you take responsibility for your crime and understand the impact of your crime on your victim. There is nothing in that website that makes me think that Ched Evans wouldn't behave in exactly the same way again. Be clear, I don't mind that he likes to sleep with strangers, that he likes group sex and that he likes to be watched and filmed. I don't even care that he does all this whilst in a relationship with someone else. None of these things are illegal and are all down to him. It is that he doesn't understand that he needs to get informed consent and that if he doesn't, because the victim was too drunk to be able to give it (which is a pretty objective test), that he is indeed a rapist.
Secondly, even if he had shown remorse or taken responsibility for his crime, there would still be a question mark over his ability to renew his premiership football career. And that's because Premier League footballers, however ill-suited some of them may be to the role, are role models for millions of young people. To be able, to carry on, rehabilitated or not, just where you left off seems a very strange message to give young people. Prison is indeed a punishment but the loss of reputation and career is also part of the punishment and rehabilitation has to be worked for, it's not in the gift of a football club.
So, good for Jessica Ennis-Hill, who has asked for her name to be removed from the stand named in her honour, and the three patrons of Sheffield Ltd who have stood down since Ched Evans started retraining back with Sheffield. As Jessica says,
I believe being a role model to young people is a huge honour and those in positions of influence in communities should respect the role they play in young people’s lives and set a good example.You do have to wonder what world these footballers, and the clubs that employ them, are living in that they can't see the impossibility of an unrepentant, convicted rapist being able to swan back in as if nothing has happened. Of course, it would not be illegal to re-employ him but this is where societal norms play a role. It is a test for our society: if Ched Evans can be reinstated and that is acceptable then we really are in a bad place.
If Evans was to be re-signed by the club it would completely contradict these beliefs.
However, I am more of an optimist than that and I believe leaders and influencers such as Jessica Ennis and Carwyn Jones will ensure that the right thing happens. Indeed, this is a very good example of why we need more women in positions of power and leadership in our country; to set the norm for acceptable behaviour.
This post was originally posted on my lifestyle blog Could Do Better; head over if you like your politics and feminism interrupted by posts of food, parenting and other stuff.
I'm all for primary selections and I don't much understand why anybody would be against them; after all, it is the whole constituency that you are going to be representing not just the 30 or so activist that can be bothered to vote.
But I think there are so many more benefits to politics that the obvious democratic one above. For a start I think, despite being a vastly larger selectorate, I think it will make the whole process of selection less onerous for a candidate which can only be a good thing. As someone who has spent actual years of her life attempting (and failing) to get selected in her home seat, I found as time went on the only way to do it was to woo each member individually and this sometimes took half an afternoon spent in their front room discussing all sorts of things, many of which frankly have no bearing on either what sort of candidate you'd make, how you'd run the campaign and even what sort of MP you'd make. Just the whim of an indulged activist, one of 120 that need wooing in that selectorate (for some reason the region had decided that all 3 constituencies forming the local party, would vote in the selection).
I would say, that last time that I attempted selection that this tactic worked to the point that it got me equal votes in the selection with the eventual (and incumbent candidate), it didn't help much when they tossed the coin to see which of us would win! Indeed, although a failing candidate I had a troup of people come and ask for my best practice on how to run a selection campaign in the months after.
If you're selectorate is larger then you have no hope of winning by picking people off one by one in such an intense fashion, so you don't do it. In fact the campaign you would have to run to win a primary is far more akin to the kind of campaign you would have to run to win the seat in an election and therefore actually worthwhile doing even if you don't win the selection. One of the most frustrating things about my experience of selection (apart from not winning of course) was the amount of time and effort it took just to fail and that type of activity was not transferable but only relevant to dealing with internal party politics and power struggles.
So, I decided after the same thing happened in a by-election for a council seat (where I also lived) I decided that I wasn't going to waste my time any more, and as I'm in demand and have choices I went off and did something more meritorious instead. Part of that as a masters at Law, hence my blogosphere silence for the last three years. But it's not just my personal feeling about how I spent my time but the waste of effort on behalf of the most active of activists - I could have been out doing things that were going to wins real votes instead!
I also think there'd be less potential for squishing.
I've worked in big, national brand corporations for much of my working life and boy they are competitive places. It's easy to see people squishing and being squished as a particularly ambitious individual makes their way up the organisation. But, unlike in political parties, you don't tend get groups of people going around squishing people on behalf of the rising stars in the organisation. This level of backstabbing, political shenanigans, perpertrated by those not even sacrificing anything in their life but viewing it all more as entertainment really puts people off. It sure as hell puts me off. I do still wonder how many hours I spent in front rooms being quizzed on the most fringeworthy of topics just to keep me wasting my time for longer. And I've just giving you one of the nicer examples of how people behave - there are far worse!
You can say that it's all good practice for the realities of Westminster life but this is a circular argument. Because we make it a condition of entry then we fill the place with people who think this is the best way to succeed and to legislate and eventually to govern. We miss out on many, many people because we insist on parliament being like this.
I have no intention of standing for parliament again; even though when I did in 2005 I really enjoyed it and even though I think I 'd make a great candidate and an even better MP. I'm not standing again because I don't have the stomach for the selection, because I did quite a few of them over a four year period and put my all into it, did everything that was asked of me and did it well and still failed. So, twice that failure was down to pulling the wrong name out of a hat (can you believe it?) and maybe the next time it would have worked. But I think the whole way that we as activists treat those who want to be candidates, our expectations of them and our preference for white middle class men means that I'm not going to take part until the process changes and somehow the culture of candidate selection changes.
I think primaries would be a smashing idea, I think it would produce more women, more people who have been doing demanding jobs other than politics and so haven't had the time to cultivate the local cliques in political parties. I think it would produce a wider of variety of races take part, sexualities and (dis)abilities who, I think rightly, have more faith in the general public than the prejudices of a small group about what makes the best MP. I think it would be a fantastic practice for an actual election and therefore have its own value, even failure would not be a waste of time. Good candidates pursuing selection within the whole constituency would start to bring in votes even before they've been elected.
It's draw back is that it is expensive but really it has to be looked at as the start of the election campaign and is therefore not wasted money. We should use it in our safest, most important seats so putting on a primary would actually bring a local party extra campaign funding and be a sign of status.
Our lack of diversity is shameful and the only thing that has ever created even 30% of women in a national parliament is quotas. Only quotas work, there is no special Liberal Democrat alternative route to diversity, there is just this one way. However, although quotas can be easily implemented across gender but it is not as easy across other under-represented groups but primaries would help increase every sort of diversity and we like the Tories and Labour should really consider bringing them in.
I wish I had more time to blog but with full time work, a time hungry allotment and a masters law degree in the evenings it's become an idle dream!
So, I've made a decision that I'm not going to blog for a while and probably not until I complete my Law Masters.
I will continue to Twitter though; my social network de choix!!!
In its report to Conference the Campaign for Gender Balance (CFGB) states that it knows what works. No, really, in the year that we actually reduced the number of women in parliament, it says that it knows what works!
It is beyond my comprehension that the CFGB can suggest this when we have fewer female MPs than ever in Parliament. At some point the CFGB has to understand that it is the outcome not the activity that really counts. That we would have done better if things had been different is not a response worthy of the intelligent & sensible heads running the CFGB.
Let's stop kidding ourselves that the route to greater female representation lies solely in encouragement & mentoring - handy as they are for some women - and look at some things that actually do work, in deed, on the evidence the only thing that has ever worked in a national parliament and that is quotas. To think we'll get there with encouragement and a bit of training is to follow the blind ideology that the only way to be fair and liberal is to ignore the difference that quotas make & place ambitions of the numerous but unremarkable male party hack above the difference that women and ethnic minorities in power would make to the well being of the whole planet.
The CFGB is in danger of becoming window dressing for a party that pays lip service to female representation. Even an 'A’ list like the Tories had, would be better that the current restricted scope of the Campaign for Gender Balance. Indeed if the CFGB is a mentoring programme then the ‘A’ list could be seen as the first part of a sponsorship programme: an informed assessment of those potential candidates that warrant sponsorship.
In this month’s Harvard Business Review (thanks to Neil Stockley and Shawn Callahan from Anecdote for the hat tip) there is a fascinating article that points out that the difference between men and women's upward trajectory in business is that women get mentored and men get sponsored.
This means that it’s still men getting most of the promotions or, translated into what we Lib Dems are dealing with, getting the positions of power, seats in Parliament, the government and in the Cabinet.
If we’re not as a party ready to countenance quotas for parliament (which is weird because we don’t seem to have much of an issue when our party lists for less powerful institutions have quotas) then let’s stop pretending that a reduction in female MPs is evidence of mentoring working and think again. Why don’t we try a formal programme of sponsorship, accessed via some sort of assessment programme for our very best female, male, black, minority ethnic and white candidates? And lets make sure that list is representative of the country!
Because, can we really say, in all honesty, that those Lib Dem men, whom are now cabinet ministers, were only mentored? No, they were sponsored into parliament, backed by key influencers and given their break, their opportunity on the basis of their potential.
The point of formal sponsorship programmes, rather the informal ones that got our guys into the cabinet, is that they seek to overcome the ‘who you know’ that the privileged few benefit from. They provide links (on the basis of merit) with influential leaders within the organisation who, importantly, are required to deliver.
The Campaign for Gender Balance suffers from having a very restricted scope, no doubt designed to stop any move towards quotas or all women shortlists. There is not a year that has gone by that they haven't failed most if not all of their self set targets. It is my view that, as constituted, they are doomed to failure as they have to ignore the evidence that the only thing that has ever got near 30% women into national parliaments is quotas either at party or constitutional level.
Until we move away from this straight jacket we will never be taken seriously by the very people we need in positions of power that will make us not just look diverse but be diverse.
 Yes, I know there is an opportunity to ask questions of the Report. The deadline for sending in questions for Federal Reports at Conference was 12 noon on Monday the 6th; a fact that I only remembered just before 12 midnight on Monday the 6th.
Still, judging by the very, very, few people who tend to be in the conference hall for the Campaign for Gender Balance and Diversity Engagement Groups reports in previous years, I might just reach a wider audience with a blog!
I've just signed up as an annual member of the Barclays (yawn, yawn - my ex-employer is following me around) Cycle Hire Scheme. I think I need to use it for less than half an hour once a week for that to pay for itself.
I'm quite excited about it.
But, jolly though it will be (see how I can't help myself slipping into Borisisms), I am a little worried that its going to be stopping people from walking rather than getting them out of the cars.
My plan is to use the BCHS (*as Leo Hickman suggests, we must come up with a nickname soon) from Warren Street Tube to Birkbeck College and back again. Not a massive journey but one that is irritatingly long when I'm late for a lecture or on the way home from one in the cold dark winter and just wanting to get home. I think it will shave 10-15 minutes of my return journey and frankly, during term time, that's a precious 10-15 minutes.
This journey is too short for public transport so there'll be no reduction of congestion apart from on the pavements.
I have to say I'm underwhelmed by the cycle highways - really you need to seperate the cyclists from the traffic to make people like me feel safe doing longer journeys on major trunk roads.
And I'm impatient for whatever is going to happen utside of central London for local cycling, so that people no longer get in their cars to buy a couple of forgotten items at the supermarket etc, but get on a bike.
If course, if cycling is to come to Crystal Palalce in any sustainable kind of way, I'm also looking forward to the cycle ski-lift type thing that will be required to wynh all us moderatley fit people back up the hill!
*Could I ever sign up to a nick name such as the Boris Bike? I don't think so, but I'll have a couple of gos and see what I can come up with - perhaps experience will provide inspiration!
Well, as Evan Davies said on his twitter feed just before she came into the studio, Diane Abbott is always good value!
And the race for the Labour leadership will definitely look more diverse now that t she has entered it. And she will indeed have an impact on the discussion and issues raised. And she has 'earned' her place on the short-list, as Simon Wooley says in the Guardian this morning. But even he's not suggesting she's actually going to become the Labour leader.
She's not going to win, everyone knows that and there's the rub. What will happen is that Labour will be able to claim that their leadership contest was diverse and so feel no need to actually deal with the real issues that underpin why there are not more women at the most senior level in politics.
Blimey, I'm a party pooper, aren't I?
I don't blame Diane Abbott, as a woman, prominent in a political party she is, like Harriet Harman and Yvette Cooper, one of the few that everybody looks to when searching for more diversity. 'Why aren't there more women standing?', goes up the call and the weight of being a representative woman falls on their shoulders yet again. The issue is always with women and ethnic minorities not coming through and putting themselves forward, isn't it?
Except that those of us who have put any thought into this know there's loads of reasons, perfectly valid and perfectly changeable, if only there was establishment will, underpinning why more of us do not come forward.
In the end, it's easier to blame the group who are under represented and no doubt fed up with this, Diane Abbott has thrown her hat in the ring. She probably hopes, no doubt amongst other things, to give lie to the line: women don't have power because they don't come forward.
I say, we're doomed if we do, and doomed if we don't. As a woman, and I am one, I have absolute confidence of my ability to be short-listed as a candidate - in fact I have, loads of times, including making it through Liberal Democrat star chamber to make it onto the Bromley & Chislehurst by-election short-list. But getting onto the short-list means nothing; it only counts if you can and do win. My confidence in my ability to actually win is no longer as all conquering as it once was!
In the Lib Dems we have rules about gender equality on short-lists, meaning selection committees scour the country looking for women to shortlist; and I have been asked numerous time to stand, to provide the gender balance required, so that the process to select the favoured candidate can go ahead. As the difficulty is with so many 'secondary' targets, people work to achieving them, not the actual desired outcome that the target has been put there to facilitate.
So, having women and ethnic minorities make it to the short-list, whether they can win or not, only disguises the fact the only serious contenders for the Labour leadership are male and pale.
And so, leads us to a situation where less is likely to be done about it than if there were none. There is no longer an outcry because there are no women in the Labour leadership contest. Job done.
I wish Diane Abbott well in her campaign and feel sure that she will raise issues that might not have been raised if left to the men.
And there is of course the role model function. DIane Abbott standing may well help with that; I posed a question on whether Sarah Palin's vice presidency was net good or bad for women a couple of years ago. And I'm still not sure; Dianne Abbott is not going to be as polarising as Sarah Palin (hopefully/obviously) but I can't help feeling that Obama's real strength as a role model is because he won the competition, not because he was a candidate on a short-list.