Archive for the ‘lib dems’ tag
All bets as they say would be off.
I am on the record elsewhere as saying I think the Lib Dems will end up at around 3/1 to make the impossible possible and take one of Labour’s safest seats away from them. It would be one of the most sensational by-election swing in modern political history but as it stands they’ll probably fall short. Yet if George Galloway decides he wants to muddy the waters…
In a piece entitled George Galloway may enter race to become Gorton MP in the Guardian over the weekend, a ‘source close to George Galloway’ stated that he was considering standing but had actually been on the campaign trail for three weeks. He believes according to the source that the constituency fits in perfectly with his political beliefs and that, ‘You’re looking at the perfect demographics – big Asian working class community, relatively poor. I think he thinks he can represent their feelings and aspirations.’
Of course should he jump into the race suddenly people will start to paw over just what happened when he swept to a stunning Bradword West by-election win in 2012. He used the turmoil within the local Labour party to his advantage and lets us just look at the local Labour party in Manchester Gorton. Are they in turmoil? Well I think the answer to that would be yes, yes they are.
Now demographically the seat is slightly different to Bradford West but they do share some similarities due to the significant Asian population. The difference seems to be there doesn’t seem (from the outside looking in anyway) the tension that was apparent in Bradford West. This would make it harder for Galloway to use the same tactics as successfully should he decide to run at Manchester Gorton.
What would definitely happen should he throw his hat into the ring is all hell would break loose. The by-election would be played on a different playing field. In all likelihood Labour and Galloway would go at each other and take their eye off the ball. The Lib Dems are already up and running in the seat and their first leaflet shows Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn together in front of 10 Downing Street trying to show that they are arm in arm on Brexit. This is a clear attempt to follow the Richmond Park strategy of this by-election primarily over the consequences of leaving the EU. It worked last year but could it work again in a seat that whilst voting Remain, didn’t do so in the numbers that Richmond Park did?
This is the big question that people are unsure of. Of course one key difference is that in Manchester Gorton the incumbent was a Labour MP. An extremely popular one. Yet in the national polls Labour as a party continue to at best stagnate and in general drop a point or two as Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership continues to stumble along. This would be the first Labour/Lib Dem battle since the end of the coalition and the EU Referendum. It is a free hit for the Lib Dems. They have nothing to lose and a good showing (anything 30%+) would be scary for Labour knowing that they are suddenly in danger of losing many of their Lib Dem gains from 2015.
When it was clear we’d have a by-election I thought that Labour would win but with a severely reduced majority. This makes sense considering in 2005 and 2010 the Lib Dems had very good showings but like it did near enough everywhere, their vote collapsed in 2015. Labour are in the weeds and the Lib Dems suddenly are not as toxic as they once were. Still winning Manchester Gorton should be a step too far unless Labour are totally done.
Yet if George Galloway does get involved then the current 7/1 you can get around on the Lib Dems seems like an incredible price. For the punters it is very much a speculative bet hoping that Galloway makes it official and the price will drop dramatically. You could probably just cash-out for a quick profit. For those looks beyond the odds though, if Galloway is in this then expect the Lib Dem machine to go from being interested to going into Richmond Park to find that kitchen sink they threw at winning that seat and bundling it in the back of a van to go up the M6 and throw it at Manchester Gorton.
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Manchester Gorton is one of Labour’s safest seats if we look solely at the numbers. A majority of over 24,000 coupled with none of the other parties clearing 10% means that is any normal by-election, it wouldn’t really interest politicos. Yet we don’t live in a normal political era anymore and anything can happen.
One of the biggest reasons it was so safe came down to having an extremely popular and long-time MP. As we saw in 2015 for the Lib Dems, popularity and incumbency couldn’t save a plethora of MPs but this wasn’t a problem for Labour here. Sir Gerald Kaufman never had a majority of under 5,000 and never was truly challenged by the Lib Dems. He never even dipped below 50% of the vote. Yet here I am with writing a blog post with the title it has so I suppose I should explain why.
First things first, politics is changing and as I’ve said before as people we are less likely to identify with our ideology at the moment but are more likely to identify with our status on the EU Referendum. Are we remainers of leavers first and foremost? I know I’d still identify as liberal above being a remainer but that sentiment is not the norm these days. This of course may well change in the relatively near future but in the immediacy, that is the case.
Second is the CLP is in complete disarray. There is a good piece in the Manchester Evening News entitled The Labour battle for Gorton, which details some of the issues going on within the local Labour party. Now this isn’t abnormal, this happens to all parties in various places at various times. Still since the rise of Jeremy Corbyn and his radical new agenda of not holding the government to account (ok I’m being slightly facetious here) but since his supporters have flooded in, many local parties are pulling in different directions. They have fierce disagreements of where the party should go.
This leads me to the third reason, what if Labour select a Brexiteer Corbynite? This would be a good place for them to roll out this strategy. It is what a lot of the newer Labour members want. Jeremy Corbyn’s public and private views on Brexit seem pretty much at odds. Publicly he supports staying in the EU but he only seems to bang on about the European Workers Directive as to why. He told Adam Hills when he appeared on The Last Leg that he wanted to stay in the EU ‘seven or seven and a half out of ten’ and that is not a ringing endorsement at all. So why not go with a Brexiteer in this seat?
Honestly if the Lib Dems were to make a staggering (and lets not beat about the bush here – it would be staggering) then it needs Labour to have this strategy. If they put up a passionate Pro-EU voice or someone who isn’t on the ultra left of the party then they should cruise home with ease. However with the way Labour are functioning at the moment, who knows what will happen?
As for how the Lib Dems manage to navigate their way through the Labour carnage should it come about, well it will not be easy. In Richmond Park they threw the proverbial kitchen sink at it, in an ultra Remain area and still only just squeaked home. This though whilst being a 61-62% Remain area (based on estimates) has one very different thing in play, this would be the first time in the post EU Referendum era where the Lib Dems are the primary opponents to a Labour hold. This in itself is going to be enough for politicos to watch what happens closely.
Can the Lib Dems make serious inroads into Labour in Remain areas? This will be the first indication of whether they can or not. The Lib Dems got over 30% in both 2005 and 2010 but saw their vote share collapse after the coalition in 2015. Very quickly we’ve seen those numbers start to reverse. The Lib Dems haven’t lost their deposit yet in a parliamentary by-election since the EU Referendum. They lost it in Manchester Gorton in 2015 but that means nothing for the upcoming by-election.
All logic will point to Labour winning with less than 50% of the vote. The Lib Dems should finish second with over 25% (my guesstimate at this point would be 28-32%) but there is plenty of time to go. Plenty of hoops to jump through. Remember Sarah Olney wasn’t winning in Richmond Park until the final 72 hours as a very well executed campaign came to a head.
If Labour pick the wrong candidate, if Jeremy Corbyn continues to have dire ratings and if the Lib Dems get the right person with a clever campaign strategy then you never know. The party are between 7 and 10/1 around. That seems about right at this juncture but I wouldn’t be blown away if they hit 3/1 before polling day.
This by-election will be far more interesting than the raw numbers suggest…
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Well what do we have here? The most pro EU area of the country has been a rather dramatic change in polling as the Lib Dems polled in the YouGov London sub-section yesterday at 23%, which I think we’d all agree is worthy of a second glance.
For a long time I have held the belief that London would be the most ripe part of the country for the #LibDemFightback to gain serious momentum. The Richmond Park result was huge as overturning a 23,015 majority in under 18 months isn’t exactly chopped liver. I will admit that this by-election had some very localised issues involved and Zac Goldsmith didn’t have the might of the Conservative party machine behind him but he was a relatively popular constituency MP and he went down.
If the party can overturn a 23,015 majority running on essentially a sole ‘Pro fighting Brexit’ ticket then why can’t they do that elsewhere in the capital? Plenty of seats are suddenly in play due to the fact the whole shape of politics is changing. The electorate aren’t stupid and they can see that the Labour party aren’t exactly sure where they stand on Brexit. They have two constituencies, the pro Brexit lobby in the midlands and north and the anti Brexit lobby in the capital and other big cities. They can’t be all things to all people so they will either damage one by going one way or both by standing in the middle with their fingers in their ears.
The party that will pick up those votes – certainly in the capital are the Lib Dems. The membership of the party is growing considerably and at a vast rate of knots in London. Plenty of seats therefore become winnable – far more than anyone could ever have predicted a year ago. As an example I’m looking at Vauxhall. A seat that has only ever had a Labour MP but their current MP is Kate Hoey, who is vehemently anti-EU but she represents an extremely pro EU constituency. A large part of Lambeth is in this Westminster constituency and that area voted 79% to Remain in the EU. When an MP is so out of step on Brexit with their constituents then all bets are off.
If you’d asked me a year ago how many seats do I think the Lib Dems would win in 2020, I’d have put the number at around 20. The stigma of tuition fees would have been diluted somewhat by time and seats such as Cambridge, Lewes and Eastleigh would swiftly return back to the yellow column. Add a few good local campaigns and that 20 mark seemed like a good guesstimate.
Now though with Brexit being the Lib Dems back into the picture as having a strong voice on a matter, add with the fact the Labour party do not have a strong leader nor a strong voice on Brexit and even though we are over three years out and plenty could change, suddenly 40-50 seats isn’t beyond the realm of possibility.
Remember since the party was formed, the Lib Dems have done best in years where the winner of the General Election was generally well known going into polling day. When this happens people aren’t necessarily voting for who they want to be Prime Minister but are thinking much more locally about who they want to represent them.
Back to London though, this could be the start of the new politics that many people think could happen as we start to identify ourselves as Remainers and Leavers and not as Labour, Tory, UKIP, Lib Dem etc… if the party can build on the momentum we have both at local and at national level then a rebirth some the lows of 2015 could happen far earlier than any of us expected.
London isn’t the golden goose but it can certainly be a springboard. 23% of a small sub-section of one poll is statistically insignificant but it is a guide to what could happen. To see the Labour polling number collapsing in the capital and when you add in that for every 2015 voter Labour have lost to UKIP nationally, they’ve lost five to the Lib Dems, then the door might be opening for a big change not only against the Tories in south and south western seats but also against Labour in the big cities.
Everything is to play for…
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Lets not beat around the bush. I am a Nick Clegg guy. A total Nick Clegg guy. I have always been a Liberal Democrat voter but Nick is the reason why I’m a card carrying member. Nothing against any leader before or since but there was something extremely special about Nick Clegg. He could’ve been a great leader of this country but instead it’ll be a generation before people truly understand what they’ve missed out on by essentially nailing him to the cross based mainly on the tuition fees situation and of course some voters believing that working with the Tories in any capacity was treachery.
In the past week we’ve seen much upheaval in the political sphere. A Labour Party held at gunpoint by a leader who has an army of followers but no way to ever win a war at a wider level and a Conservative Party where the big beast expected to be Prime Minister has bottled it after one of the most egregious pieces of back stabbing we’ve seen in modern political history by one of the nastiest and slimiest MPs around.
Amongst all that the Lib Dems have seen a surge in new members, over 12,000 in the past week at last count and having already spoken to a few around where I live in Southend, I was surprised (and very pleased) that none of them so far have had a bad word to say about Nick Clegg. Quite the opposite in fact. This gives me the sense that some of the stigma surrounding the party is starting to evaporate and that opens up big opportunities for the party.
I don’t think its exactly breaking news that I’m sceptical about our leader, not in his convictions, I think on that issue he ticks the boxes but in terms of being at ease in the spotlight and being a natural orator then I think there are still questions to answer. Yet his speech at Conference in 2015 was fast rate, it was passionate, it was heartfelt and it gave hope. The big question now is whether he can make enough waves to get the media attention when the party are now arguably the fifth most important in the United Kingdom political sphere behind the big beasts, UKIP and the SNP.
What the past week has shown though is the Lib Dems now clearly stand for something. They have that headline sign around their neck. The Lib Dems are very much Pro-EU. This means they are pro international business, they are pro the City of London being the heart of the world’s financial sector, they are pro small business. They are pro the freedom of movement of people across the EU, they are pro having an open and tolerant multicultural society.
It is something I think many Lib Dems have struggled with in recent years, telling people via canvassing or leafleting exactly what the party stand for. Did they stand for keeping the Tories in check (which I still think they did very well considering the electoral math against them) or did they stand for just local issues and try to ignore the national scene. The sad truth is national swings will often effect local races when they shouldn’t so I’m always been a proponent of talking about national issues as well as local ones, this isn’t something that has been widely shared amongst some that I know.
Still now is an opportunity for people to join or rejoin the party and the softening of the distrust and dislike of the party by the voters. This isn’t going to change overnight but the Lib Dems now sit at the heart of the centre-left on the ideological spectrum, a position not too far away from where Tony Blair won office in three consecutive landslides from 1997 to 2005.
The Labour Party are in complete disarray, their leader is so far left that they are now unelectable and he can’t even command his own party. Either he goes or his party splits and should that happen and a split Labour Party alliance or amalgamation with the Lib Dems and suddenly the centre-left once more has a party at the heart of it. This isn’t beyond the realm of possibility and in this era of political uncertainty, things move fast and flexibility will be key but the signs are everything is in play.
Over in the blue camp, they are undergoing a leadership contest where it is assumed that a pretty hard-lined right-winger in Theresa May is set to win. Should that come to fruition then she will drag the party away from the centre ground where David Cameron has cleverly put it to win a surprise second term at Prime Minister. With the Tories potentially abandoning the centre, Labour way out left and UKIP way out right, imagine a progressive party sitting in that centre-left spot consisting of non Corbynista Labour and the Lib Dems. Has some real potential no?
Still that is a long way off, for now the Liberal Democrats now have a clear identity. They know who they are and can mix the national scene with local politics once again. The Lib Dems aren’t just Tory-lite or Tory-curbers, they have their own clear electoral platform. Whether they take this opportunity, well we’ll find out in time but as it stands they are the only party in England who firmly want to stay in the EU and aren’t placed on either extreme flank of political ideology.
If you believe in this country being part of the world and not a backwater island, want the country to be a player on the world stage, want to keep down racism and xenophobia and hopefully eradicate it altogether, want to be part of an all-inclusive multicultural society and want the next generation to have the opportunities that we had then at this moment there is one clear political party for you. I’m not saying the Lib Dems are the greatest things since Cherry Bakewells (we’re not) but we do believe in looking forward and not backwards and know exactly what direction we want to take the country in and that isn’t something either the red or blue teams can say at this juncture.
The local elections are over and I’m more free to write about what has gone down and I have to say that whilst it was an extremely poor evening for the Lib Dems (bar the huge win in Leigh) it wasn’t a surprise. I think most people fully expected the party to lose Prittlewell and Blenheim Park, two seats we were defending and not be able to pick up much traction elsewhere. There are reasons for this which it would be unfair to go into in such a public forum but the results in terms of what happened to the Lib Dems went down pretty much exactly as expected.
Whilst the news has finally surfaced that the Conservatives two gains (at the expense of the Lib Dems in the above two wards) helped them into a position where they could run the council (either in coalition or with a confidence and supply, which is indeed now widely reported to be the case with the two UKIP councillors) they didn’t have a great night at all. Beating the Lib Dems in those wards isn’t anything to write home about.
The biggest result for them was hanging on to Southchurch from a strong independent challenge. Had they stolen Belfairs from the Indy’s or managed to navigate through the warring independents in Shoeburyness then you could say they were the winners of the night. As it was they did what they were supposed to do but nothing more. John Lamb may be set to run the council but with a majority of just one (when you take into account the two UKIP members who will back them up) then it is a very weak majority and Southend is in for two years of council struggles.
No the big winner was clearly Labour and this has sweet fuck all to do with Jeremy Corbyn or the Corbynistas. It has to do with the fact their ground game is by far the most superior in the town. They have activists who go out come rain or shine throughout the year and engage with residents. You can have nothing but praise for them.
They held the three seats they were defending by very large margins in seats that were seemingly vulnerable. Cllr. Anne Jones moved wards to try and take out popular incumbent Dr. Vel and did so with relative ease to make Westborough a three Labour ward. However despite these admirable achievements, they weren’t their best moments.
The two results that will send shivers down the spines of the other parties will be Labour finishing a very close second in Prittlewell and a comfortable second in Blenheim Park. The former is demographically horrendous for Labour and they shouldn’t be anywhere even close to taking that seat. The fact they were 78 votes away from winning it is insane.
In Blenheim the demographics are slightly more favourable but still in the grand scheme of things they shouldn’t be outperforming the Lib Dems or the short-term the UKIP factor. It shows that hard work over a significant period of time, coordinated strategy, fielding a strong candidate and a party can perform well above national expectations at local level.
Labour can now legitimately say that they are the party that can stop the Tories in Blenheim Park and Prittlewell. Whether that is true come the next time people are voting in Southend come 2018, it could be another story entirely but as of right now they are clearly the main opposition party.
With 2018 seeing UKIP defending those two seats, whether they stay purple (highly unlikely) or go blue or red could easily be the deciding factor in the make-up of the council. They can easily put themselves as competitive or favourites in six wards going into 2018, only the Conservatives can say they are competitive in more seats.
My last point I want to write about though is strategic cross-party planning. To keep the Tories out of controlling the council (with/without the propping up of UKIP) will likely need some some of cross-party strategy. An agreement to not stand a candidate in a seat or two where they are only going to be paper candidates anyway in exchange for reciprocal agreements.
This is something Labour, the Lib Dems and the Independent Group should at least consider. I know it goes against the principles of certainly both Labour and the Lib Dems who believe you should put up candidates everywhere to give your voters a chance to vote for you but in terms of locking the Tories out and having a center-left coalition instead of a right-wing allience in charge at the Civic Centre, speaking very much in a personal capacity here, it deserves some real thought.
So to recap, a very impressive and deservedly so night for the Labour group. The Tories did what they were expected to do, nothing more. UKIP showed they are very much in decline locally, the Greens ran a nice spoiler campaign to enable the Tories across the town and as for the Lib Dems, well what can you say? A huge and comprehensive win in Leigh and then 16 other results (ok 15, West Leigh was more than solid too…)
Oh hello there blog. It has been a while. What have I been up to that has kept me from writing copious amounts of words being pious on whatever the topic of the day is I hear you not ask. Well the truth of the matter is I just haven’t felt the need nor more importantly want to actually sit here and write. It isn’t like I’ve had a zillion e-mails wondering where I’ve gone either but I’m writing now, but what is the topic that has dragged me back?
Being young, knowing everything and the futility of treading water.
When I was a young I wonder if I felt I knew everything or not. I suspect I probably did. Yet as I’ve grown older I have learned three important things. Firstly that there is far less black and white than what I used to think, instead their are increasing numbers of shades of grey (and not in that quite terrible book/movie way). Secondly that as you get older you gain knowledge and wisdom based on your life experiences far more than I could ever believe when I was young but here is the kicker and most important thing, the third thing I’ve learnt is that the more I grow and learn, the more I realise how little I actually know in the grand scheme of things.
I am sure I used to be cocksure of myself and my place in the world, I may have even felt that I was important and significant when in fact the opposite is true. I am more insignificant than I could ever have imagined when I was younger. This isn’t meant to sound depressing and I don’t see it as such but I have realised my influence is far more sparse than I thought it would be when I was growing up.
Sometimes I sit here and look at the bright eyed young people who have the world in front of them and I am filled with mixed emotions. I will think how many of them will sell out to provide for themselves and their loved ones. Doing a job they hate (or at least not what they wanted to do when they were growing up) but going forward and making their little world that little bit better. On the other hand I look at them and hope that they succeed in making sweeping changes to make not only their world that little bit better but in doing so make the world a better place as a whole.
In terms of politics this is being played out in the Democratic nomination in the US of A. Bernie Sanders wants to change the world and lots of people are buying into that hope. Changing the world requires big thinking and I admire that. Oh my do I admire that. The problem with changing the world is a lot of people don’t want to change the world so its nearly impossible for him to ever do what he says he wants to do. On the other side of the ledger you have Hillary Clinton who doesn’t want to change the world but make small incremental changes to make things better. A less ambitious but more realistic goal.
The problem with hope is that once you don’t deliver what people thought you could then you are savaged and people are more disillusioned than ever before. We saw that here to some degree with Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems in 2010. A surge of popularity and doing things differently but when push came to shove, he couldn’t deliver the big sweeping changes people hoped for and could only make small incremental changes that would either a) makes things better or b) curb the bad things the Tories wanted to do. When you put yourself out there wanting big change and fail to deliver on that hope that people will be hurt.
We are coming up to a year after the 2015 General Election when the Lib Dems got massacred/got what they deserved* and suddenly lots of people joined the party that were to be frank lying on their back like a tortoise with no idea of how to right itself. Have these people who have thrown their lot in with the party made a difference or maybe more importantly, do they feel as though they’ve made a difference?
One man who doesn’t believe so is Josh Lachkovic whose piece Why after a year of #libdempint, I won’t be renewing my membership went live earlier today. Lets not beat around the bush here, in my opinion large chunks of what he has to say is fair criticism. Even I sometimes struggle to understand what the Lib Dems stand for and what platform they are standing on. Maybe the party is still licking its wounds and maybe they’ll (or should I type we’ll?) continue doing that for a while.
I suspect that the plan is to rebuild from the bottom up with starting to claw back the councillor base that has just dried up in the past five years. If people start believing that the Lib Dems are the party who’ll sort the issues that councils deal with that maybe they’ll start being trusted to do the big things. There seems to be this thought that if you deliver x amount of leaflets then you’ll get x amount of votes, I don’t really agree with this notion. You have to offer people a reason to go out and vote for you, a reason for them to believe that you can help make the lives of them and their loved ones better than if they didn’t vote or voted for someone else.
I don’t see any vision or long-term planning with the national party about making the UK a more liberal place. That might be because the party has been decimated at the top and also because the media who have enjoyed (and trust me – they have absolutely loved it) using the Lib Dems as a political football to kick as hard as possible for five years now see little interest in doing so, being irrelevant is even worse than being kicked repeatedly.
Bringing this full circle, this is something that I find sad but also I find doesn’t anger me the way it used to. The fight is gone. I wanted to drag people kicking and screaming into looking at the big picture but too many people don’t want to do that. The party at a national level has been far too inward looking and they celebrated the #LibDemFightback with much pizazz. In the next month or two many of those members will have to make a decision as to whether they renew or not. I wonder how many will just choose to let it slide, it wouldn’t overly shock me if the number is statistically very significant.
Yes the Lib Dems have performed well in by-elections up and down the country. There are legitimate green shoots of recovery but they are very small green shoots and need lots of water and nurture to get anywhere. Every victory is a slog.
As we’ve seen in the US of A, we aren’t in a world where small steps of progression is a political movement people want to get behind. If it was then John Kasich would be waltzing away with the Republican nomination. The people want more extreme people who speak specifically to them and in turn the media will promote these people all the more because it drives up ratings, page views and newspaper sales.
I was once told by someone at the Portsmouth News that if they had a headline on the back page about Portsmouth Football Club then they would see sales rise by 30% that day. The same is true of politics. Donald Trump gets more support because the news organisations fawn over him because he is so outrageous that people want to see what he has to say. Over here Tim Farron is a nice guy who wants to get his message across but his message isn’t as extreme as Jeremy Corbyn or Nigel Farage and whilst David Cameron has no real message apart from ‘winning’ he is the Prime Minister so people want to talk about him and his party as they are you know, in power.
For the Lib Dems to engage with the latent liberals at a national level then they need to find policies that will make the country a more liberal place. I will still contest Nick Clegg was that man. He could’ve been our Justin Trudeau, he really could’ve. Sadly the electoral math and the long established belief in this country of two party politics coupled with the media driven hatchet job and the fact the party couldn’t raise the money of their more established rivals meant that was never to happen.
When I was young I believed I could be anything I wanted to be. As I grew older I understood that maybe I couldn’t. As I grew even older I learned that there are more people who want to drag you down than help push you up. As I continued my path I learned that the amount of absolute right and absolute wrong answers to the trials and tribulations of life are far fewer than I could ever have believed. As I sit here now hopefully somewhere between a half and a third of my way through my journey of life I have learned that there is so much I’ll never know nor even understand but that is ok.
Sometimes I still wish I had the wide-eyed enthusiasm of my youth. I look at these young people with the world at their feet and endless possibilities with a mix of envy and hope. A lot of my hope for radical change in the world has dissipated but maybe they can deliver. One thing they have to realise is hope is a very dangerous thing. Hope gets you hurt and hurt doesn’t go overnight.
Changing the world one step at a time is achievable but changing the world a few steps at a time? Good luck with that. My hope for that has gone by the wayside. It might be time for others to take up that baton and I’ll concentrate my time and energies on issues that are more selfish. My love and enjoyment of politics is at an all-time low but I am not unhappy. Far from it. Maybe I’ll find some hope from somewhere, I can see one or two small pieces of hope bobbing about but whether they come to anything only time will tell. Politics has not be a particularly fun thing to get involved with and whilst the fun and enjoyment was never exactly high, when you couple that with feeling like its futile then you get to where I am and that isn’t ideal.
Life is good. I am waiting to be inspired on a political front but until I am once again then my feet will get less wet than they have previously and do you know what, that is just fine.
*delete as applicable
It has been a good couple of months since I’ve even clicked on my blog link to write anything. I just haven’t had the gumption as I remember no-one really gives two hoots about what I write and I’ve been busy being an NFL columnist elsewhere. Yet the one subject that has always threatened to drag me back kicking and screaming has been the internal debate on All Women Shortlists for the Lib Dems because the parliamentary party is too ‘male and pale’ (although AWS doesn’t even attempt to fix the pale part but still).
It looks likely (has it been confirmed?) that it will be debated and voted on at Spring Conference. It is going to be the most divisive internal debate the party has faced in a long time. You have people who believe AWS are needed to fix the problem at the top and those who believe that AWS doesn’t fix the issue and that AWS goes against the whole ethos of a liberal party. I think it is generally well known what camp I’m in and if it isn’t, lets put it this way, I believe in equality. That should make it clear.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of this, I have been told by more than one prominent female in the party that I shouldn’t be able to have an opinion on this matter because I don’t know what it is like being a woman. Only women know the issues that they face and therefore only women’s opinions matter on this subject. That is nice. I’m sure these women (and others who express a similar sentiment but haven’t told me) haven’t cheered when a multitude of men have come out in favour of AWS. They have instead lambasted them for having an opinion. I’m sure this is exactly what has happened.
Anyway into the issues facing the party on diversity. They are very real and one that the party needs to be addressing. I think the amount of people who don’t think there is an issue (to varying degrees) are relatively small in number and percentile. So the big question AWS looks at is how to fix the problem at parliamentary level. This has speeded up considerably since May 2015. The Lib Dems were left with just eight MPs, all of them white and all of them unable to wear a dress in the House of Commons without violating the dress code.
I have seen many men point to this has the reason for them finally switching over from against AWS to supporting it. The reason that all our MPs are men is enough evidence in itself that there is a problem they say. What these people seem to forget is the total obliteration of the Lib Dem vote in 2010. Total obliteration. The only way any woman had any chance of being elected in 2015 in retrospect is if Nick Clegg or Tim Farron resigned or stood down and a woman was selected for Sheffield Hallam or Westmoreland. This is saying absolutely nothing about the quality of female candidates, but just looking at things objectively.
Clegg was very much the ‘Marmite’ candidate of 2015 and there was a clear Anti-Clegg vote. However on the flip-side many Tories lent him their vote to keep him in. Would they have done that for another Lib Dem candidate? we’ll never know. Also Tim had a huge majority and a lot of that is very much a personal vote, yet there is an off chance the Lib Dems survive without him in 2015 in his seat. The other six holds, the likelihood of a hold without the incumbency bounce is minimal (whether the new candidate was male or female).
So using 2015 as an accurate measuring stick about the Lib Dems and women is like me putting up pictures from ten years ago on a online dating profile, not strictly accurate.
In 2015, many Lib Dem MPs who stood down were replaced by female candidates and none of them won because as history has showed us, no-one was going to make a Lib Dem gain in 2015. The deep rooted dislike of the party was far more widespread than many of us ever thought. Most thought (me included) that people would still vote Lib Dem (certainly in LD/Con) seats as the Lib Dems were holding back the Tories but instead most people actually said they preferred the Tories to the Lib Dems and what happened, happened. David Laws lost Yeovil FFS and look at Eastbourne and Lewes.
So plenty of excellent female candidates were given chances in seats where we were either the incumbent party or were a close second. These women were impressive and were given the candidacy in these good seats without the need for AWS. Going forward even though no seats have formally adopted their candidates for 2020 yet (as far as I’m aware) due to the possibility of border changes, I have noted well known women and potential candidates moving across the country into seats that are going to be considered target seats in 2020. You would assume that they aren’t doing this for fun and that they have a nod and a wink that they are going to be the 2020 candidate.
I think it is fair to say that in 2015, women made up the majority (yes majority) of new candidates in our top seats. The numbers bare (or is it bear) that out. Isn’t that exactly the type of thing AWS is meant to do and we did it without the need for it?
Personally I have always felt the biggest issue facing some women and some men who are looking to progress upwards is the support that they need. Both emotional and financial. To put yourself out there to be a candidate is quite a decision. The Lib Dems as we all know have no safe seats and to win you are essentially putting in at least four years of work for no money with no guarantees. Many will have to move across the country, find new employment and find time to embed themselves into a new community. It is no easy task.
You are basically living two lives within one body, you are a full-time worker to earn money and also a full-time candidate. This is extremely difficult and causes a lot of stress. It is partly why a greater proportion of candidates are of a vintage that have progressed up the career ladder to the point where they have more flexible working hours and are financially more secure than others.
I think that addressing this situation is actually far more key than ensuring that there are some seats that are designated as women only. This help needs to be ensuring that chosen candidates get help to find new work, a strong team around them to help them and of course some sort of financial help to ensure that they can afford to live and be the strong candidate that the party members believe them to be. We need to put candidates into the best position to be themselves as possible. Be the best they can be. This is a far bigger issue for the party to help get younger candidates and those with a less stable financial situation to get involved and put themselves up for key seats.
We can all agree (well ok, only some of us) can agree that we want everybody who wants to put themselves forward to get the leg up and support they need. Former MP for Redcar Ian Swales has written about the issue on LibDemVoice and some of the comments from people on twitter and Facebook make me despair. It is a well reasoned and thought out piece. He points out that plenty of excellent candidates got put in a position where in a normal year for the Lib Dems, they were in places where they could do damage and for some of them, win. 2015 though was an anomaly and we got our backsides handed to us. His comments that AWS is only a solution if women aren’t being selected by local parties is dead right, we all know this, that is obvious but some people still disagree for reasons unbeknown to me.
Going forward this debate will become extremely bitter. People are very much entrenched into their positions. I’ve seen supporters of AWS tell people who disagree that they are sexist for disagreeing with the idea. So someone who thinks that the genders should be treated as equals is sexist and that if you think they shouldn’t, then you aren’t. Sexism has moved on seemingly. This will not be pretty. However it goes down in York some people will be bitterly disappointed and disillusioned with the party. Some will wonder if the party is about equality any more or if they are all about ticking quotas whereas if AWS doesn’t go through, some will call it the old establishment ensuring that women are disadvantaged (because they aren’t being given an extra advantage due to their gender).
It is not going to be pretty. It will help split the party however it goes down. At a time when Labour are in a nasty civil war over the future direction of the party, we have decided it is time to answer whether we are about equality or inequality.
When you have an issue you have to seek a solution. When the solution doesn’t fix the problem then you really aren’t doing much. If women aren’t getting selected for key Westminster seats when they are vacant and have no incumbent then AWS would be a solution. The numbers though suggest clearly that this isn’t the case. the fact we have a 8:0 men to women ratio in the HoC has little to do with internal party wrangling on women and all to do with a disliked party, a poor campaign and a proper shellacking. The optics do suck but they are just that, optics.
I can see why people are passionate on both sides. However if AWS was instigated in 2015, we don’t have any extra female MPs and how many extra female candidates are in key seats? We put up an overwhelming selection of women in seats we held but had an MP standing down and even on the next step down, plenty of strong female candidates were selected. Women are getting selected where they are seemingly the best candidate and isn’t that the key?
Seats like Lewes, Yeovil, the seats in SW London will be top of the tree for the Lib Dems come 2020 and excellent women seem to be the frontrunners for the vast majority of those seats. Excellent. They have seemingly been given the nod and a wink not because the local party were told they could only select women but because they went out and found fabulous people who happened to be women and essentially head-hunted them.
The cream will always rise to the top. If a woman is the best candidate who applies for a seat then they’ll get selected. I do think that the other issue of financial and emotional support is a much more pressing one, to attract younger voices and those who aren’t as financially secure into politics and into key seats for the party. That is a much more liberal way to potentially help open up the parliamentary party to other backgrounds.
Still what do I know, I’m but a man and as I’ve been told, I can’t hold an opinion of this subject because of this fact.
Looks a no brainer doesn’t it? After the way the independence referendum jolted younger people into the importance of politics, then there seems no reason for anyone who be against 16 and 17 year-olds being given the vote, certainly for such an important referendum such as the European in/out one that is being planned for 2017. There is one caveat in my mind though, I struggle to believe that we can view young people as adults or as children at the same age depending on what we are discussing.
Can someone at the age of 16 gamble in a betting shop or have an online betting account? No. Yet at the same age they can buy a lottery ticket. What is the difference between gambling on the lottery and gambling on the horses? You can legally marry at 16, can get a driving license at 17 but you still aren’t allowed to go into the local boozer and buy a pint until you are 18. Surely if we trust people to get married and to drive then they should be trusted with regards to booze and tobacco.
I have real issues with the idea that you are an adult at very different ages depending on the circumstance. Also you have to remember that being on the electoral roll and having the right to vote means one big thing that is often overlooked, you become eligible for the jury pool. Are 16 and 17 year-olds ready to try serious cases when justice for the defendant and for victims is on the line? I have been a juror and in a case of multiple counts of sexual assault against a minor, all the younger people on the jury thought he was guilty, quite simply because he looked it. That was pretty worrying. We found him not guilty in the end but their attitude was worrying. An 18 year-old on the jury didn’t care at all and just wanted to go with the majority so she could get home quicker. This is an aspect of votes at 16.
Today if you were a Liberal Democrat member you I presume got sent a link to a petition about getting votes at 16 from Elaine Bagshaw, the text is below along with this link:
Over seven years ago as a member of Liberal Youth I stood outside our Bournemouth Conference in a wedding dress to protest the fact I could marry before voting. Sadly, not enough progress has been made over the last seven years and 16 year olds still can’t have their voices heard through their votes.
This week, our politicians are debating whether to give 16 year olds the right to vote in the European Referendum – a referendum David Cameron has described as “perhaps the most important decision the British people will have to take at the ballot box in our lifetimes”.
If this is the most important vote the British people will have to take, then 16 year olds need to get to vote in it. It’s not right to deny them their voice – especially because 16 year olds can leave school, get married, join the military and become a director of a company.
Liberal Democrats want to allow 16 year olds the right to vote. Will you stand with us and sign our petition to ensure that everyone’s voices can be heard?
I actually agree with Elaine and swiftly put my name to it but it has to be part of a wider look at how we treat young people. They can work full-time and pay tax at 16 but can’t say a say into who gets to choose how to spend that money until they are 18, they are clearly unfair. This whole mish-mash of when we look at people and see them as an adult or a child is just bonkers to me.
It is true that we grow up and very different rates, some 14 year-olds are more adult-like than some 21 year-olds but we can’t put people through individual tests to decide when they are an adult, that would be wrong so we have to find an age where we look at people and say, now you are considered as an adult in all forms, that you are old enough to gamble, to drink, to smoke, to vote, to pay taxes, to be a member of a jury, to have sex, to be tried as an adult. I don’t know what that right age is but I think the current system has such a grey area that it doesn’t help young people or indeed parents.
If that age is at 16 then so be it, if we raised the age when people had to be in full-time education to 17 or 18 then I’d be fine with moving the voting age with that but when push comes to shove, if you can work full-time and be out of education, then as society we are saying that you have the right to go out into the world and make your own way. Part of that process should be the ability to vote. I don’t think this is as slam dunk as many others but for now I think voting age should be linked with the end of forced full-time education and that is why I am for votes at 16 at this current juncture
This really isn’t about the Lib Dem position on Syria but more about the hysteria from the membership about our position. This evening Nick Clegg (this is apparently another bone of contention) announced/was on Sky News and said that the Lib Dem MPs would be backing the government proposal to join with our allies in bombing on ISIL targets in Syria.
I’m in a strange position here as I essentially have no position on what we should do because I quite simply do not have enough information to form a considered opinion. What I do know is these MPs have more information than I do and and therefore in a much better position to form an opinion than myself. I would also contend that they have more information than most (if not all) Lib Dem members but as I’ve found out, they all know many things, apart from those who don’t, but they are wrong.
Recently on this very blog I was called many names and told I was uneducated because I had an opinion on something. On that subject I had far more information on which to form an opinion because that is what I do. I form opinions on subjects based on the information at my disposal, those opinions are fluid depending on learning more information. Therefore my opinion can change but unless I have at least some information then I find it hard to form an opinion on a subject. Others seemingly don’t have that problem.
Over on Lib Dem Voice, the comment thread underneath the article on this news is quite something to behold. I’ve also read elsewhere of people who are seriously considering their positions within the party and whether they can be associated with the party any more. I find this puzzling, I really do. There is a difference between ideology and the real world and if you don’t believe that there is then no wonder some people are perpetually disappointed.
Next up the whole fact that Nick Clegg spoke on it, seriously why is this a fucking issue? Tim is said to be writing to all the members as I type and that e-mail could well be in my inbox before I post this. Nick Clegg is one of only eight MPs we have and if Tim wants to go and write his letter to the members then so be it. I’m surprised some people haven’t got annoyed about the fact it was on Sky News.
As I’ve said already, I have no real opinion as I don’t have any information but here is what we do know. We know that these are bad bad people. They have already murdered Brits, they have murdered allies, they have murdered their own, they take young women as sex slaves just because it makes them feel powerful. I think we are all in agreement that a way is needed to stop them, whether that is air strikes who knows? The fact is probably none of us do but we elect representatives to parliament and ask them to listen to their constituents, their party and their own conscious to make decisions for the good of the people of this country.
Military intervention is part of the world and unless we want to turn a blind eye to atrocities that are being done around the world and become a complete isolationist country then it will continue to be part of the United Kingdom. Whether it is right or not in this case isn’t clear (and trust me – it isn’t) but people revolting, leaving the party and such just for getting involved in military action (and heck, we’ve been involved in military action in Iraq and Afghanistan for ages) seems bizarre to me.
As Brian Paddick just tweeted, ‘V difficult decision with no “right answer”. @LibDems parliamentarians debated the issues, respecting different views, rightly not in public’ and he’s right. There isn’t a right answer, there isn’t a wrong answer. We can’t see into the future, it is drawback of the human mind. All our MPs can do is discuss and debate the situation with the information at hand and make the best decision that they can. I wish it was a cut and dry issue with a clearly defined right and wrong answer but it isn’t. I trust that our MPs are good people, I’m actually extremely confident that they are and they won’t have made any decision in haste without careful consideration.
Making decisions is difficult as I was typing that sentence, Tim’s letter was passed on to me. You can read it in full below. Having just read it I don’t think it will soothe the concerns of some of the party but I do believe it to be sincere and honest, which is all I could personally ask of him. Being an MP isn’t easy and when you actually have to make tough decisions, it is much harder than when you don’t actually have to make that decision.
I still have no real position on air strikes in Syria but I’m willing to trust that those with more information have a better idea of what might be the best course of action, one thing I certainly wouldn’t back is to sit back and do nothing, which I fear many people would back until terror hit UK shores and that would not be right.
The rest of the blog post is Tim’s letter:
When the government asked MPs to support military action in Syria against Assad in 2013, I refused to provide that support. I was not convinced our intervention would be effective, nor that it was fully backed by a diplomatic effort to establish a lasting peace, nor would it prevent more suffering than it caused.
In response to that deep-rooted scepticism last time I wrote to the Prime Minister last week, together with Nick Clegg, Paddy Ashdown, Ming Campbell, Kirsty Williams and Willie Rennie, setting out five principles against which the Liberal Democrats believe the case for military action should be based.
It is my judgement that, on balance, the five tests I set out have been met as best they can at this moment, and I will therefore be voting in favour of extending our operations to allow airstrikes on ISIL in Syria.
I have written in more length about how I have reached my decision below.
I am well aware that many in the party will disagree with me. I hope that, even if you cannot support me, you can support the approach I have taken, and recognise that I have taken this difficult decision after the fullest consideration.
ACTION AGAINST ISIL
Having considered the five principles I set out last week, having read the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report and the government’s response, having listened to the Prime Minister’s case for action, having listened to impassioned arguments for and against supporting military action from inside and outside the party, I am clear that this conflict is very different to Iraq in 2003 and I think it is important I explain why I believe that.
THE ILLEGAL WAR IN IRAQ
In 2003 a ‘dodgy dossier’ was used in an attempt to convince us that Saddam Hussein represented an imminent threat to international peace and security. In 2015 there is no dodgy dossier.
Instead, ISIL murdered 129 people on the streets of Paris. In restaurants, at a concert, on the pavement, those killed could just as easily have been here in Britain, in London, already a top target for ISIL.
This is before even considering how ISIL is threatening the security and stability of Iraq, a sovereign nation that has requested the help of the United Nations in protecting itself.
Unlike 2003, ISIL’s evil is apparent to the world in the beheading of journalists and aid workers for a worldwide audience, the rape and enslavement of tens of thousands of women, the summary execution of gay men and women, its brutal occupation of vast tracts of Iraq and Syria, and the terrified exodus of humanity we see in refugee camps from Lebanon to Calais.
THE UNITED NATIONS
The role of the UN Security Council should matter to us. In 2003 it was impossible to secure support for a further UN resolution to legitimise action. It was the crux of our argument against the illegal Iraq war.
On this occasion, the UN Security Council has not simply supported a passive resolution, it has made an active call for action “to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”.
UNSCR2249 was passed with the support of France and without objection from Russia and China. As members of an internationalist party that has placed great store on the framework of international law established by the United Nations, I urge you to read the text of that resolution which can be found here.
I would also ask you to consider that Article 51 of Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter provides countries with the right to take military action in collective self-defence.
Iraq has asked for help in defeating ISIL, now commanding its operations from Syria. Just earlier this month, ISIL launched a savage attack on our closest neighbour and ally in Europe. We know, too, that so far this year seven terrorist attacks by ISIL against the UK have been thwarted. ISIL is a direct threat to the UK, our allies and to international peace and security. We are being dishonest if, already engaged against ISIL in Iraq, we pretend that inaction now in Syria somehow makes us safer.
In 2003 there was the thinnest veneer of international support for action in Iraq. In 2015 there is a wide-ranging coalition of nations who are committed to the eradication of ISIL, including states from the region who understand the threat ISIL poses to their security and stability. Those same nations recognise that it is crucial there is a strategy for Syria beyond air strikes.
In 2003 there was no thinking about the post-conflict situation in Iraq. The result was a disgraceful corporate free-for-all that paid no heed to Iraq’s infrastructure and prioritised corporate greed ahead of reconstruction.
It is not just Iraq we should learn from. Similar criticisms have been levelled at the UK and her allies over Libya and Afghanistan. In 2015 we have a diplomatic process in the Vienna talks aimed at ensuring the world remains engaged with Syria through this period of conflict and beyond, supporting the Syrian people to rebuild in a post-ISIL, post-Assad Syria.
Earlier this year I went to Calais. More recently I went to Lesbos. I saw young children exhausted and terrorised as they’d made the dangerous crossing across the Mediterranean. I heard through an interpreter a terrified seven year old boy’s first words as he landed on the beach from his rickety life raft: ‘Daddy, are ISIL here?’
I saw elderly women huddled beneath thin blankets as the evening came to the camp and the temperatures dropped below zero. I saw broken and desperate people who had witnessed horrific things in their own communities including the murder of loved ones. They pretty much all had one thing in common: they were fleeing for their lives from Syria and Iraq and in particular from ISIL.
So I came home from Lesbos and I angrily tore in to the Prime Minister for his callous refusal to take any of these desperate refugees. I proposed that we take three thousand orphaned refugees from the camps, and that the UK plays its full part by accepting others. I am personally enormously moved and angry about the plight of these desperate people, who want nothing more than to return home to a Syria and Iraq that is safe and stable and where they can live the lives they wish to in their own country.
Airstrikes alone of course are not going to resolve the hugely complex political situation in Syria. But I am clear that unless something is done to remove ISIL from Syria, from where it is coordinating its actions, there is no hope of progress towards that goal of a safe and stable Syria. And there is no hope for a home for refugees to go back to.
Of course I have tremendous concerns.
I have pressed these directly with the Prime Minister. I believe it is critical that the Gulf states are vocal in their condemnation of ISIL. I believe much, much more must be done to cut off the funding and supply routes for ISIL.
I think that we have not paid enough attention to the way in which extremists here in the UK have been funded.
It is imperative that everything possible is done to minimise the likelihood of civilian casualties.
I have been crystal clear that the future of Syria, after any action, must be at the forefront of the minds of all those asking for support for airstrikes, here in the UK and also amongst our international partners.
I realise, too, there is great uncertainty over the ability to command and control disparate ground forces which will be necessary to hold territory recaptured from ISIL inside Syria. All of these are reasons to question action.
None of them in and of themselves are reasons not to act.
AN UNCERTAIN FUTURE
There is no doubt that military action means diplomatic failure, and the formation and spread of ISIL is the ultimate display of our failure as an international community over the last five years.
We cannot undo the mistakes of the past, but we have the chance now to take action against an organisation that cannot be reasoned with and that does not obey international borders.
There is no quick fix solution for dealing with ISIL, nor is there an easy route to peace and stability in Syria, and it would be wrong of me to pretend otherwise. The military action we are supporting is just one part of a long process that will be needed to make that happen.
I cannot promise you that this will succeed. What I can promise you is that in supporting this action, in no way am I giving my unreserved and uncritical support to the government.
I can promise you that we will be holding the government to account on their strategy, that I will be ensuring that they continue to act in the national interest and in the interests of the millions of Syrians and Iraqis who deserve a stable home in a peaceful country.
The Prime Minister has set out what I believe is a comprehensive motion which gives us the ability to take action against ISIL in Syria and also restates our commitment to a long term solution in Syria. Those of you who disagree with this decision may find little comfort in this, but it is my commitment to you as leader that if at any point these objectives are no longer possible I will not hesitate to withdraw support.
I am instinctively inclined towards peace. I am deeply sceptical of the ability of military action to achieve positive political outcomes. But I am not a pacifist. Just as I was proud to stand with Charles Kennedy against the illegal war in Iraq, so I was proud to stand with Paddy Ashdown as he was a lone voice calling for military intervention to stop the massacres in Bosnia and Kosovo.
As a Liberal Democrat I am an internationalist. I believe in acting collectively with our friends and allies, and in responding to threats to our security within a framework of international law. I believe that our decision-making should be governed by what we consider to be in the long-term interests of the UK.
I believe we should not take action without considering the long-term objectives of that action for Syria. And I believe we have a moral duty to the people living in the despair of Calais and Lesbos, who want a secure and stable future in Syria, to take the necessary steps to attempt to bring that about.
It is my judgement that, on balance, the five tests I set out have been met as best they can.
I believe it is right to support a measured, legal and broad-based international effort to tackle the evil regime that has helped trigger the wave of hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees, fleeing for their lives.
I will therefore be asking my parliamentary colleagues to join me in the lobby to support this motion. I am well aware, too, that many in the party will disagree with me. I hope that, even if you cannot support me, you can support the approach I have taken and recognise that I have taken this difficult decision after the fullest consideration.
Needs is the key word in the title.
The first by-election of the 2015-2020 will be called following the sad passing of Michael Meacher MP, who died this week following a short illness. He had been a representative in the House of Commons since 1970 and had always been an MP of them seat (and the seat under its previous boundaries and guise of Oldham West). The result of the by-election itself should be a straightforward Labour hold, although no doubts UKIP will have their eyes on the prize but in reality Labour should triumph here with relative ease, therefore this won’t be the first real referendum on Jeremy Corbyn or on the Conservative government.
For the Lib Dems this is a seat where they’ve never finished higher than third and never really been in the game in win it as it were. In the 1990s, the party were the kings of shock by-election wins as people protested against the major parties before returning home during a General Election. These days a lot of that protest vote goes towards UKIP, so I don’t think the party should be expecting much here but that doesn’t mean the party should be ignoring the by-election. This is a good grounding for Lib Dems in the local area to get back out of the streets to promote liberal values.
Jonathan Fryer over on LibDemVoice has written that the party must take the by-election seriously and I agree with him. I certainly wouldn’t be advocating an open cheque book in the attempts to pull out something surprising but a good well run campaign seems like a sensible approach.
One key will be finding the right candidate. I have seen multiple Lib Dems saying on social media that the party needs to find a female candidate because our current line-up of eight male MPs looks bad. Whilst I would agree with the second part of the sentence, selecting a woman for this by-election is highly unlikely to change the make-up of the Liberal Democrat parliamentary team, no matter how much we’d like for it to do so.
In 2015, the party chose only one man in a seat where the incumbent was standing down, in every other situation the party chose a woman. I’m not sure the fact the parliamentary party was all but wiped out can be laid at the feet of not having enough female candidates. I’m not sure deselecting Clegg, Farron, Mulholland, Lamb, Brake, Carmichael, Pugh or Williams and replacing them with a female candidate was ever truly advocated by people, yet in all likelihood that is what would have had to have happened for a woman to be selected as a Lib Dem MP in the 2015 General Election.
So I think looking back at the campaign and the gender breakdown our our representatives on the green benches and blaming the party as being sexist or not fair to women is pretty harsh. If we select a woman here and she doesn’t pull off the upset of all upsets then will people still call the party sexist for not having a female MP?
I’ve always advocated the best candidate for the job as being the bottom line. If it is a man, a woman, I don’t really care. If they are gay, bi or straight, I don’t really care. If they are white, black or of other regional descent, I don’t care. If they are atheist, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh etc. I don’t care. I think you catch my drift. All seats at all levels will have better or worse candidates, some people just don’t fit in an area, some are already well known locally. It all comes down to individuals.
Yet having said all this, this word ‘optics’ is a key one. The optics of the Liberal Democrats is not good on this front. The optics won’t change after this by-election, certainly not from the outside, yet maybe the internal optics are just as key? I think that whatever the decision it won’t change much as we have to wait until a by-election in a Lib Dem winnable seat. Should Edinburgh West go tits up then that would be a seat where the Lib Dems could feasibly win a by-election but if that did come up, Mike Crockart would seem highly likely to be the candidate having been the disposed MP in May.
Richmond Park though is probably the key. There was no sitting MP in 2015. A by-election is very possible for 2016 should Zac Goldsmith win the London Mayoral Race (which he is very much in) and although he had a 19,000 majority, political parties traditionally do not do well when they are defending a seat in a by-election. It would be a tough win for the Lib Dems but it would be very much possible. This is a seat where the lights would shine bright for the party and the optics would be glaring. Getting women as candidates into winnable seats is far more important than the likes of Oldham West and Royton.
To answer my original question, no the party doesn’t need to field a female candidate. It would probably be preferable for most people but deep down it won’t make too much of a difference in how the party is perceived on this matter. Now getting female candidates in seats where they can win, that is another story entirely. The party has many impressive women who would be excellent candidates (and indeed many men as well) but just putting females names on the ballot won’t solve a damned thing. Getting women the right experience and putting them in the right situation is the key.