Monday, 15 December 2014

Radio 4 Women's Hour - Female PPCs in the Liberal Democrats

I've just been listening to our President Elect Sal Brinton and two of our best female PPCs - Lisa Smart in my Parliamentary constituency of Hazel Grove, and Layla Moran of Oxford West & Abingdon on Radio 4 Women's Hour.

You can listen to the episode here and the discussion about the Lib Dems is about 26 minutes in.

My own thoughts, following the programme, are that although the Leadership Programme shows we want to do something about the issue of not having a lot of female MPs in the Liberal Democrats - the issue breaks down like this. There are three categories of seats, as it is pointed out in the programme.

Firstly there are seats that are unlikely to be won by our party. It's not really part of the focus here - they can be useful way of any candidate gaining experience - of a campaign involving media attention, hustings and canvassing voters, and indeed even Margaret Thatcher stood in a seat she wasn't likely to win.

The point I would like to make here is that if women are selected in these seats, it gives force to a rather regrettable narrative of "we select women, they just don't win" - it rather misses the point to say this. So, I think it can be useful for candidates to gain experience in this type of seat, but it shouldn't be used against them, or against women PPCs generally.

Secondly, turning to women in development seats - this is useful if the candidate is selected. I thought the discussion in the programme hinged a little on what the candidates could do to make themselves more attractive to the selection electorate (i.e. members of the party) - which is all very laudable but misses what we need to do as a party to change the perception of members regarding women.

With Jo Swinson MP taking her baby to receptions, and the indomitable Abi Bell voting at council level with baby in tow, this is the kind of highly visible participation of women that shows there isn't any barrier to being an effective elected representative and a woman. With regard to women that don't have and/or don't want children, the "baby question" shouldn't even come up - but does again and again. These are the kind of attitudes we need to change amongst members.

On another level, our policies may be good for women, but we could be talking about them more. To finish this point, the recent sexual harassment scandal must never be allowed to happen again, and we must reform the party - including such hard to reach places as the shadowy Regional Parties Committee that has responsibility for such matters - so as to provide a safe space for women. Layla Moran refers to "how the party looks from the outside" and I think this is a wise focus.

The other aspect of women in development seats is ageism. As Paddy likes to remind us, it took him two goes to get elected in Yeovil - perhaps the definition of a "development" seat there. So really, we need to be selecting women to fight these seats with a lot of energy  - I don't want to hear or see comments along the lines of "bit young isn't she?" or "I don't think she's got the experience" - I don't think any of this was said about Paddy as he was building Yeovil up.

Finally, and most importantly, selecting women in winnable seats must be the Holy Grail. We are lucky in Hazel Grove to have an excellent candidate in Lisa Smart, and I look forward to campaigning to get her into Parliament. We've not taken the route here of defaulting to a Head of the Council (although in Stockport we do have the excellent Sue Derbyshire in that role) and I feel sure we have a bright future ahead of ourselves with Lisa as our PPC.

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