Daily Archives: 12 November 2007

18 Doughty Street: crawling into the chrysalis

I’ve just got back from appearing on what it turns out was the last ever Blogger TV. 18 Doughty Street is, well, the best way I can think of putting it is that it is about to enter a chrysalis from which it will spend the next couple of months changing into something else. Whether it emerges into a beautiful butterfly or a moth remains to be seen.

In all seriousness, I’m pleased for them. It certainly does appear that this is a move forward. Their studios are to move to Westminster, they’re planning to step up the news content and concentrate more on the on demand side and less on the live side. All of these moves seem sensible – I for one have never watched it live but will frequently dip into the on demand service.

The channel itself has changed significantly over the past year. 12 months ago it was all about attack ads and most of their presenters were so embedded within the Conservative Party that they might as well have been called Thatcher. But I’ve been very conscious of the fact that over the past few months since I’ve been going on (which thinking about it has been pretty much a year) the times when I’ve been outnumbered 4-to-1 by Tories has become much less the norm. There has been a self-conscious and sincere attempt to bring it out of the Tory TV image it had to start with. Equally self-conscious and sincere has been the attempt to bring new political voices to the force – not just bloggers – and to talk about political issues at a level of depth that you simply don’t find on mainstream television.

My personal highlight? Going on the Doughty News Hour with Donal Blaney to discuss the Human Rights Act. It’s up to others to judge who won that particular fight, but I certainly enjoyed every minute of it.

My personal low point? Erm, possibly tonight, where I totally over-stretched discussing the Lib Dem leadership election and exploring my own views on air rather than consolidating my position with two Conservative commentators beside me itching to tear my argument to shreds. In short, doing exactly what I was bemoaning about Nick Clegg doing on GMTV this Sunday – live television is not the place to navel gaze! I blame the pork stew I had at the Duke of Cornwall in Islington just before. Never do Doughty Street on a full stomach; you need to be hungry!

Gender Balance and Euro Selections – setting some facts straight

Tories simply adore Nich Starling, they like to remind us. He’s apparently the only Lib Dem blogger who tells it like it is, and gets snubbed for his troubles.

Personally speaking? While I occasionally find myself agreeing with him, I find he tends to be ill-informed and reactionary. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

But I can’t allow this to pass. This evening, following on from a post by Iain Dale, he has decided to have a pop at the Lib Dem’s gender balance rules for selecting Lib Dem Euro-candidates:

The Lib Dems have an odd system for selecting candidates for European elections. For the uninitiated this means that you are forced to vote as your second preference for a female candidate if your first preference is for a male (and vice versa). This means that you might have two favourite male candidates, but one of them has to be in third place because you have to vote for a woman in second place (and again vice versa).

So this mean that in the Eastern Region in the Euro Elections you had to vote for Linda Jack (who I think would be a very good MEP), even if you didn’t want to because she was, apparently (don’t ask me, I never received a voting paper) the only woman on the list.

Sounds dreadful doesn’t it? And indeed it would be, were it not for the fact that it is a load of dingos’ kidneys.

The fact is, you can vote for candidates in whatever order you like. If your first ten preferences are all men, you can number them all, one through to ten. It’s really not hard.

Just so there can be now doubt, the manifesto booklet has printed in large, friendly letters:

You may vote for the candidates in any order you wish.

What there is is a rule that ensures that a third of the selected candidates overall, and one in three of the top three, must be a man and a woman respectively.

Now it is entirely possible that a candidate like Linda Jack, being the only woman, might end up getting placed in the top three despite not doing any work. That is obviously unfortunate. However, in Linda’s case, the reason she came second in the Eastern Region was that she got elected to second place fair and square. You can read the summary here, showing that she got the second largest number of first preference votes, and you can read the detailed results here, showing her getting elected to the top two places.

Why did Linda do so well despite apparently doing much work for it? I would guess because she is relatively high profile and was the only woman. A lot of people on these list selections tend to positively discriminate themselves out of habit.

In fact, while it would have been used if female candidates did particularly badly, the one third rule wasn’t actually applied on any Euro-list in England. Indeed, it is only rarely applied in any internal elections. See Colin Rosenstiel’s website for details.

Now, we could argue that the gender balance rule should be removed because it isn’t necessary, but to claim that it has distorted the results when it hasn’t actually been used is batshit crazy talk.

Don’t get me wrong. There are serious problems with our existing Euro-selection rules. They are similar problems to the ones with the GLA candidate rules that I wrote about earlier in the year.

The rules make it almost impossible for candidates to campaign. This year, candidates were told they couldn’t even get supporters to join Facebook groups as that was deemed to be against the rules (why, when no-one joins a Facebook group unless they want to?). Linda may brag about the fact that she didn’t do any campaigning but she would barely have been allowed to do any if she’d wanted to. Living in a relatively membership-free part of London, the only evidence of any campaigning I received was a smattering of emails. I didn’t get a single person telephone me or deliver a leaflet, and I wasn’t able to attend the one hustings that the London region ran.

The severe curtailment of campaigning disproportionately benefits the incumbents who of course are allowed to communicate with the selectorate regularly throughout the rest of their term of office at the taxpayer’s expense.

The fact that most of the incumbents appeared to get anything between 70% and 90% of the first preference votes (London appeared to be the closest we got to a contest) suggests that for them this wasn’t really a selection at all, but a coronation. The fact that these are selections for what amount to closed lists ought to compel the party to be more rigourous, not less. Reviewing the gender balance rules is just about the last thing we should be doing.

And as for the non-arrival of postal votes, Nich appears to be the only person in the country unaware that we had a postal strike during the selection. Whatever the rights and wrongs with going ahead with the ballot under such circumstances, it is a bit rich to imply we are going to have the same experience with the leadership election. And it should be pointed out that overall turnout was up compared to the last Euro-selections. Not exactly a disaster then.

Keep telling your Tory fans what they want to hear Nich, but I hope you won’t mind if I continue to issue the odd correction.