Tuesday, 31 March 2009

AWS: My Tuppence Worth

Three years ago I wrote this:

Why am I a white, middle-class male supporting the latest initiative by the Liberal Democrats
to encourage more female and ethnic minority candidates? The answer is simple, the supporters and people who vote for our party are diverse, in fact they are as diverse as the people who make up our country; even in West Lothian with a small ethnic population this is true. We need, as a party, to truly represent that community and multi-cultural.

A quick scan down the list of names supporting the three leadership candidates shows anyone just how diverse our party is. Look at the number of
councillors who names betray their ethnicity and of course their gender. There are people out there who already hold elected office, who know what being a politician is all about at local level. Why are they not coming out to stand for key and target parliamentary seats? As a party we are making inroads into urban seats where the greater proportion of our ethnic communities live so these seats are targets and some of the most diverse.

The candidates and elected representatives who have come through from the initiatives of the Gender Balance Task Force are a sterling example that this focus is producing good, no make that great candidates. This work can continue and be expanded to aid ethnic diversity and balance as well.

Will it be harder for us white, middleclass men to get selected? Definitely, but that only means that we too have to lift our game. In other words the cream will be rising to the top; and when that happens with high calibre candidates of all genders and ethnic origins we will have a team that is ready to govern Britain. Surely that is something we can aspire and look forward to.

Now I've not been drawn into the Scottish Blogosphere debate on All Women Short lists, until now but Mrs Tactical Voting making a rare trip into the Political scene made a very strong point.

The problem is very simple. You can never give power to anyone. They have to take it. If it is given it is still the giver that possesses it and the one that controls it. Women cannot and most of all should not be dependent on men to give them power.

We should take it. Take it in a way so that no one can say that we don’t deserve it or we didn’t earn it. Because let’s face it, we do deserve it, we do earn it and we do not need anyone to give it to us as if we were small children with our hand stretched out hoping for candy.

Isn't that just what a certain Margaret Hilda Thatcher (nee Roberts) did? Isn't that what the late Benazir Bhutto did? And Tansu Çiller and Golda Meir and Angela Merkal amongst others have done? Both of these women rose through the mysogeny of a male dominated world, is Ms Bhutto's case even more so in a rigid Islamic state.

But yes each of the women listed above had to work harder than any male colleague to get to the top. That is sad because it is the perception of voters both male and female that is keeping good women down. One of my female commenters recently commented that the actions of cartain men in the political sphere's behaviour was one reason she was disillusioned with politics as a whole. The whole adversorial nature that our election system throws up makes it hard for women to engage in the process (having said that some of them are good at it). Is it the system of winner takes all, both in selection and then election that makes this so?

Having been a Lib Dem activist or supporter since I first signed up at freshers fair 21 years ago I've often found myself voting for committees or shortlists looking at what is a fair representation of skills and experiences. My top preferences in those STV situations always go to achieve that sort of balance. Being the sad anorak that I am I keep a note of most of those votes I notice that my trend is to knock men who have pretty much a guarnateed position on such committees way down the list (a bit like a reality show I'm sure others will vote for them) and boostering the strongest women and ethnic candidates higher up the list than I would do (all other things being equal). It doesn't always work mind but I still think that all women short lists is the wrong way to go, just as having parishes in the CofE having flying Bishops look after those opposed to women vicars is wrong.

Yes women candidates, as with ethnic minorities (something most of the bloggers have ignored) have to work at it, still. But I'm proud that the only woman on my candidates approval day Katy Gordon is standing in the Glasgow North seat. Yes our party has given her support and training which us blokes are not eligible for, but not an AWS. She is a worthy candidate who deserves the chance and position she has acheived nobody can deny she has got there on her merits either, but like many of our other female representatives she has had to do that little bit more work, the end result is that unlike many of the Labour MPs who take their electorate, or LCP, for granted she never will do.

If you are guaranteed a chance to shine in an AWS somewhere why bother challenging for a tougher seat? Why lock horns with the men? The end result is unpreparedness to take them on once elected, feeling out of place and like many of Blair's babes, many of whom came off AWS you drop out soon after. I'd argue they aren't the best preparation to get the best out good women candidates, far better to give them the support and training to face the challenge head on and as Susan Dalgety says over on Kez's Soapbox "The electors [of Rwanda] chose women candidates over men." over and above twofold the quota system that they introduced. They ceased their chance time for our woman to do the same, then I might join Jeff reading Good Housekeeping.


  1. Stephen, I think you and I must be in a different political party!

    The complaisance in your post is mind blowing!

    As you look further and higher up the party (you know the bit where the actual power is) it gets more male, more middle class and more white.

    You're point about ignoring the issue with ethnic minorities is a good one but just look at the isse with women, which is not nearly a big a problem as that with ethnic minorities - 40% of our membership are women, 25% of our candidates, 25% of the speakers at conference, 14% of our MPs, 12.5% of our MSPs and 9% of those sitting on the Chief Officers Group.

    I often find myself sitting on groups and committees where I am the only woman!

    And frankly as someone who has gone and waded into this pond, both in the party and in her professional work, I find no pride or kudos at having to be twice as good as the men to get just as far.

    Isn't slightly patronising to suggest that the only women and ethnic minitories worthy of power are the ones that are twice as good as their maile counterparts?

    As as for not giving people power - do you really think those with power, long established power, are just going to stand aside? No, you have to pull their fingers of it one by one and I don't think that should be left for each individual woman or ethnic minority to do by themselves.

    That is not equality of opportunity!

    Anyway, you keep going with the idea that everything is all right and we're all on the right track as see us voted out into the wilderness because we do not look like the rest of the country.

  2. Jo sorry I think my thoughts may have been somewhat miscontrued. I wasn't suggesting that only the women or ethnic minorities that work twice has hard have the right to be there. Sadly the pioneers have had to be, and that doesn't seem to be changing much. I think the Rwandan example that I linked to however proves what can be done. Maybe it is because I haven't been around the Federal Party for a while, whereas in Scotland both the chair of Policy and Conference committees are women, most of our most influencial group leaders also.

    I honestly do wish that our representation at all levels does increase. I glad that the leaders of most of our largest council groups here in Scotland are women. But at the same time upset that only Jo is one of our MPs and that 3 of the 5 target seats have male candidates good though they are all are. Heck I was even heavily involved in getting one woman just 405 votes away from the Portcullis of Westminster in 2005. Someone I'd earlier selected as first preference for the Parliament list because she was the best person for the job, ranking her ahead of the evetual elected representative.

    You are right that sadly that change is having to come one by one. But do we really waste talent and experience for the sake of resolving this, that is an separate issue. It is also something that under FPTP we may never be able to address as we really do need to fight to hold every seat we already have. Sadly here in Scotland we did gain one new woman MSP whilst losing another excellent one in the lobsided constituency contest against Alex Salmond.