Would primaries mean more women?

Lots of discussion on the TV last night and the radio this morning about Ed Milliband's suggestion of primaries for Labour Westminster constituency selections.

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.

A new organisation for Women

Yesterday, I attended the wind up of Women Liberal Democrats and the inaugural meeting of Liberal Democrat Women; and whilst it may sound like the most semantic of all name changes, there is indeed a real change in the organisation as a result.

For a start, it is not so much a name change as a merger of the two groups that promoted the role of women. The Campaign for Gender Balance (CFGB), a top down organisation appointed by the Federal Executive, is no more but the activities that it undertook are within the scope of the new organisation, including a report to conference.  A report to conference that always seems to be timed for the fewest number of people to attend, but a valuable voice for women in the party none the less.

What is left is a group of women, keen to engage with the party on issues that affect all of us, not just women, but at the same time are issues that affect women in a different way to the way they affect men and to make sure that 'other' voice is heard.  Following an all member survey, key areas to campaign on have been identified and a number of working groups are being set up to ensure those campaigns succeed.

Of course, women in the Liberal Democrats have a wide variety of views and experiences, just as all Liberal Democrats do and identity politics (which this is) is a difficult horse for us as liberals to ride.  But, we're not just liberals, we are also democrats and so, we have to make sure that this campaigning organisation gives a voice for women in the party who are not a minority but so often absent from the debates.

I know that all the activists, male and female, that have gone abroad, to places such as the US and New Zealand have been amazed to see how women organise within political parties to become a caucus that cannot just be ignored as they often are in the Liberal Democrats.

If we do not organise, then we will not be heard.  Those that want to hear the voice of Liberal Democrat women will have no one to go and ask or to speak to.  Just last week when parliament marked the centenary of Emily Davidson, militant suffragette, throwing herself under a horse at the Epsom Derby, there was NO Liberal Democrat speaker!  A stitch up by the Labour and Tory organisers perhaps but also a sympton of a lack of organisation by Liberal Democrat parliamentarians.  I understand that women parliamentarians are now looking to meet and organise themselves into a group to ensure this kind of thing does not happen again.

In the mean time, the newly constituted Liberal Democrat Women, has opened nominations for their first ever Executive. Nomination forms need to be in by 2pm on Friday 5th July 2013.  If you are interested in standing for Election for the Liberal Democrat Women Executive (you need to be either a member of the old Women Liberal Democrats or to have joined Liberal Democrat Women by the 14th June 2013) then I believe the person to email for more info is Roxana Cimpeanu at LDHQ (020 7227 1319 roxana.cimpeanu@libdems.org.uk).

I really enjoyed meeting my fellow (!!) Liberal Democrat Women in Birmingham yesterday - there was a complete range of ages and experiences that bodes very well for us but also a great deal of energy and enthusiasm for the challenges ahead.

I will post more on the working groups shortly when I have found all the contact details etc.

Tying up loose ends...

I haven't posted in nearly two months and in fact, my posts have been few and far between for at least the last year.

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!!!

Is the Campaign for Gender Balance trying to kid us (or just themselves?)

In its report to Conference[1] 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.

[1] 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!

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The Boris Bike*

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!


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Nothing to do with politics...

This has nothing to do with poltics and hat tip to Alison Wheeler who put this up on her blog; this is just sooooo cute!

<p>Meet the sloths from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo.</p>

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Diane Abbott, Diversity and the Labour leadership...

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.

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Where I’m right and Boris is wrong…

I have always thought the development of the new Routemaster Bus was a mad, bad waste of time and effort when London has so many more pressing concerns.

And now it seems I’m not the only one; in a recent TFL survey creating the new Routemaster was deemed to be one of the least important projects to be undertaken in London. Only 18% of people thought it was a priority, as Adam points out.

Well, there’s a surprise!

I wonder if Boris is getting bored of being Mayor yet? After all he’s no longer the most powerful Conservative in the country now; should we be expecting him to give up on London and try and get into a safe Tory seat back in Parliament instead?

It wouldn’t surprise me.

Big Sigh I’m all cross now…grrrr….

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On sleep and the constitution…

Is this the first morning in four or five weeks that anybody, now involved in the government of this country, has woken up after an even vaguely decent nights sleep?

I can’t help thinking that I’d rather everybody got a bit more sleep around these occasions.   I’m not the only one: only this March, in the Justice Select Committee oral evidence sessions even Lord Butler of Brockwell (and as he used to be Cabinet Secretary, he knows a thing or two about this) said:

“I think the arrangements in Britain for the formation of a new government after an election are unwisely frantic because—I have seen this, and Lord Turnbull has seen it—if it is a new Prime Minister, when the new Prime Minister comes in, he or she comes in in circumstances where they have had a long campaign; they may have had to sit up most of the night waiting for their election results, they then may have to travel to London, and they arrive in a state of exhaustion. To then have to make decisions that are crucial for the country, including the appointments of your main lieutenants in the first few hours, and a lot of other important decisions, has never seemed to me to be particularly wise, nor does it seem to me to be necessary. It is part of a drama that we have got used to that everybody enjoys, and it is difficult to break.”

And of course, it’s been worse this time as they’ve all had 5 days of discussion followed by yesterday’s dizzying day of action.

I can’t help suspecting the reason it happens is the macho, testosterone driven political culture that we have; noting, of course, that women can be susceptible to that culture too.  But not me!  I love sleep. Fascinated by politics as I am on May 6th I left the all night vigil in front of the telly to my husband and the dog.

Why is everybody the media and political activists so impatient to get to an answer that they’d rather have the sleep deprived elected such important decisions than alert ones? Is knowing one day later really going to make the difference in a year’s time?

Uncertainty is a function of changing governments and I think the last week proves that the markets do have more patience that we, or the media, gave them credit for.  If we planned to make the change over of government slightly less frenetic, say giving them a week to change or even two weeks I think it would be better for everyone. After all in the US they give 2 months for the administration to change and the world doesn’t fall in then, either.

I am amazed and in awe of those who have negotiated this coalition government on such little sleep.  I think they have managed rather better than the media, whose tempers have become frayed on occasion in the last week. 

So, Sir Gus, when you finish the Cabinet Manual (well done for Draft Chapter 6, by the way), do you think you could add in an itsy bitsy convention around taking more time, so that everybody that needs to can get a bit more sleep?

And Nick, as you are now Deputy Prime Minster with responsibility for Political Reform, could you add the changes to your to do list too?

Just don’t stay up all night to get it done!


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Our Lib Dem Democratic Deficit

I am on the whole delighted today; amazed that a man, whom I knew had something good going for him from the moment I met him, that I drove about for a day in the back of my car during his party leadership campaign, is now Deputy Prime Minster. I suspect both car and driver have improved in quality somewhat! Well done, Nick! Hooray!

However, there is one big fly in the ointment for me and that is what looks to be like the lack of women in this new coalition government. An historic, new type of government and it’s still white, middle class men taking almost every plum job. The exception, as just announced is Theresa May, who seems to have two jobs Home Secretary and Women and Equalities. That to me, suggests that she’s the going to be the only female cabinet minster; let’s hope I’m wrong.

Oh dear!

Of course, you can’t put many more women into the Cabinet if you don’t have enough female MPs in the first place.

The number of Conservative female MPs has gone up but the number of Labour and Lib Dem female MPs has gone down. The only new female Liberal Democrat MP that we have is the wonderful Tessa Munt. However, Tessa has been standing for election for many, many years, starting off in the Ipswich by-election in 2001. So, it has to be said that despite the very best efforts of the Campaign for Gender Balance and Women Liberal Democrats that we have made no progress, in terms of outcomes in getting new women into parliament.

And you can’t get more women into parliament if you don’t have enough female PPCs in the first place. We didn’t even manage to get more women standing as PPCs: only 22% in 2010, compared to 23% in 2005.

Of course, the issues in why we don’t have more women as PPCs are structural – politics does not fit with the reality of many women’s lives, let alone that the whole thing seems to be a testosterone fuelled slanging match. Plus, the way to progress through the Liberal Democrats and get to the point that you can stand in a serious seat, also discourages many other potential female PPCs. We make a difficult journey, even more difficult!

I know that all PPCs make sacrifices and compromises; but I rather suspect that there are more compromises to be made by women, especially those with young families. Their male counterparts don’t have it easy, just easier.

This is a real shame as our policies that impact women are really good and we have made definite progress there.

As Ceri Goddard from the Fawcett Society said in the Guardian at the end of April:

"They have the most radical proposals of all the parties on issues such as equal pay audits and parental leave, but they haven't acknowledged the huge democratic deficit – their radicalism doesn't extend to challenging the status quo."

Nick Clegg has given us another election to sort it out; I hope that we don’t need another election I hope we get to grips with the fact that ‘encouragement’ and ‘training’ is not going to change the game and am sure that we will need to be far more radical in addressing this problem than we have ever been so far!

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