‘If the motion is defeated, the headlines will be awful. If the motion is passed, it will get little or no coverage.’
This was the gist of my conversation with Mark Pack yesterday evening on the Lib Dem hot topic of the moment aka the motion on electing diverse MPs being debated at the Liberal Democrat Spring conference next month.
Ladies and Gentleman, I give you Liberal Democrat reality, February 2016.
Gone are the days when a key conference vote was likely to generate news headlines or more likely, leadership speculation!
Success currently means avoiding a roasting by Cathy Newman on Channel 4 News, getting a Lib Dem member to ask a question on Question Time and if we’re really really lucky Tim Farron getting a seat on Andrew Marr’s sofa to foot tap along to the end of programme band.
Reality Check time: The Liberal Democrats have 8 MPs.
The last opinion poll I saw had us on 6%.
I say this as one of the most optimistic, enthusiastic Lib Dem activists around. There is no sign, as yet, that #LibDemFightback is going to sweep us back to power any time soon. The electorate doesn’t owe us anything. We have to earn voters trust respect back if we want them to vote for us at national level again.
It is true that we are clawing back council seats and chalking up some impressive swings. We’ve scored a few hits on The Welfare Bill, tax credits and the refugee crisis but we need to win a big political argument to start making real headway on the long march back to reclaiming the seats and ground we lost.
As things stand, we are a party currently locked in a battle, not for power, but for relevance.
Without a single female or ethnic minority MP to our name we are hardly in a strong position to argue that we’ve done enough on diversity.
As we attempt to rebuild our party and its electoral base now seems to me a sensible time to do an internal MOT and check everything is functioning as it should.
More to the point, now is the time to check we are living our values as Liberal Democrats, something I called for last year.
But I must admit reading some of the online debate on the subject I’ve been wary of sticking my head above the parapet and arguing the case for positive discrimination.
It’s against my principles! It’s just not liberal! Goes the standard Facebook rant.
Last year I reluctantly appeared on a panel at the South Bank to talk about women in politics representing the Lib Dems. Bit of a sticky wicket!
As a woman who’s been active in politics for just over a decade of all the battles I’ve fought over the this is the one I’ve had the least stomach for.
I won my first election in 2006 but I only started speaking out about the lack of women in politics after I ‘retired’ from the Council and had the time to reflect on things. It wasn’t an issue during that time when our council group had a high number of women councillors and an LGBT representation that would embarrass most London councils.
Yet it seems, for some in the party, speaking out on the subject now that I have looked at the party in the way that others see us could have a detrimental impact on my political career. Oh the irony!
But then I reminded myself why I got into politics: to use my voice to make change.
If we are going to achieve full equality men not just women will have to fight for it and vote for it.
Emma Watson was right when she said ‘Men, gender equality is your issue too.’
So while I was pleased to see Party President Sal Brinton and presidential runner-up Daisy Cooper making the running online in forums and such like I’d like more evidence that Tim Farron has done his homework in identifying heavyweight backing from men in the party for his ideas.
This is what happened when Emma Watson spoke out in 2014. After that, it snowballed.
A year later Jennifer Lawrence called out the shocking pay gap in Hollywood after a leaked email from Sony revealed she had been paid less than her co-stars on films like American Hustle . “I’m over trying to find the ‘adorable’ way to state my opinion and still be likable”
Then Bradley Cooper added his voice calling ‘it really horrible…embarrassing actually’ that his co-star was regularly paid less:
‘From now on, Cooper says he is teaming up with his female co-stars by sharing salary information with them before any future films go into production. That way, they will be able to negotiate for a fair amount, knowing what their male co-star will be making. “I don’t know where it’s changing otherwise,” he told Reuters of the Hollywood gender pay gap, “But that’s something that I could do.”
Bradley made Jennifer’s problem, his problem as well.
Where are the Lib Dems’ Bradley Coopers?
Mark Pack has been helping to get the ball rolling in cyberspace.
Activists like Rhys Taylor have eloquently put the case for change.
We need more of that. Not just online, but on the Conference floor too.
It should not be down to the marginalised to ‘sing for their own supper’ and fight for their own equality.
It is not enough for liberals to recognise a problem and wring their hands. They have an obligation to do their part to correct it.
As someone who has the scars from council debates can tell you, putting forward motions means nothing unless you are prepared to do what it takes to win them. Unless, of course, the aim of putting forward the motion is merely virtue-signalling.
I don’t believe that that is the case here with the motion’s movers, but Some members don’t even believe that there is a problem to be solved let alone that they should be personally responsible in attaining one.
Liberal Democrats have the opportunity to put themselves the right side of history with this motion, to demonstrate they are prepared to modernise their processes and structures to help deliver a more representative Parliament and a less exclusive politics in the future.
These changes alone won’t deliver a more diverse polity overnight. We have huge cultural issues to overcome.
However, one thing is for sure, doing nothing will absolutely result in zero change.
The evidence shows that the Liberal Democrats have so far been unsuccessful electing women. It is a source of embarrassment that the Conservatives have more women and ethnically diverse representation.
Members, newly able to exercise one member one vote on policy motions have the opportunity at our Spring Conference to start fixing this.
I really hope we don’t flunk it.