Gender Balance Blog Awards: a short listing…

It has taken me quite a while to pop the little button up, on the sidebar, telling visitors to my blog that I have been shortlisted by the Gender Balance Blog Awards in the category of best blog posting by a female Lib Demmer.

There are two other categories, best blog by a female Lib Dem and best blog by a female non Lib Dem.

You can vote for your choice for the best female Lib Dem Blogger here.  In true Lib Dem style is seems to be done on STV, which is cool because it saves you having to leave someone out!!! Please do go and vote, the nominations really are very good and they well deserve a read if you haven't got around to it yet.

I'm really dead pleased to have been shortlisted, especially with a posting on a topic so close to my heart.

James Graham, on his analysis of a years worth of Lib Dem Voice
Top of the Blogs the other day that the most read or most popular blogs where not the same as the ones that we liked the most, judging my the difference between those in the top of the blogs top 20 and those that were nominated as good reads. All I can say is that I'm very glad that it is my posting on what MPs should look like, rather than my two most read (which were gossip and a whinge), that has been shortlisted.

I am now off to spend the next 10 days or so practicing that perfect 'I'm really pleased for the person who won in my nomination category' smile, like they have to have at the Oscars!  Although why I think this is necessary I'm not sure, as I've lost enough selections and elections by now to be up at the 'unconscious competence' stage; that's doing it without even needing to think about it!

I'm not really a big fan of the stiff upper lip.  I say we should have less of the stiff upper lip and I have to admit to not always displaying it myself.  What's the point?  Why try to make out that you care about nothing when in fact you care about a lot of things very much! I think I should just stick with my 'conscious incompetence'. Sorry, I'm digressing....I'll be good as gold, I promise.

So, I am very happy that the judges agreed with some of my nominations, as I nominated at least one of each of the shortlisted bloggers in each category!  I think celebrating female political blogging is a great thing and I hope it encourages many more women to come and blog in the Lib Dem blogosphere and not be put off by being, so far, an overwhelming minority! That I am part of that celebration is great and frankly I'm as happy as pie already!

Hooray; again today!!

A really fantastic start

Some days you hear something and, rather than just rolling your eyes and then having to go off to 'ventblog', you can smile and whoop for joy about progress. It doesn't happen very often, as if I thought the world was just going swimmingly and I could leave the people in charge to get on with it, I wouldn't actually be involved in politics at all.

The last time I felt such optimism was when I heard about the sensible effort of Ram FM in Israel; but now it is Turkey and it's efforts to produce a progressive Islam by having another look at the Hadiths.

This is fantastic, because it is in the Hadiths that the majority (although not all0 of the more misogynistic rules that blight the lives of so many women. In fact a blight on many men's lives as well.

This is a great start and I commend the brave people who have got the government of Turkey to take this move. Maybe there are cynical reasons behind Turkey doing this but, hey, on balance I think it is a good thing. Islam gets a lot of bad press that it doesn't deserve but not all the practices that we condemn countries like Saudi Arabia for are just cultural, some of them can be found in holy texts.

It's just the start and like the reformation will take many years to truly percolate through society. There will be battles ahead but it is a start!!! A start!!!

One of the commenters (is that a word?) in the BBC Have Your Say web site, says this:

"When will the world's people stop believing in fairly tales that were dreamt up thousands of years ago to control the masses and start thinking for themselves?"

Of course, I don't believe in god and religions either but I rather suspect it will be a while yet before I am joined in that belief by the majority. In the meantime I will find great hope in the fact the we are at the start of a very long journey that will make millions of men and women free from the misogyny and cruelty that can be found in so many of the Hadiths.

Hooray; what a day!!

Tories court women and the F-word is impressed. Lib Dems say…

…well, to be honest, not very much, or at least not much that I could be find.

The Tories on the other hand have managed something I don't think I for one thought would ever happen. They seem to have pleasantly surprised Lynne Miles over at the F-word with their report on women's issues. And if they can do that with a bunch of women who identify themselves as feminist, think what they can do with the average female floating voter! OK, so it's not a call to arms by the F-word to vote Tory, but she hasread it, analysed it and has found:

'…as a statement of intent at this stage I can find far more that I like about this document than I don't like'.

Which from someone, like Lynne, whose admission that she does not consider herself a natural Tory is kind of like the understatement of the year, is enough to raise my eyebrows!! Clearly, it'll be a while before the Tories win Lynne over (!!!) but then not all female floating voters 'aren't natural Tories'.

In fact, if the US Democratic primaries are anything to go by, as a constituency, women's support is vital if we are going to make the breakthrough to 150 MPs in the next two elections.

So, why is it, that we do absolutely nothing to court such a powerful and, let's face it, easily identifiable constituency or, should be say, market segment? Or is it just my perception that we're not doing anything?

In an effort to look at what we put out there, rather than what the papers chose to report I looked at our own website as that is at least one place that we have total editorial and marketing control over.

During February out of 142 news items posted to the Lib Dems site we only found time to say two things about women specifically one statement by Sarah Teather on the strong action required to tackle the gender pay gap and Lynne Featherstone and Lorely Burt on the 90th anniversary on women's suffrage. That's 1.4% of our press releases listed on our own website.

However, we did find time to list releases on such vote winners, with of course significant potential constituencies that surely rival the constituency of, oh, just over half the nation, such as rogue parking companies, tube unions, fluoridation in water, football ticket touts, Tory proposals on lottery funds, two stories on ambulances, government casino policy, the Rover enquiry and Hill Farmers.

Of the two press releases we did manage to get out both were reacting to something, rather than proactive, the first on the publication of a report and the second on the 90th anniversary of women's suffrage. Looking in the Lib Dem main site search results for women it seems that we generally do need something like International Women's Day to say anything at all! And the press releases we put out didn't really say anything very interesting at all, probably took less than 3 minutes to write and well, I'm not exactly surprised they didn't get picked up in the press.

Of course, that's not to say that none of our other releases are on topics uninteresting to women, not at all. But given there is so much going on now, not least the impacts of the local government pay equalization, you'd think we wouldn't wait for some big anniversary or centenary to say something to women. We need to move our communications strategy away from, to use a corporate analogy, communicating our different products to everyone and working out what is of interest to different markets/constituencies.

We seem to be able to cope with this idea when it comes to geography, why can't we seem to get our head around it when it comes to other demographies?

To be fair (or maybe to just stick the knife in deeper) from the look at the variety and patchiness of press releases it doesn't look like we've got any real marketing strategy at all. There are a few notable exceptions re: Northern Rock, Brian Paddick etc. There is much room for improvement, some of which will hopefully come out of the Bones Commission but in the mean time, I think addressing our policies and talking to 'women', bearing in mind the influence they can have on votes, wouldn't be a bad place to start. Oh, and speaking as a well educated, successful and politically aware woman, I wouldn't find it patronizing at all! Oh no!

You know, to return to the corporate analogy, we have a great product (our policy), with a really good distribution channel (our campaigns) but no bloody marketing strategy at all!! If we don't sort this out then we can hardly look surprised when all the female floating voters go trooping over to the Tories without considering us a viable alternative.

Comment is Free contributors may well be able to write, but they don't all seem to be able to read very well....

Grrrrr! Is it me, or if you are going to be given a platform on something as well read as Comment is Free, might it just be a little bit reasonable for you to check your facts before launching into an attack on what somebody is suggesting?

A while back, Brian Paddick spoke about making public transport at night more women friendly by putting guards on certain trains late at night. He was reported as saying such in the Guardian which reported it as 'women friendly'? That's not women only, but women friendly. The article goes on to say that:

"...the designated tube carriages would aim to offer a safe environment for women and old people, but would be open to everyone".

So that's not segregation, just a suggestion of some people that such a policy might benefit.

Yesterday, Cath Elliott wrote a Comment is Free Post railing against Brian's proposals. Although she mentions the carriages as women friendly, she goes on to spend several paragraphs arguing against single sex carriages suggesting that that is Brian Paddick's proposal.

You know, it wouldn't have taken long for her to look up Brian's Transport Manifesto to see what he actually said; it took me, oh, 3 seconds.

I happen to agree with her about single sex carriages; they are a terrible admission of failure and her concerns about them are all fair and valid. But that's not what Brian is suggesting!!

The Comment is Free piece was written a whole week after the article in the Guardian; was she so lacking in inspiration that she had to misrepresent Brian's policy in order to write an analysis of why single sex carriages are wrong?

You know, I went on the Reclaim the Night march last November and will no doubt be going on it this November, so I'm with the programme, so to speak. But it really is irritating to have such a strong analysis of why women should not be pushed to the margins in the face of sexual violence based on a suggestion that nobody had actually made!

It's lazy journalism and lazy thinking.

Obama and the women's vote

Early on in these primaries it seemed quite clear cut, Hillary had the women’s vote and because there were enough women, she was winning the race to the Democratic nomination.

All the US commentators are now saying that one reason that Barack Obama is pulling ahead from Hillary is that the women’s vote is abandoning her and has gone to vote for Obama. Now, I know women don’t vote as a block etc, etc but there are significant amounts of movement in voter’s demographics to see a trend that aligns women and voting intentions.

This new development does seem to be flying in the face of my pretty strong defence, yesterday, of identity politics as a rational way forward. Having slightly sophist tendencies I have been for some days now putting this move towards Obama as a result of his wooing of female voters and the attention his campaign has paid in the last few weeks to them and matters of interest to women voters. I mean you would, wouldn’t you if you were looking at your campaign strategy? I still think this is the case.

However, here on the CBS News website Elizabeth Cline does an interesting analysis of the young female voter and the fact that it is them, as far as anybody can tell, that are voting in increasing numbers for Obama. So what makes a young female voter make different decisions from an older female voter?

“College has become one corner of American life where hardworking females are consistently and fairly rewarded, and they are succeeding there, to a much greater degree than their male counterparts. It's possible, maybe even likely, to graduate college with little sense and zero experience of institutionalized gender discrimination -- with almost complete freedom from the type of covert, daily setbacks that drive blacks to the polls for Obama and older women to vote for Clinton.”

This resonates with me. I can’t say that I left University with no feminist consciousness. I identified myself as a feminist before I went to University the roots of my feminism going deep, deep into my upbringing and experiences growing up (or at least, watching the experiences of the women around me). Whilst at Aberystwyth, studying International Relations, I took courses on feminist theories of international relations and indeed that was where I got a grounding in the various feminist political theories which allow me as great an understanding of them as I have of say liberalism or fascism. I arrived at University a feminist and left a slightly better educated one!

But I will say that at University I had never felt or had any personal experience of discrimination myself – although I had seen it, especially, weirdly, in the Drama Department; despite there being many times more women in the department than men, the plays used for people’s practical examinations tended to have very strong male roles and hardly any substantial female parts at all; rather concerning if you are trying to achieve a 1st or even a 2:1 by playing the third washer woman from the right! But, I am digressing…..

No, it’s only as I have got older that I have become more and more aware of the under the radar, structuralised, many faceted, drip, drip, drip of barriers to women’s progress and equality and, indeed, have experienced them myself. And I consider myself one of the lucky ones, one of the least oppressed women on the planet!

It makes me sad that it’s the case, but I think as you get older and come across these barriers, you do get to understand that no matter how you think the world should be theoretically, in fact, it isn’t like that! As Cline says:

“…the advantage women have in college quickly slips away in the working world. Women get paid a lot less than the men they graduate with, no matter how much extra work or hours they put in. One year out of school, women working full-time are earning 80 percent of what their former male classmates are making, according to a 2007 study by American Association of University Women Educational Foundation. And this fact hasn't budged over the past ten years -- despite the advances women have made on campus”.

The positive thing is that when you do have a meritocracy, which people believe in, then they do start to drift away from identity politics, as can be seen in, what Cline terms, the ‘girl-positive’ environment of college and/or University. But out in the real world where there’s power and money at stake, not just good grades, it’s not so ‘girl-positive’ and the identity politics and an understanding of how the world really does work drifts back in. Cline summarises:

“Young people are going to continue to impact this election in unprecedented ways -- a force of history that leaves me simultaneously in love with young people's fervor and optimism and unnerved by their lack of interest in Hillary. For the candidate, the parallels between college and the real world are striking. She has worked hard and done what's expected of her, but may very well get passed over by a less qualified guy when payday comes”.

Identity Politics:can we ignore it?

Identity politics makes liberal democrats nervous; understandably, because as liberals we believe that every one is equal and it is the principle, the processes, the policies that count rather than the colour of our skin, our gender or our sexuality. Liberalism is about universalism. As Stanley Fish makes an argument in his NYT regular ‘Think Again Column’

“The history of liberalism is a history of extending the franchise to those who were once excluded from it by their race, gender or national origin. Although these marks of identification were retained (by the census and other forms of governmental classification) and could still be celebrated in private associations like the church and the social club, they were not supposed to be the basis of decisions one might make “as a citizen,” decisions about who might best lead the country or what laws should be enacted or voted down. Deciding as a citizen means deciding not as a man or a woman or a Jew or an African American or a Caucasian or a heterosexual, but as a human being”.

But Fish goes on to argue that you can define identity politics in two ways. First is very simple tribal identity politics, the he or she looks like me, looks like they’d go to my church /golf club type of tribal politics; the form of identity politics that owes nothing to rationalism and is abhorred by all liberals. But there is a second, rational form of identity politics that is based on common interests, Fish goes on to explain:

“Because she is a woman as I am” is of course a reason, but it is not a reason of the relevant kind, a reason that cites goals and programs, and argues for them. But suppose what was said was something like this: “As a woman I find government sponsored research skewed in the direction of diseases that afflict men and inattentive to the medical problems faced by women, and it is my belief that a woman president will devote resources to the solution of those problems.” That’s an identity politics argument which is thick, not thin; the she’s-like-me point is not invoked as sufficient unto itself, but as it relates to a matter of policy. The calculation may or may not pan out (successful candidates both disappoint and surprise), but it is a calculation of the right kind.”

This is similar argument that I made a few weeks ago , my belief in the necessity of diversity is based not on the shallow basis of colour or sex but on the fact of different experiences which give people a very different view of which problems that need to be solve dare the most important and how it is best to solve them.

I’ve pointed out in previous posts the massive increase in engagement by previously disengaged groups in the US primaries is clearly due in some good part to the diversity of the candidates, in the democratic if not in the republican race and that voting for someone on the basis of identification with them, that is, whether they’re black or female is an entirely rational thing to do; and I only observe in passing that it looks like white men have been doing exactly that for years!

OK, so this is all going on in the states and they’re different to us, aren’t they? Well, if you think that you’re being more than a little na├»ve.

I believe that we ignore diversity at our peril and if we continue to play just lip service to it then, for all our fine Liberal Democrat policies, we will find ourselves identified as an irrelevance by voters. For me, diversity has benefits in it’s own right however, what I think about that pales into insignificance when looking that the role that identity politics is going to play in elections in the future, whether we think it should or not. And if you think that Labour and the Tories haven’t noticed what is going on over in the States with regards to identity politics then, really, think again. Some of us, although not me, may well have to hold our noses but sooneror later, if we want to stay in the game we’re going to have to learn how to play it.

The danger of unfulfilled aspirations

When I was just out of University I spent the lion’s share of my time for a couple of years in the Middle East. For half of that time I was in Egypt, a country that I now have a complex love hate relationship with. I have been there so many times for so many reasons and when Dahab was bombed in 2006 I made sure that I holidayed there once again to make my small individual contribution to supporting the tourist industry that the bombers were attempting to destroy.

I love the people of Egypt; they have just the best sense of humour and are incredibly engaging company but it is a complex country and for all the investment into holiday resorts like Dahab and Sharm el Sheik I don’t see much improvement over the 14 years I’ve been visiting the country in the quality of life and the future for Egyptians.

The view from the red sea may be rosy but it is a country where the people live without meaningful political freedoms and plenty of political cynicism, where a command economy keeps people at University studying subjects allotted to them by the state and where the waiting list for a graduate job is six years; something that this article I found in the New York Times yesterday, confirmed is still the case today, no matter that Egypt receives £billions of aid from both America and the European Union.

What does this mean in practice? Well, I had a friend in the early nineties who had a diploma (they would call it a degree in Egypt but it isn’t recognised as such in the UK, by UK Universities) in Agricultural Engineering. But there weren’t any jobs in Agricultural Engineering, so he went and did another years study so that he could become a teacher and then when he applied they just said ‘well that’s very good, we’ll put you on the waiting list we’ll be in touch in about 6 years’. So, he came down to Dahab to work in one of the tourist bazaars there. And now, I find that my friends’ experiences are still being played out across Egypt:

“Education experts say that while Egypt has lifted many citizens out of illiteracy, its education system does not prepare young people for work in the modern world. Nor, according to a recent Population Council report issued in Cairo, does its economy provide enough well-paying jobs to allow many young people to afford marriage.

Egypt’s education system was originally devised to produce government workers under a compact with society forged in the heady early days of President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s administration in the late 1950s and ’60s.

Every graduate was guaranteed a government job, and peasant families for the first time were offered the prospect of social mobility through education. Now children of illiterate peasant farmers have degrees in engineering, law or business. The dream of mobility survives, but there are not enough government jobs for the floods of graduates. And many are not qualified for the private sector jobs that do exist, government and business officials said, because of their poor schooling. Business students often never touch a computer, for example”.

And the aid money from the European Union? Well, don’t worry too much because the road that links Dahab with Sharm el Sheik, the one where you will pass maybe 10 cars in an hour’s journey is having an extra lane each way built! I swear I cannot work out what the purpose of building this extra lane is or what an utter waste of money it is; I tell you, it makes Transport for London look positively sensible!

The article makes the connection between poverty, the inability for the educated middle classes to find work, let alone the illiterate to find work, to be able to marry and the retreat of the young into conservative religion that is being made as a result. And whilst I don’t find the way Galal Amin frames it (not being one to like the idea of ever accepting my ‘lot’) particularly palatable, unfulfilled expectations should be a cause for alarm:

“But more widespread access to education has raised expectations. “Life was much more bearable for the poor when they did accept their social status,” said Galal Amin, an economist and the author of “Whatever Happened to the Egyptians?” “But it is unimaginable when you have an education, to have this thought accepted. Frustration opens the door to religiosity.”

If an individual woman wants to wear the hijab then it is not my place to suggest she can’t but it saddens me dreadfully to see the massive increase in the number of women in Egypt wearing a head scarf. When I was there in the nineties in the towns women covering their hair were in the minority; now, you can more or less assume that if you see a woman’s hair it is because she is a coptic Christian. That the country is becoming more conservative and more religious cannot be in doubt.

The frustration has been there for the last 14 years at least. For me, in my early twenties, the realisation that my Egyptians friends would never be able to come and see me in my home was a disappointment. Worse for them was the knowledge they were unlikely to be able to ever leave Egypt, because even if they could save up the money for the flights they would be highly unlikely to get a tourist visa. Just imagining not being able to get on a place to travel to more or less any country of my choosing brings me out in hives! For them, it was and still is a reality and the implications of that will ripple out to all of us.

“It brings us closer to God, in a sense,” Mr. Faragallah said, speaking of the despair he felt during the years he searched for work. “But sometimes, I can see how it does not make you closer to God, but pushes you toward terrorism. Practically, it killed my ambition. I can’t think of a future.”

His parents built him an apartment so that he would not have to wait to marry. The apartment has been empty for years, though now, at 28 and with his new job, he said he hoped he could support a wife.

“I tell them, my friends still in university, not to dream too much,” Mr. Faragallah said one day while sitting on the balcony of the empty apartment he hopes to one day share with a family”.

Too pretty to manage?

Here’s a dilemma for somebody as vain as me!

Or perhaps I’m just falling prey to 36 years of socialisation that tells me that the most important thing a woman must be is attractive ? And if you don’t think such socialisation exists then may I just point you to the furore over Hillary Clinton’s ankles!

From the well respected New York Times columnist, Nicholas D Kristof comes an op-ed piece entitled When Women Rule. It’s an interesting article suggesting the proportionately women monarch’s have done a far better job of ruling than men and that democracy just allows for the imposition of prejudices, where, however well they do or don’t rule they are perceived as being worse than men. All well and good and just my sort of reading material. But here is the paragraph that caught my eye and then led to a good 90 seconds of panic!

Clothing and appearance generally matter more for women than for men, research shows. Surprisingly, several studies have found that it’s actually a disadvantage for a woman to be physically attractive when applying for a managerial job. Beautiful applicants received lower ratings, apparently because they were subconsciously pegged as stereotypically female and therefore unsuited for a job as a boss”.

So there I am reading away, musing on the, for the time being at least, hypothetical prejudice that I may or may not receive when I rule the world when I am brought right back down to earth in a manner not seen since the special effects on Life on Mars (or something similar) by the realisation that he’s talking about me, as I am, in fact, a manager, a serial manager, a serial senior manager and have been a boss for an increasing number of men and women!

Aaargh…..this means…wait for it….that I cannot be that attractive…(breathing now into a paper bag) because, because…..aaargh!

And there you go! I’ve fallen for it! Even as I try so hard to out on equality for women and feminism , my socialised brain is still trying to conform to society’s norms!

Let me tell you, there’s a rock over there a hard place over here in this world of the feminine feminist!!! Anyway, I have since convinced myself that it doesn’t apply to me because 1) senior though I am, there are a few more rungs of the corporate ladder above me (where all the unattractive women are, of course!!) and 2) I’m self employed, have effectively got off the corporate ladder and all the rubbish and prejudice that goes with it!!

The photographer who took my picture at the top of my blog remarked at one point that I was rather like a younger, blonder Delia Smith. Let me tell you, I was not impressed; it’s a miracle I smiled again that day! Vanity is a terrible cross to bear!!

I suppose if I ever did get to be an MP, it would be a double edged achievement.

16 ways of looking at a female voter...

Now why can we have analysis like this at election time in British newspapers?

Is it really only 80 years?

As Ros and Jennie have already noted, it is 90 years ago today that women got the vote. 80 years since they got the vote on the same terms as men and 50 years since they were allowed to enter the House of Lords.

And, although all is technically equal on the legal front, we are still having to loosen, finger by finger, the grip that men have on power and money. We have just 19% of our MPs female, even less running our top companies and the pay gap, well, it's still the pay gap and interestingly (or if you're me, bloody annoyingly) gets wider the higher up the career ladder women go! I reckon, that we're about 20% down the road to equality; you know, real equality, in how we live our lives, as opposed to equality in the eyes of the law.

Women's unpaid labour is still not included in national accounts, with all the implications for public policy that that entails, rape conviction as a proportion of reported rapes is frightenly low and I don't seem to be able to walk down the road or get on a bus without having a highly sexualised image of a women presented to me at every opportunity. My favourite one to hate at the moment is one advertising a programme called 'Skins'; I really enjoy having to look at that at the bustop surrounded by primary school kids.

There's an excellent article in the Guardian about it where Katherine Rake, the Director of The Fawcett Society.

It's a wide ranging interview looking back, as well as forward, but for me she really hits the nail on the head for me when she says:

"We are only half way through the revolution: there has been a huge change in women's lives but very little in men's. We have got to look at what happens in men's lives in future, in terms of a fairer division of labour and getting the benefits and costs of that."

Such completion of the revolution means wading into the private sphere to challenge the very way most of us live our lives, but Rake remains unapologetic. "There has to be a day that happens. This is very much a part of [Fawcett's] heritage. Unless you talk about changing the rules, about social transformation, the fundamental rules don't change and you are not going to be offering equality for women.

"We have done as much as we can levering women into a system designed by men for men. Now we have to work for a society where the rules are fitted for everybody."

Don't worry! I too, the good liberal that I am, get nervous when people talk about wading into the private sphere, but she has got a point.

To be honest, I think this is what we've been trying to do in the Lib Dems for too long; we have been focussing on getting women to change and to go on all sorts of training so we can play the selection game the same way the guys do.

When we get our heads around the fact that diversity is not about looking different on the outside but, in fact, about doing things differently and that it's possible to believe in liberalism but approach the practice of politics differently, we will start to make some progress on diversity.

And changing the way we do things (the rules) means everyone, including men and I think that will make politics and liberal democrat politics, in particular, better for all of us, not just women! Hooray!

Getting liberal about diversity

Once again, the debate about diversity has come up.

Once again, the old chestnut of being ‘representative’ versus being ‘the best for the job’ is hauled out again.

Too many Lib Dems just don’t get why diversity is so important. Too many don’t see the benefits that diversity brings us. There is a lack of diversity at every level of the party and too often the only response is hand wringing.

Let’s be clear. Recognising diversity is not just about looking more representative of Britain. That, of course, would be tokenism.

Nor is it about making trying to make women and ethnic minorities (or anyone else) feel better.

Diversity is vital, because to have a different sex, colour or ethnicity to the majority of the establishment is to have a different experience of life than those who are from, or look like, the rest of the establishment.

That is especially relevant in the interpretation of the law and here I think Martin Gill is oversimplifying things when he talks of High court Judges merely applying the law.

Yes, I know the way you look shouldn’t matter. Like Martin Luther King, I’m looking forward to a time when it doesn’t matter what colour we are but we are very, very far from there now.

So, let’s be honest. Right now, society treats people differently depending on the way that they look, their sex, the colour of their skin, hair, eyes, bust, whether they are tall or short, overweight or slim. I can do something about most of those things, I can change my hair colour, even wear high heels to look taller but I don’t want to change my sex and I can’t change the colour of my skin.

Society treats women differently from men; it also treats people differently depending on the colour of their skin and therefore women and ethnic minorities will have a fundamentally different experience of life. Not necessarily worse or better but different. This leads to different approaches to life, different perceptions of opportunities and different understandings of how the world works, what is best and what is desirable.

It is that understanding that is missing from our elected representatives, the judiciary and, indeed, the Liberal Democrats.

However much a person tries to understand and empathise, there will be some areas where they are not even conscious of difference; they are not conscious that other people may have completely different perceptions or understandings of how the world works.

It works all ways; I am constantly amazed, surprised and brought up short at the assumptions and approach to life of the average man, let along the average white, upper class, privately educated man. I can’t believe, given that the dominant mores in society are those of that upper class, male establishment that they would find it any easier to put themselves in my boots than I do to put myself in theirs.

We need diversity in our public life because we are currently having our laws created, interpreted and applied by a very narrow band of society who have a very narrow, privileged experience of the world.

As long as we let it go on we are shutting out women and ethnic minorities and ignoring their legitimate needs as members of our polity and our society. To put it plainly, if we don’t have diversity then ours laws and their implementation will not be as good as they could be; they will not be the best laws for the job.

So, tell me: what is “liberal” about that?

We attempt to be blind to a person’s diversity, either because we are worried that unconscious prejudices will lead to it being ‘held against them’ or because we are trying to get the ‘best person’ for the job. If everyone that does the job is the same, if they are only from one part of society, then the last few to be recruited are not adding anything to that group’s understanding of the world: how can they be the best person for the job?

We should be celebrating and searching out candidates who add to the diversity of the group into which they are being recruited not because of the colour of their skin or their sex but because of their diverse experience of life!

That richer, more diverse experience will lead to legislation and judgements that take account of the myriad of different experiences of what it is to be a human being. All of us, whether we are part of the establishment or not will benefit from this in ways that we cannot yet imagine.

Perhaps one day, how we look will make no difference to the way society treats us; perhaps all that will matter is the content of our character. In order for us to get closer to that dream we will need to make changes at the top. We will need to ensure that our leaders are diverse because without that the change so desperately need will barely progress as long as those with the power to create, interpret and apply our laws come from just that one group.

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