Tag Archives: candidate-selection

If TV can’t reflect Britain, what chance has politics got?

Cringeworthy stuff from Gavin Whenman on the topic of positive discrimination again:

To elaborate: Discrimination, of any kind, on a criteria which bears no relation to your ability to do the job, is wrong. It is fair to award party posts, such as PPCs, on the basis of merit only. It is not fair to award it on the basis of skin colour or ethnicity. To say that black or other people aren’t good enough to be MPs unless they have help from the white man is possibly the most patronising, shameful position we can take on this issue, and I hope Nick Clegg sees sense soon.

None of which is particularly inaccurate or misleading (even if it is intemperate), but it doesn’t get us very far, leaves us with a woefully unrepresentative party and begs the question: what would you do then? Clegg hasn’t backed positive discrimination – in fact he’s called a moratorium on imposing such measures within the party for at least two parliaments. What he has done though is back a system of training and support that will receive significant funds, warn the party that if this isn’t made to work then the debate on positive discrimination will need to be revisited and, today, backed enabling legislation to allow political parties to introduce all-black shortlists if they wish (just as we already have enabling legislation to introduce all-women shortlists).

How political parties select their candidates ought to be by and large a matter for them surely? If people feel they are having a candidate imposed on them there will be a backlash, as Labour discovered in Blaenau Gwent. Surely deregulation is a good thing in principle? Why does Gavin feel white guys need such stringent protection?

By backing this legislation, Clegg is supporting deregulation in principle and making a political point about the importance of parties doing more to recruit ethnic minority activists and politicians. I’m amazed that either of these things are regarded within the party as being a bad thing.

The bottom line is party politics is looking alarmingly white, male and middle class these days. In many respects we appear to be going backwards. The Lib Dems have particular problems. We have a few Asian activists and I can probably mention a token member of most established UK ethnic minorities, but within the black community particularly we are a joke.

But its the anger this all provokes that irritates me. I’ve got quite worked up about this myself in the past, and the establishment of the Campaign for Gender Balance was a result of a number of us trying to come up with an alternative to all women shortlists. But at least we were talking about alternatives – and now CGB is regularly cited by some with no sense of history as part of the positive discrimination agenda it was established to bypass.

We shouldn’t be blind to the enormity of our task though. If the television industry struggles to recruit visible black faces, as Lenny Henry was bemoaning last week, what chance has politics got? Expecting it to sort itself out however is simply ludicrous.

Game Theory and candidate selection

A number of interesting applications of game theory in this article by Fred E. Foldvary. Land value taxation and the green tax switch you would of course expect me to approve of, and the principle of constitutional liberty is something I would very much be interested in exploring further as well. Demand revelation is an idea that I’ve heard of before and would like to see how it could be applied in practice.

Cellular democracy though. My kneejerk reaction is to think that this sounds remarkably similar to Chinese-style democracy. Internal party democracy however is rather similar. There’s a technocratic aspect to it that I don’t like. Ultimately democratic systems must enable the person at the top of the system to relate to the person at the bottom as far as possible. A cellular system does not enable this.

But should the Liberal Democrats consider it for things like the selection of candidates for the European Parliament or GLA? I’m increasingly coming to the conclusion that we should. If we aren’t prepared to give candidates (or allow them to raise) the resources necessary to competitive OMOV contest that meaningfully engages members, then we should lose the pretence and have the candidates elected using a college system where the candidates would concentrate their campaigning on a few elected representatives.

One nice side effect is that it would mean that members in relatively small local parties like mine would actually have a voice instead of being utterly ignored (beyond the occasional round robin email which is almost worse than nothing).

I’m sure I’ve said this before but at least in the case of the Euro selections it really is one member one vote. In the GLA selections, the local parties with the largest membership bases get to both appoint their own constituency candidates and dominate the top of the London-wide list. Given that they are the ones most likely to get their constituency candidates selected, this means they effectively get double the candidates. This is so manifestly unfair – and blatantly self-defeating as it confines our appeal to South West London – that we really do need to reconsider.

That GLA candidate list: time for a change?

The GLA candidate list has been causing a stink on Lib Dem Voice. On the plus side, and this needs stating because it is a genuine achievement, the list has a good gender balance with 2 of the top 3 candidates women and a good proportion of women further down the list. Indeed, in the case of Caroline Pidgeon (and Jeremy Ambache), she has managed to pip an incumbent to the post, a not inconsiderable achievement in a candidate selection. Notwithstanding this, the tone in the debate is far from self-congratulatory.

For me, there are two main issues. Firstly, there is a distinct dearth of BME candidates at the top of the list and just two, in eighth and eleventh place respectively (out of 11), on the list at all. Secondly, there is only one candidate from north of the river Thames.

There has been much wrangling about the calibre of candidates and the fact that the people at the top of the list, generally speaking, did the most to get elected. This may be true. But the bottom line is, the party will be presenting this list to a multi-ethnic, pan-London electorate. These candidates don’t reflect London, so why should London vote for them? However you dress it up, this is not helpful.

So, what can be done? The party has always opposed quotas and probably always will. While I agree with it, personally I have always felt that the party has to pay a ‘price’ for this position. It can pay this price in two ways: either it pays a political one, by being made to look bad by its opponents and losing out electorally, or it pays one in terms of resources – taking positive action to find, train and develop candidates from under-represented groups.

I’ve always argued for the latter. The party, from the grassroots to the top, has always paid lip service to it as well. But in terms of actually putting its money where its mouth is, the party has always failed to actually enact it.

So it is that the Campaign for Gender Balance has never been given an adequate budget and even that has now been cut. The Ethnic Minority Elections Task Force has never even got that far. Partly this has been because of a lack of leadership from within the nascent EMETF itself (CGB has always stood or fallen depending on who was at the helm), partly it has been because it was clear the party was never going to give it any money in the first place, which isn’t exactly very motivational. Even the much-vaunted new Equal Opportunities Officer in Cowley Street – which I am to understand will solve all the party’s failure to attract minority groups and women at a stroke – has not been fully financed by the Federal Party (the English Party had to chip in) and has either still not been filled or has only just been six months into the financial year.

What the party does have is a £200,000 ‘diversity fund’ but its funders have given explicit instructions that it must not be used to find, train or develop new candidates. Instead the money will be spent on BME and women candidates who have already been selected. Intriguingly we are to believe that this is simultaneously not a bribe for local parties to select the ‘right’ candidates, nor will it simply be spent on target seats that would get the money anyway. The analogy I’ve heard drawn is Solihull, where we had a female candidate and which was a ‘secret’ target seat. This money then will be spent of lots more ‘secret’ targets and we will only therefore be able to see if it was spent well or poorly after the election. Either way, what it will mean is that the successful BME and women MPs that get elected as a result will have much more marginal seats than their male counterparts. I don’t see this as a recipe for success, but only time will tell.

I don’t just blame the people at the top about this however. The party is a democracy and the complacency runs through it like a stick of rock. The party’s Federal Executive is au fait with it and conference is au fait with it. The party is committed to a uni-dimensional target seat strategy and until this strategy begins to fail (as opposed to under-perform, which I would argue it does), only a minority have an interest in rocking the boat.

The only real alternative is for interested individuals to take positive action themselves. And I have to plead guilty here: I have a long-standing promise to uphaul the Reflecting Britain website and turn it into a proper resource to help find, encourage and develop candidates from under-represented groups but have thus far failed to find the time necessary to fulfil it. Hopefully the fallout from the GLA selection will give me a sufficient kick up the bum to start working on it.

The South – and South West – bias of the GLA selection does give rise to another issue however, and that is a discrepancy in the party’s constitution. The Liberal Democrats are a federal party, and we have always worked on the basis that if you give the large local parties too much dominance over decision making, the party will only ever reflect the wishes of the large local parties. This is why the party has a degressive system for apportioning conference representatives.

The smallest local parties, up to 100 members, have 1 conference rep roughly for every 25 members. By contrast, local parties with 400 members have 1 rep for every 40 members. The more members you have, the more representation you get, but at a diminishing rate. This system has existed since the party was created: selections for list elections are a much more recent innovation.

My question is, why don’t we apply this rule to selecting list candidates for multi-constituency regions such as the GLA list? In recent years, the party has accepted that the gender balance rule in the constitution (that a third of committees must be of either gender – not that this rule needs to be enforced very frequently) should be applied to party lists: surely this would be little more than an exercise in consistency?

It would be easy to do – simply weight the votes from each local party according to size. The ballots are counted electronically anyway, so this wouldn’t be difficult to do (obviously you would have to add a different code to the ballot papers from each local party – again, elementary). It would make the votes of members in our less active areas worth more, but not dramatically so. It wouldn’t be a panacea, but it would mean that campaigning in smaller parties – which are disproportionately in the north – wasn’t a complete waste of time (as a member in Finchley, I never got a leaflet through my door – just a never ending stream of uninspiring emails from people who were clearly too busy in Richmond to help in the Scottish or Welsh elections).

What of the argument that if we want London better represented, small local parties should simply go out and recruit new members? These local parties don’t have the infrastructure which our held seats in South West London take for granted, and the party nationally hasn’t run a vaguely ambitious recruitment strategy in twelve years. Nor is it likely to for the foreseeable future (for the same reason it won’t invest in training and development: see above).

The bottom line is, the party is failing desperately both to look like modern Britain and to deal with modern British electoral systems. We can’t afford to be complacent. It is clearly time I pulled my finger out and started on my Reflecting Britain revamp; what will you be doing?

48 hours, £2,000? No sweat!

Supporting Gender BalanceAt midnight this Thursday, the deadline by which the various Campaign for Gender Balance pledges have to have reached their targets expires. Thus far, we’ve reached 60% of our target and more than £3,000, but need 19 more people to sign up in order to hit our target. Will you be one of them?

The Campaign for Gender Balance, formerly known as the Gender Balance Task Force, has made a tremendous impact over the last 5 years not just in terms of nudging us forward in terms of the number of women candidates in winnable seats, but in terms of their quality. It’s been good at cultivating a “can do” attitude amongst female candidates at a time when, frankly, a lot of people who claim to be interested in seeing more women in Parliament tend to carp by the sidelines and promote a defeatist attitude. The principle behind it is simple: overall, while no-one questions there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of sexism amongst local parties, the fundamental problem the party has in terms of gender balance is that we don’t have enough women prepared to put their names forward. It is a supply-side problem. CGB helps this by going out and encouraging women to put their names forward and provide them with training, mentoring and support.

Could it do more? Yes, lots. It has, however, always been hampered by a lack of funds. Indeed this year, despite the party getting a £200,000 donation for a diversity fund, it has had its funding cut in favour of an alternative approach of encouraging more female and BME candidates by offering seats greater resources if they select one. The jury is out on whether this approach will work (I personally have major qualms with it, both in principle and in practice), but either way there remains a place for CGB.

So, rather than moan about grant cuts, it was decided to go out and do something positive and develop a support fund that is independent of the party and thus less subject to the vagaries of party committees. This is where you come in. While not everyone can afford a fiver a month, most of us can. So how about it?

For me, this is a test, and not just a personal one (as trying to raise 5 grand in this way was my idea in the first place – and yes, I am putting my money where my mouth is). There are lots of projects out there that the party needs to do, but which consistently fail to get funding from the party centrally. While I have been known to occasionally whinge about this fact, and I really do think that overall the party’s priorities are skewed too much towards the target seat campaign (a debate for another time), the bottom line is there are only so many ways you can cut the cake. Projects like this really do need to be self-financing to as great an extent as possible. But is there enough residual goodwill out there to make this possible? We don’t have the same sort of giving culture that is taken for granted to the US, but if UK politics is to survive, we need to cultivate one.

Matthew Taylor (the Lib Dem one) is off

This is a bit of a shock, although perhaps a bit understandable given his recent fatherhood. Matthew’s career showed a lot of early promise but he somehow never fulfilled it. Being stripped of his position as Chair of the Parliamentary Party in 2005 must have been a bit of a blow and Mark Oaten’s experiece may have made him think twice about continuing a Parliamentary career.

But the fact remains that a whole political generation is either leaving Parliament or has been otherwise compromised in the past twelve months. Of course there is Oaten and Charles Kennedy, but Paul Keetch announced his resignation a couple of months ago and Richard Allen left before the last election. Oh, and then there is whatever the hell is going on with Lembit. That leaves quite a few MPs aged between 40 and 50, but only Nick Clegg (who turned 40 last week) and David Laws are generally regarded as “rising stars”.

It may well be that the “rising star” label itself is a poisoned chalice, if you will permit me to mix my metaphors for a minute. Anyone found with one about their person seems doomed to failure.

Getting to the root causes of gender imbalance

The debate over how to make our Parliamentary Parties more reflective of wider society is riven with entrenched assertions, with very little actual data to help inform the debate, so the Campaign for Gender Balance are to be congratulated for doing this little piece of research.

They have found that in the 63 constituencies where the Lib Dems have an MP, there are just 29 approved women candidates. In 44 of these constituencies, not a single woman is on the approved list.

Is it any wonder therefore that we have such a blind spot when it comes to getting female candidates to replace retiring male MPs?

This is even worse when you consider that around a third of the Lib Dems’ total membership is locked up in these seats. In total, the party has around 200 approve female candidates, so you would therefore expect the held seats to have 60-odd approved women candidates.

If every held constituency were to set itself the target of getting just one woman through the approval process we would, at a stroke, massively improve the gender imbalance of our candidates. The experience of the CGB over the past few years has been that just getting a few extra women improved can have a dramatic effect. So how about it guys?

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Gender Balance are trying to raise funds via Pledgebank, Jo Swinson MP, Baroness Walmsley and PPC Sarah Di Caprio have set up pledges to donate £20, £10 and £5 a month respectively with a view to raising an additional £5,000 annual income. Contrary to popular belief, the Campaign for Gender Balance hasn’t received any financial support via the party’s new Diversity Fund; in fact, this year it has had its grant cut slightly. Personally I believe it is one of the most effective, positive and liberal measures any party has yet come up to improve its diversity and deserves your support. Sign up!

Is the A-list really not working?

Some Lib Dem bloggers have been very keen to crow about the reported ‘failure’ of the Tory A-list at attracting ethnic minority candidates. Personally, I’m not so sure we should be quite so triumphalist.

According to the statistics published in the Telegraph today, of the winnable Tory seats that have selected thus far, 5% of candidates have been BME and 39% have been women. This compares to an 8% UK BME population and 51% women. Clearly it isn’t parity, but it is undoubtably progress. And as these are candidates in a party that is resurgent, as opposed to Labour women and BME candidates, they have a real chance of becoming MPs. By contrast, Labour’s all women shortlist policy is liable to barely scratch the surface at the next election as they lose seats regardless of the ethnicity or gender of their candidates.

What the Tory experience has shown is something that some of us in the Lib Dems have known for a long time. For all the anecdotal horror stories about candidates being discriminated against, the real problem is a lack of candidates. Just like white men, some women and BME PPCs are excellent and some are awful. The Lib Dem experience is that, broadly speaking, they get selected in proportion to the total number of approved candidates we have at the time. The problem – which the upper echelons in the Lib Dems are completely disinterested in – is finding and getting more candidates from diverse backgrounds approved. The A-list has done a very good job at artificially narrowing the field simply by knocking 70% of while male candidates off the top list. This approach isn’t ideal as far as I’m concerned, but at least it is tackling the problem at source, unlike most other forms of positive discrimination.

So the fact that Ali Miraj feels discriminated against matters far less to me than the number of BME Tory candidates who eventually get elected. The jury is still out, but the numbers of candidates selected do suggest that progress is being made. Lib Dems should hold their tongues until we have something more tangible to shout about ourselves.

Give Balls the Snip!

Photo of Ed Balls: New Balls PleaseFor some months now, I have been worrying about the fate that is expected to befall that bright, upcoming MP Ed Balls.

Ed, you see, is due to see his constituency wiped out in the next boundary changes. His repeated appeals that he is a Very Important Person and that This Sort Of Thing Doesn’t Happen To People Like Me have fallen on deaf ears. It now looks like he will have to find a new seat if he is to remain an MP after the next General Election.

This presents him with a bit of a problem. You see, the Labour Party is committed to imposing on its most winnable constituencies All Women Shortlists. Ed, however, is not a woman. And of course Labour would never dream of making special dispensation purely on the basis that the person in question is one of Gordon Brown’s bezzie mates. It would be unthinkable. The fact that last time round Ed Balls managed to get a seat next door to his wife, Yvette Cooper, is a pure coincidence and should not raise any eyebrows at all.

I however have come up with a great new plan. If we can’t have Ed in the Commons, what about Edwina? My research tells me it would cost £15,000 for a sex change operation. If we could just get 15,000 people to put in a quid each, all his problems would be solved!

What do you think of this idea? Let me know in the comments, or better yet, spread the word.

UPDATE: I see Guido is promoting this noble campaign. And I’ve now set up a pledgebank page on this, as requested.

CODA (1 December 2014): I just came across this blog post and, looking at it again, would like to apologise for any offence it may have caused. Not to Ed Balls, but I like to think that I’m more aware of trans* issues these days and would not dream of making a crass joke like this these days. I considered taking this down, but considered it to be the cowardly option. So I’m going to leave this here as an occasional reminder to myself to do better.