Home > Conference, Diversity, Party Internals > Where Next for Diversity in the Liberal Democrats?

Where Next for Diversity in the Liberal Democrats?

March 14, 2016

Becky Thomas moving the East Midlands Lib Dems amendment opposing All-Women Shortlists

Unfortunately, the amendment to remove all-women shortlists was defeated at Conference earlier today. The debate was generally good on both sides, though the summation was patronising in the extreme. Ultimately though, the strength of the leadership support and the long-trailed campaign including paid Facebook and Twitter adverts, helped to win the day. Sarah Brown’s excellent canary speech swayed a few undecided voters to support the amendment, but not enough.

Still, the voice of Conference has been heard, and it is time to look forward. I do not believe that AWS will solve all our problems, and I believe they need solving. This means I need to play a part in changing my party for the better, and help obviate the arguments made to support AWS before they become entrenched. Thinking more about the points from my last post on this, and from talking to members at conference, it seems that the problems that need to be tackled can be divided into a small number of intertwined areas:

  1. Direct discrimination and harassment, particularly of young and female members. This is effectively a pastoral care issue. We know from the Morrissey Report that the pastoral care in the party has been lacking. We now have a Pastoral Care Officer at LDHQ who is highly praised, but the party hasn’t managed to embed a culture of challenging harassment using the pastoral care system. I get the impression that people still think it’s too awkward, too much red tape, or too unlikely to get results. Perhaps we need another update to the Morrissey Report following the preliminary December 2014 review to give more confidence to members, or the Rock the Boat group to become some sort of support group for those making complaints.
  2. Concentration of power among unaccountable cliques, which entrenches unconscious (and conscious) bias in ways that are difficult to challenge through the democratic processes of the party. Changing the processes to improve transparency and accountability is a governance issue; the current Governance Review may be a good opportunity to challenge this at an institutional level, but practical suggestions must be made.
  3. Bias in recruitment and retention – this is a membership issue. The idea of my previous post, that development and target seats must meet local membership and leadership diversity targets to receive support from LDHQ, still seems to have merit; this would go some way to tackling the bias in winnable seats. As with the membership rebate scheme, giving ownership of this problem to local parties is likely to be the best way to see concrete results.
  4. The expectations we have of potential candidates, and the criteria we use (consciously or otherwise) to select them. This is a campaigns issue. We expect our candidates to primarily be “good campaigners”, rather than people who will make good councillors or Parliamentarians. This biases us towards the able-bodied, those without caring responsibilities, those who do not work long hours, and those who are able to handle the stress of being the focal point of the campaign trail. This even goes against our own best campaign practice about building strong teams and identifying candidates who will be good at the job once elected.

These problems are all interlinked to some degree – for example, if your local party isn’t diverse, then the power will always be held by a homogeneous group no matter how transparent and accountable the members of that group may be. And the solutions to these problems will be far more complex than the glib outlines I’ve made above. But I think that trying to tease the issues apart into different areas of responsibility may be helpful in finding a starting point. So what have I missed? Let me know!


Liberal Youth members protesting all-women shortlists, with “I Am Not A Token Woman” T-shirts

  1. Neil Fawcett
    March 14, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    Some very good points there.

    FYI the Federal Executive did recently do a further review of progress on implementing the Morrissey recommendations and further actions are planned in that regard. There is still a lot further to go, though.

    Recruitment is a challenge. Actually getting most local parties to do much at all is a challenge. Developing the skills to do so to improve the party’s diversity will be a further challenge.

    • March 14, 2016 at 1:40 pm

      Yes, recruitment is always a challenge – but the rebate scheme gave local parties a carrot and they largely rose to the challenge. Something similar related to diversity stands a better chance of succeeding than mandatory diversity training IMHO.

      Only granting development / target seat status to appropriately diverse local parties would send a strong message to local parties and the wider world.

  2. March 14, 2016 at 8:24 pm

    Hi Jezz

    Some very good and constructive points here.

    On the harassment/disrespect of personal space issues highlighted by Alex and others yesterday, I think also that we need to have some sort of written statement about what behaviour is acceptable at any party event. I know that someone put up that sort of document from a science fiction con a while back that I am sure we would adapt. Someone sent it to FCC, but I don’t think they acted on it. Definitely something to revive.

    As an FE member, I would like to talk to the women who spoke in the debate before wading in, but it is really important to tackle this. I thought things had got better and it’s very upsetting to hear that they haven’t.

    On the Governance Review, if LY hasn’t already, can I invite them to make a formal submission to the consultation that ends on 28th March. https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/libdems/pages/10794/attachments/original/1455121087/61151_Lib_Dems_Spring_Conference_Report.pdf?1455121087

    On your last 2 points, the Scottish motion actually tackled them, providing ring-fenced funding for candidates from under-represented groups and made an explicit statement about the role of the candidate and how expectations need to be tackled. These will be issues for the Candidate Diversity Task Force who will be working out what to do about the barriers people face.

  3. March 14, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    Oh – what an idiot – for some stupid reason I thought this was by Jezz from LY. Sorry, Dave, for my utter brain fade. But certainly all SAOs might want to respond to the Governance Review.

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