Getting better at catching the rule breakers…

What Derek Conway did, in defrauding the tax payer, was wrong (obviously); he broke the rules but there is no need to change the rules as a result.

We don’t need to ban politician’s families from working for them…indeed it is one of the few areas where the valuable contribution that spouses often make to the careers of ambitious people is actually given a value. If someone is doing the work, they should be paid for it…it doesn’t and shouldn’t actually matter what their relationship to the employer is.

If someone breaks the rules, the fault will be down to their dishonesty and a lack of proper application and scrutiny of those responsible for enforcing the rules.

But the current media reaction: 'the rules must change!' happens all the time; a rule is broken, we are all aghast and then there are calls for the rules to be changed! Why? The rule itself works; it is its application that wasn’t working. But then changing a rule is easier and cheaper for those in charge then actually making existing rules and legislation work.

It is a particular disease of the Labour government but we in the Liberal Democrats are just as bad. When a number of local parties were struggling under the weight of potential candidates recruiting ‘phoney members’ to skew the votes towards them in selections instead of getting the returning officers, the local party and membership services to enforce rules that were already in place1 to deal with this phenomenon, we banned new members from voting in parliamentary selections for the first year of their membership. This, in the case of the recent list elections in London disenfranchised about 25% of the membership from voting. So much for our much vaunted one member, one vote!

Creating new rules instead of enforcing ones that are already there is at best sticking plaster and at worst throwing the baby out with the bath water. Just like disenfranchising a quarter of our membership, banning family members from working for MPs would punish those who work twice as hard as a non family members and serve their community as much as their spouse does.

1That is, the requirement on local parties to ‘agree’ to new members – which they can only do if membership services send them the details of their new members in time.

Increasing voter turnout the democratic way....

This really interesting posting from a Clinton activist (thanks to Duncan for having the feed on his website) goes to prove that the most exciting thing about this Us nomination race is the impact that the diversity of the candidates is having on ‘hard to reach’ or ‘never reached before’ voters!

According to NewHampster out of the 10,000 votes polled where she was campaigning that day 1,000 were registrations on the day…and from her experience of being on the ground these were mainly women. Not women who had switched from Clinton to Obama and back again at the first sight of emotion but women who had not intended up until that point to vote.

She also describes the Obama crowd that came in to vote around midday as looking like “the line for a rock concert”. Would that any polling station in the UK ever had a line, let alone one that looked like that for a rock concert!!

If this isn’t a lesson for all those concerned about voter apathy not to realise how important diversity is then I don’t know what is! I am finding it all just so exciting!

Diversity isn’t just a ‘good thing’ or the ‘right’ thing to do - it will get us more votes, more councillors, more MPs, more AMs, MSPs and MEPs!

How are we going to attract more women and ethnic minorities to join us and ensure that as a party we reflect the people that we seek to represent? So that in future elections in the UK we reach the thousands of young men and women who are currently don’t see the point of voting? And crucially how are we going change ourselves to attract a more diverse group of people?

Women come out for Hillary!

So, it would seem, from a quick review of what's being said, that Hillary's win in the New Hampshire primaries is as a result of women coming out for her in the last few days. This is confirmation that in politics gender certainly matters.

And once again, I ask myself in a country where women make up 52% of the population why we don't take more electoral advantage of those women who do put themselves up for a selection; particularly in target, by election and vacated held seats. As Lib Dems we may not think the gender of the candidate relevant but it looks like voters do. Even in the UK there is a 2% increase in female turnout if there is a female candidate (and a neutral impact on male voters); 2%, well, that can make quite a difference at times, can't it?

You see, although I do think that diversity is 'a good thing' in it's own right, I do find the fact that diversity helps win votes an even more compelling argument for having more of it!

Lynne in her blog post this morning can almost be heard sighing over how far equality has to go if male BME MPs are having to defend their choice of Hillary vs. Barack lest they should be seen as disloyal. Lynne looks forward to a time when colour or gender doesn't matter when choosing a candidate, when all that matters is whether they are the best.

Well, I think that's wishful thinking. Firstly, because I believe that for the vast majority of voters the decision of who to vote for is intuitive and a response to an engaging political narrative or (and this may be the same thing) an identification with the candidate. It is rarely a rational assessment of the pros and cons of the candidates skills set and policies, so hankered after by us political activists.

Secondly, even if voting wasn't such an intuitive matter that still leaves us with the problem in defining best; this is entirely subjective. It may be, if I had a vote in the US elections, best for me that I vote for a woman who has experienced all sorts of below the radar prejudice herself and is conscience of all the invisible, non legal hurdles that women have to climb even to compete in the workplace, for example. That would be quite logical for me, I guess.

And to prove my point, If I did have a vote in these elections I would be voting for Obama...for the intuitive reasons outlined above; I have completely fallen for his political narrative. That doesn’t mean though, I would be outraged if Hillary got the nomination.

However, what is most exciting is how riveting the democratic nomination process is this year!

As someone who is much more interested in the issues that politics has sway over rather than the game itself, this is the first time that US politics has captured my imagination. And it would seem from the increased turnout that it has captured the imagination of many voters in the US who previously couldn't give a fig for primaries!

It surely can't be that the idea that, if the Democrats win, they will either be putting a women or a black man into The White House for the first time, has nothing to do with it? Imagine if we had such diversity at the top of politics in the UK, might not that lead to a resurgence of interest in politics that we Lib Dems could capitalise on?

What sort of people do we want to be our candidates?

"We could avoid so many of these problems if we made it clear to all people who join us that they are expected to prove themselves by years of hard work on the ground before being put into positions of responsibility".
So says Martin Land in response to Cllr Faraz Bhatti’s defection to the Tories in the North West.

I don’t want to get into a particular discussion here about diversity, representation or even defections here but instead question Martin’s assertion that anybody wanting to be an elected representative should have to undertake ‘years of hard work’, (by which I presume he means focus delivery), before being allowed into a ‘position of responsibility’; it doesn’t seem clear whether positions of responsibility refers only to being a candidate / elected representative or does it also include being an organiser or party treasurer or the person who organises the local fund raising events?

But it got me thinking; is that what we really require of our candidates? That they are the winners of a humungous ‘I’ve delivered the most focuses ever’ contest? It seems to me that we required candidates even in 2nd tier seats (or whatever they’re now called) that they give up everything else in their life, sacrifice their career, their family and time with their friends in order to just get selected for the seat. In the last election one of the Tory websites estimated that it costs a candidate an average of £40,000 to stand for election in a non-target seat.

I am worried that we are making being a candidate such a frightful experience, such a hair shirt, that we are putting off all sorts of really good people. Whether they are male, female, white or minority ethnic, people who are talented will inevitably tend to have more than one choice of how they make some difference to their community and their country.

Over the last couple of years I’ve seen a number of people, who would make excellent candidates and even better MPs, take the decision that the sacrifices that we Lib Dems require of them is not worth the eventual reward. We expect our candidates to be working at full tilt from one year to the next perhaps over 2 or 3 electoral cycles – that's 12 years out of someone’s life! Or instead they make a decision to go for list elections rather than first past the post, as those place less focus on the individual and are therefore easier to sustain over a period of time.

Many, many of us enter politics to change the world and talented people will be offered many routes to changing the world; being a Lib Dem elected representative will only be one of them. It will not necessarily be a lack of determination or character that makes them turn away from us and choose to do something else with their life. It might be a view that they can be more effective somewhere else. And then they are gone, and we’ve lost them.

If you make being a candidate a function of time served, or focuses delivered or postcode then what you will get it is focus deliver who has been around the longest, in that ward and who has nothing better to do. There is a difference between being the best person for the job and being the one who wants it most (although it is wonderful when those two things coincide, which happily they often do).

I do think it is important to be committed to a cause and time served of course indicates a commitment. But we need to get our heads around that we don’t have hordes of highly qualified people queuing up to be candidates; the only place that happens is the target constituencies and wards. We need to really think about what are the most vital qualities of our candidates. Experience too is important, but experience can be gained elsewhere and transferred; in fact I think that is a good and very healthy thing.

I also think we need to do some work around the role of agent and organiser; Mark Valladares has already made a plea for creating more than one ‘career path’ in the party; in fact in fact, if you have a super duper, experienced and organised agent then to have those qualities repeated in your candidate is unnecessary; I think this is very much the model used for by elections. Or perhaps (tongue placed firmly in cheek) we could think of people running on double tickets of Agent & Candidates!!! (!!??!!) There's much to be said for making 'stars' out of agents as well as our candidates.

Good, talented, hardworking, committed people will have a number of choices; it is unlikely that the Lib Dems will be the only people that have spotted their talent. Their bosses, other voluntary organisations, their friends and families will all be offering them opportunities to make the contribution to society that they seek. We should not fool ourselves into thinking that they need us more than we need them.

Campaign for Gender Balance Blog Awards & James' Meme

James very kindly asked me to complete his meme just before the Christmas Holidays; I'm back, so here is my answer, now updated with favourite non Lib Dem female bloggers!!!

Favourite Blogs:

Urgh…there’s just too many that I like. But here’s my three!

Charlotte Gore: I am deeply interested in her chosen topic of political narrative and love the fact that she blogs to engage in good natured discussion and not just to bark her opinions at the world; quite a skill! She has excellent insight and judgment and isn’t scared to leap from the logical to the intuitive and back again!

Blunt & Disorderly: A bit intermittent with the posts but I really like the fact that she’s clear that feminism isn’t a dirty word and she blogs on some really interesting topics which are not picked up elsewhere on the Lib Dem blogosphere. She’s tipped me off on some very interesting articles which have got me thinking and blogging and for that I am very grateful.

Lynne Featherstone: We share an interest in home affairs and the horrors of the DNA database but one thing I’ve always enjoyed about Lynne’s blog is how it demystifies the process of being an MP and is a great role model to women thinking that formal politics isn’t for women!

Best Blog Posting:

Jo Anglezarke
with this for understanding that to open a debate rather than giving a lecture makes the blogosphere such a great place to be!

Alix Mortimer, has many, many good posts to choose from but this one was a particularly fun and imaginative!! But then, maybe I am just really boring too……

Linda Jack has many postings of this type and I am glad that she keeps banging on about it.

Favourite non lib Dem Female Bloggers

Pandemian, Dulwich Mum (just how tongue in cheek, I don't know...I suspect not at all!!) and of course, Philobiblon, who write about all sorts of interesting things and is also the founder of the Carnival of Feminists (which is a feminst equivilant of Britblog Round Up) and is fantastic, but not technically a blog so can't be nominated.

Women I’d like to see blog but don’t:

My good friend Lindsey Brummitt, because she’s smart and witty but doesn’t believe me when I tell her!

If Mariella Frostrup has a blog then I’m unaware of it but I really enjoy her insights on Openbook.

I’m not sure if this is allowed but I would have loved it is Linda Smith would have written a fantastic blog! And she was a humanist!

I will update with non Lib Dem female bloggers that I like…there’s far, far too many to choose from!

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