Yesterday we went to a lunch party and the conversation turned to the electoral prospects of the fifty odd LIb Dem MPs and how many the LIb Dems may lose if you believe Peter Kellner’s prediction at the Lib Dem Conference Fringe in Glasgow this year that the Lib Dems are going to become a party with around 10% of the vote in future years and gone for some time are the heady days when we can count on 20% of the vote. Of course, Peter Kellner may be wrong and it may not be that bad but I do think not to at least countenance such a drop in support at a General Election would be a tad over optimistic.
It was pretty depressing listening and looks like it would leave us with a grand total of zero female Lib Dem MPs. A parliamentary party that is 100% male and 100% white. Wow! And given the inroads that Labour and the Tories have been making in recent years to increase their numbers of women MPs you’d have to conclude that a collapse in the LIb Dem vote will result in a better gender balanced House of Commons.
The thought of belonging to a political party that has no female representation in the Commons, well…I don’t think it’s really sunk in. I find it shocking and then just angry when I think of all the opportunities that we’ve had to put women into our least vulnerable seats (Eastleigh, anyone?) and for various reasons didn’t. Because something else was always more important, that we just had to win this one, go for a safe bet of a candidate, go for someone local, wait another year or so, or whatever other reason that has been given as to why now is not quite the time to finally start delivering on real equality of power in the party.
And now? And now it looks like it’s a little bit too late because the few women that the LIb Dems do have are in the most marginal and vulnerable of seats and they will likely be gone. Oh, yes, it is so very hard to increase the number of women when you’re losing seats, isn’t it? Except that the LIb Dems could have seen it coming, we could have mitigated against the risk by making sure we had women in safe seats (Eastleigh, again, anyone?) even years ago when we were on our winning streak. ‘Cos lets face it, if you don’t sort this stuff out when you’re on your winning streak, then you sure as hell aren’t going to sort it out when you’reheading for the new electoral landscape that we seem to be.
Yet no one, no one in a position of leadership has done anything that has made a blind bit of difference, not once, in the 15 years I’ve been a member of the Liberal Democrats, the 10 years or so that I’ve been active and the 6 odd years that I’ve been writing about the lack of equality in female representation (and power) in the Liberal Democrats. Lots of good words and hand wringing but no actual action.
The Liberal Democrats have lost so many good female activists over the Rennard debacle and sidelined others when they could have chosen to give them safe seats in by-elections. And what are these women doing now? Well, because so many of them are really good people they’re off doing new and exciting things: leading the organisations they work for, sitting on the boards of major campaigning organisations, being fast tracked in their career, etc, etc because they’re good. Good people have choices and they’re not going to hang around where they don’t seem to be wanted just waiting until the party gets around to thinking that equality of power includes it’s female members as well as the voting public.
So come June next year, when the party sits surveying more lost councillors and many lost parliamentary constituencies and the likely probability of no female MPs, will that be enough to kick it into action on gender equality? I am not holding out much hope. Why would the mixture of complacency and incompetence that has been the hallmark of the party when it comes to gender representation to date change? Because, you know what the priority will be? To win seats back and we’ll all just have to be pragmatic about it, won’t we? And gender equality will, like all the other markers of power imbalance in Liberal Democrat MPs, be required to take a back seat until we’re back in the race again. Or when we get Proportional Representation. Or something. Just as long is we understand that now is not quite the time.