AWS is Not the Answer to Liberal Democrat Diversity Woes

The Lib Dems have a problem with diversity and discrimination within the party. We are too white, too male, too middle aged, too middle class and too unrepresentative of the communities we seek to represent. Within the party itself we have a culture where underrepresented groups are spoken over, their views go disrespected and in too many cases members of these groups do not feel comfortable being active members of the party. We are losing too much talent due to a failure to properly encourage members of all groups to participate.

But All Women Shortlists are not the answer. Whilst coming from the best of intentions, all women shortlists will predominantly advantage white, middle class, heterosexual, cis women. I for one refuse to accept that a BME man from a low income family does not face a similar or worse level of hindrance than a woman does. Yet AWS would do nothing to help that person, or many others. Nor will it help a woman who does not wish to seek parliamentary office but would like to be a councilor or stand in internal party elections. This is simply a cosmetic change to the face of our parliamentary party which changes nothing of the flawed party structures beneath it.

Academic research has shown women are less likely to deem themselves competent to stand for elected office even though their qualifications are of a similar level of their male counterparts. Therefore, AWS is focussing on the wrong part of the selection process. It is understandable that the party is channelling its efforts into this part because it is the easiest part to fix. However, we should not take the path which is most convenient; we should take the path that actually fixes the problem in the long term. All Women Shortlists are not the only solution.

Liberal Youth, as voted by conference, has a policy of opposing AWS for the very reasons stated above. We want to present a constructive contribution to this debate and present suggestions that we hope the party will listen to. Our amendment includes a commitment to provide unconscious bias training to party staff and senior party activists. We hope that this will mean senior party officials are better placed to encourage a more diverse selection of candidate at all party levels. This was even included as a suggestion in the General Election review. We also want to give the local parties the power to reserve spaces on their shortlists not just for women but for other under represented groups such as those from the BME community and the LGBT+ community. It is our belief that this will create a richer and deeper diversity to our candidates. It will also force us to be more proactive in encouraging candidates to come from more diverse backgrounds. This approach may require more work than all women shortlists, but it will result in greater diversity. In order to help us achieve this goal, we support the continuation and the expansion of the leadership program. This program did great work in helping more female and other minority candidates stand for election and had the election result been better, we would see a much more representative parliamentary than we had before thank to the program.

This is not a wrecking amendment. It is Liberal Youth, the future of our party, presenting an optimistic and positive change to what is overall a good motion. We simply believe there are are better solutions than All Women Shortlist. Liberal Youth actually want to be at the forefront of tackling deep seated inequality within our party, not just papering over the cracks.

Editors Note: The full text of the proposed LY amendment can be found here.

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