The wrath of Linda...

Yesterday was the big Make it Happen debate. But as The Yorkshire Guidon asks: Where were all the women?

As Jeremy pointed out in one of his blogs ahead of conference chairs are supposed to take great care to ensure a balanced debate. In fact they are trained in such issues. But yesterday, on the big debate only one women was called to speak on the platform, with only two women allowed interventions, and one of those an MP.

Well, I hear you cry! If women will continue not to put in cards for debates then what can they expect? The Chair told us at the beginning that in the interests of balance in the 'argument' other balance would have to be forfeited. I immediately realised that would mean that it was probably going to be an all male debate.

But why would balance have to be sacrificed? I could not believe in 100 cards there would only be one woman or that all the women who put in cards would be arguing on one side of the debate. That would be just weird, wouldn't it?

Well, this afternoon after lunchtime fringe I bumped into Meral Ece and Linda Jack chatting at the bottom of the escalator in the Conference centre. And Linda, the star, had proof of the imbalance in the cards being called in the Make it Happen Debate. It would seem that yes, there were far more men that put in cards but of those men around 30% got to speak and of the women who put in cards only 11% got to speak.

This makes me very cross; very cross.

But I'm not the only one.

By luck, Linda had put in an advance question on the Federal Executive Report on the lack of information around Ethnic Minority diversity. On her follow up question she let rip! She was fantastic and thankfully Simon Hughes was in complete agreement with her. Duncan Brack, Chair of the Federal Conference Committee has been asked to provide an explanation a report at the next Federal Executive.

Good; because we cannot go on like this as a party. We cannot keep making excuses about our lack of diversity.


Hywel said...
16 Sep 2008, 21:39:00

The BBC chose that moment to lose the sound. Though from the sound of it it might have been the censor :-)

The debates I've seen (MiH and Europe) do have a worrying tendency to only feature "people of stature" within the party speaking from the platform

Only two "ordinary members" spoke in the MiH in that way - and one of them is the party's former policy director.

If I didn't know better I'd say that the only way you could to speak from the podium at conference was if you were an important person and the ordinary members had a second tier method through interventions.

Meral Hussein Ece said...
16 Sep 2008, 23:29:00

Jo: I was going to follow this up as well. I was told by Jon Ball, who was aide to the debate, when I complained to him about this, that 'around 20%' of cards submitted for the debate were from women. No excuses as to why more women weren't called. Jo Swinson and I got ourselves into the intervention seats,ensuring we got called. So at least we got a minute each. Members of the conference committee need to wake up and demonstrate the party's policies and commitment to equality.

Jeremy Hargreaves said...
18 Sep 2008, 22:02:00

I'd make a few points:

1. I think you have a strong point. The lack of women was very striking and it's difficult to believe that more couldn't have been called.

2. That said, none of us have seen the cards submitted so we aren't in possession of the actual facts. I agree it seems likely that the gender balance could have been much better, but we can't really say that without knowing all the facts.

3. The FCC have said they will investigate what happened, and I'm sure this will happen, as it has occasionally in the past when this has been an issue.

4. I think it's somewhat unfair to blame the FCC for this issue - not only did the committee not pick the cards, but the chair of the debate is not even a member of FCC...

5. I would just say that selecting cards and balancing all the many factors, can be really pretty tricky. A chair has much less discretion on speaker selection than people think and although we're here understandably focussing on women, there would also be an outcry if there is not some ethnic balance, geographical balance, and other factors - not to mention balancing speakers for and against different points of view, which surely has to be pretty important. I spent several hours after a debate I chaired talking to some of the 28 people that I had not been able to call, including several MPs including frontbenchers - the point that being important means you get to speak is certainly not true - indeed I was roundly challenged why some much less good or well informed speakers had been called instead of MPs who would indeed have spoken better than them.

6. On intervention speakers - there is no selection procedure for this, you simply go and sit in the appropriate seats in the hall.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
7 Oct 2008, 09:17:00

Hi Jeremy,

Obviously it's taken me a rather long time to get back on this:

Firstly, we are in possession of the facts - Linda had, when I wrote this the break down of male to female cards and the lack of proportionality was clear - the Chair was clearly favouring male cards over female.

Secondly, if the FCC isn't accountable for the Chairs of the debates then who is? He may not have been a member of the FCC but he was still given an incredibly powerful role by them - to chair the big debate at conference?

Nope, I don't accept that it's not really the FCC's fault. I accept that's not what they wanted to happen but the buck has to stop somewhere!

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