Can Sarah Palin be good for women?

I’ve picked up, via CIF America, on a very interesting blog compiled with material from women, both Democrat and Republican from across America called Women Against Sarah Palin. Apparently, to my great relief, Sarah Palin does not represent the every day ‘Hockey Mom’ that she says that she does. Phew! Although I’m still not sure what a ‘Hockey Mom’ is and I know that’s only because I haven’t been paying proper attention.

I have struggled to describe my feelings about Sarah Palin being selected to join McCain on the Republican ticket. What is not surprising is that she and I agree on practically nothing, apart from what constitutes a flattering pair of glasses. Her glasses may end up being the most popular thing about her.

So, I was never going to find much common ground with the anti-choice, pseudo feminist (boy, is she suffering from false consciousness!!) Republican VP choice. No, Sireee!

But, my real interest is not really in the lack of common political ground that she and I share but in the impact that a serious female vice presidential candidate will have on women, women in politics and any increase in women’s power.

Personally, a candidate being a woman has never been enough to secure my vote; she still has to be good enough. I am aware, though, that what and who I might consider the ‘best’ candidate and the ‘good enough’ candidate may be different from other people’s views. I suspect that my selection criteria are not all that traditional.

And I still think, on any set of criteria, it is far too easy for a mediocre man to win over a good woman in politics. It is my experience in work and politics that you have to work much harder and smarter to be taken seriously as a woman than you do as a man. I long for the day when there as many mediocre women in politics and boardrooms as there are men – then we will know we have real equality!

And even before you get to the point of trying to be taken seriously, there are still many de facto barriers to entry and participation and, let’s face it, good old fashioned prejudice. This ensures that we only attract and put a tiny proportion of the talented women out there into positions of real power. We are much better at discerning talented men from mediocre men than we are discerning talented women from mediocre men.

But would having a female VP be good for women in general? Would her breaking the glass ceiling as a serious VP candidate be good? In the same way that I believe Hillary being the first serious candidate for presidential nomination, has been good for women? In the way that Condoleezza Rice going around the world frowning at male presidents and leaders from all over the world has provided a role model for young black women? Whatever their politics, you have to admit that just having them on, doing their stuff on the TV in the background must impact the way people think about women’s abilities, surely?

Or would the fact that she has been pulled in as a vapid symbol, lacking in experience, knowledge and so lacking in any real comprehension of the complexities of life that she looks for her answers in religious dogma? And like Margaret Thatcher, it is perfectly possible for a woman in power to be no friend of other women. I was worried that because she is one of the most high profile women in the world all her personal failings would be translated into women’s failings, using the same logic as this rather brilliant cartoon from xkcd! (via Feministing)

This has been my major concern. Because she is not good enough, because she is a sort of anti-role model, I’m terrified that all women will be tarred with her brush.

And then I have also struggled with some of the sexism that has been meted out to her. Sexism that is flung at her may just stick on us all. Each time one woman suffers from sexism, we all do; whatever side we’re on.

So, ‘consternation’ is how I would best describe my feelings about Sarah Palin. One of the contributors to the women against Sarah Palin blog says:

“I am all about women stepping forward and taking our rightful place among the leadership of this great nation. However, not this woman, not this time”.

But surely, if we want women in power, we have to accept that we won’t always get to choose our favourite women, like when democracies choose governments and political parties that we ourselves wouldn’t choose? You can’t just throw out democracy because you don’t like the choices being made and perhaps you can’t just decide to wait for women to be in power until one comes along that you can agree with.

Urgh! I am in a dilemma and in a bind and what I really want to know is what sort of heuristic is Sarah Palin being (see the talented Mr Stockley for an explanation of that one!).

What will, come November 5th, whether she is in the White House or not, be the gut feeling that Sarah Palin’s candidacy speaks to, the short cut that she helps us make?

Does the voter who does not have the time or inclination to sit down and look at policies, or will young people only just starting to become politically aware, look at her and think that it is reasonable and normal for women to be in positions of power and if she can do it so, then so can any woman.

Or, will the most memorable thing about the first serious female VP candidate be that is she a token woman only there because of her ability to procreate and still look good and the Republican’s cynical ploy to pick up the female voters who wanted Hillary to be the first woman president in the US? Will people think that we’d be better off with a more experienced man? Does she undermine not only women’s candidacy but also their role as voters? News: From Labour Home furore to Brad PItt

One day I will learn how to actually embed the Sky.Com News videos into my blog, but for the time being you can find my little slot on Sky.Com News this evening here.

We talked about the power of the blogosphere versus how political parties attempt to control the media, UFOs, a comparative analysis of redundancy costs, The particle accelerator breaking down and Brad Pitt spreading malware.

It was short but sweet!!

On the telly again tonight...

Just a quick note, to let you know that I am on News tonight, at the new time of 7pm going through the top internet stories of the day!

Who's Who in the Lib Dems Online is open for subscription

The response to Who's Who in the Lib Dems Online at conference was great. It was a marvellous opportunity to reach those members who were neither in the 2006 book or have found out about it on the blogosphere.

People seemed to genuinely get what a great resource it can be, as long as enough of us put our entries up.

Of course, not many new entries got placed during conference but I am hopeful that with a bit more prodding and the number of people who took away leaflets, we will get it up to my target of a thousand in no time.

Anyhow, the ability to subscribe to Who's Who is now's£12 for Lib Dem members (same as the last book, but so much better)and £30 for non members.

If you already ahve an entry you can just log in and subscribe!

Have fun!!

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.

Arguments best left for down the pub not conference…

I was very frustrated not to get called in the Conference debate on Transport today; my speech, which I've published below, was a good few hours of effort, not to mention the effort putting into looking presentable for the conference goers. I even put my contact lenses in!

I was arguing in favour of the WLD amendment to take into account the experiences of women and vulnerable people when creating transport policy. Two people spoke against the amendment but only the mover and summator got to speak for.

It was pretty frustrating, as the vote was close enough for the show of hands to be made twice, so it missed getting passed . I am disappointed not to have been called but otherwise the debate was reasonably well balanced.

I suspect that I was just one too many female Londoners who wanted to speak and I was neither elected to the London Assembly, nor was it my first time, like some others. Still, given the closeness of the vote I can't help feeling that just one argument from the floor in favour of the amendment might have been enough to get it passed.

This was the amendment:

d) Improving the safety of local transport for women and vulnerable individuals by requiring all

Local Transport Authorities and local councils with responsibility for transport services to:

i) Undertake an audit of public spaces and transport networks with a view to designing

and modifying them with the safety of women and vulnerable individuals specifically in


ii) Ensure the availability of emergency telephones at transport stations and stops.

iii) Review the position and design of bus stops to ensure they are visible and well lit.

iv) Pilot schemes which allow women and vulnerable individuals off the bus between stops

at night.

And this was my speech in support of the motion:

The motion says that the Liberal Democrats are the champions of the passenger.

It also says that freedom should be one of the guiding principles of our transport policy.

That we should try to minimise danger to public safety.

I agree with all of that.

But this motion does not explain how we would make people safer.

And it does not recognise how men and women have different experiences of using transport services.

The champions of the passenger?

The Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds has found that women and men travel by different means, at different times, to different patterns of locations over different distances, with different people, for different purposes and journeys take on different meanings.

Women are slightly more likely than men to travel by public transport, especially to work, and they use buses more than men.

It also found that these differences in travel are not addressed systematically by current transport policy and provision.

I fear this motion as drafted falls into the same trap.

Professor Julian Hine has found that women are one of the most transport disadvantaged groups in the UK.

That 's especially women with children, Lone parents, older women, who use buses more, and women in public sector housing.

Younger and older women experience exclusion as a result of poor public transport .

And what about freedom?

Women perceive they are at risk of personal danger.

That fear can curtail our freedom.

Women are more likely than men to have worries about their own safety on buses, trains and trams.

The Fawcett Society has found that around four in ten women have some fears when using public transport.

Personal safety is a key concern amongst the types of women I talked about before.

They fear walking in the dark.

They avoid making trips.

They fear using bus and train stations at off-peak periods.

Other people have fears on behalf of women too.

I wonder how many times women in this hall have been told that it is 'common sense' or 'for their own good 'not to go out late at night or take a particular way home?

I know that's happened to me. And more than once.

A few months ago, Labour's home secretary Jacqui Smith said that that walking on streets at night wasn't "a thing that people do"

As liberals we cannot stand for any of that.

Why should we curtail our freedoms to accommodate those who indulge in criminal or anti social behaviour?

Why should we be invisible in society, just because transport links and infrastructure have not been planned with people in mind?

I support the measures set out in Amendment Two

An audit of public spaces and transport networks or reviewing the position and design of bus stops are key to making sure that our transport policies champion all passengers and protect all citizens from personal danger.

But the most irritating aspect was the argument from a young woman from the Wirral (or at least I think it was the Wirral), whose name I can't remember (which is very rude of me but I was more interested in what she was saying). She spoke well and with passion but she was completely wrong headed in everything she said – the Lib Dems are clearly a very 'broad church' if both she and I are in the same organisation. When the conference website publishes that she spoke I will tell you her name but they haven't yet.

She used to devastating effect the two frames that the amendment was bureaucratic and discriminatory.

She first of all made the argument that undertaking audits of public spaces and transport interchanges to see if there were improvements that could be made would be overly bureaucratic and expensive. She's wrong in fact but also wrong in principle. Because something is hard is not a reason to do it…providing for minority, under represented and vulnerable groups is often hard. If it were easy, it would probably already been done but it is not a good enough reason to not to bother.

Then she went on to make what she called an ideological argument, which is fine if you base your ideology on the sort of conversation that is more suitable to be had in the pub than a conference debating hall.

Her argument was that because she had never been mugged but that a couple of male friends of hers were mugged in Hackney (when she had lived there) that what the amendment was doing was unfairly stereotyping women. Because it is young men that actually are the most likely to be victims of crime (which is true) then we don't need to do anything about making women feel safer. That, because she herself felt fine, the 4 out of 10 women who do feel unsafe should be ignored. They are not a stereotype, they are a fact.

I like my policy and my arguments to be based on evidence and not just on the basis of my own experience.

Many, many of the things that I write about and campaign for are not dear to my heart because of my own personal experience. Some are, but I would say most are not. I too have never been attacked in a public place, I have never been raped, I run my own business and am probably in the top 1-2% of earners in the UK. But that doesn't mean I rubbish the experiences or feelings of others, or ignore the work of academics and researchers who actually gather evidence of what is happening.

Which is why when I hear, that social inequality is rising I vote to give tax back to those on the lowest incomes, or that only 5% of reported rapes end in am conviction I campaign for something to be done. And, when I know that four out of 10 women have some fears when using public transport, even if that is not my own experience, I use that evidence as the basis of how to make up my mind what to do.

Norman Baker was happy for the amendment to be included but the conference hall was just swayed by an effective but intellectually vapid speech from the Wirral. My suspicions are that it will make it into the manifesto anyway.

Still: this, together with the lack of female speakers in the Make it Happen debate yesterday, tells me that we still have a long way to go as a party when it comes to gender issues.

Who's Who in the LIb Dems Online going to Conference

And you will find details and sometimes even me on the PCA (Parliamentary Candidates Association) stand.  It’s opposite Lib Dem Image, I believe.

There’s going to be a laptop on the stand where you can come and register and all sorts of help.  If you want to question me about something (related to either who’s Who or being a Parliamentary Candidate), I do tend to spend a lot of my time on the stand in any case, persuading people to stand for our various parliaments and assemblies, BUT I will also be getting people to sign up and register there and then for Whs Who in the Lib Dems.

If I’m not there (apparently if you want to be taken seriously in this party then you have to speak at least once in a debate) then I will be leaving a ‘book’ where if you write down your contact details I will do my best to link up with you during the conference.

Things to remember:

We check the membership database to make sure you are a real Liberal Democrat Member and therefore the details that you enter have to be exactly the same as those on the membership database; if you are having problems you can email the membership department at  This might be particularly the case if you live overseas. 

Be really, really careful with the email address you send us and make sure you spell it correctly.  We send you a link to activate your registration to that email address and if it bounces you will never receive it!  It should come through pretty quickly so if it doesn’t then try looking at your spam filter!

If you register successfully and are told you’re going to receive an email then you should receive that email within a few minutes to your email account.  If it doesn’t arrive then drop me a line.

Once you’re in please, please cast your eyes of ‘Completing your entry’ as you may think you know what should be put in each field but you might be wrong!!

If you had an entry in the 2006 version then you will not find it already there.  Alas, I am forced to earn a living and therefore was unable to spend the preceding 5 weeks writing in everybody’s entries in for them seven days a week.  Instead I will have sent you a copy of your 2006 entry in word and you can cut and paste the relevant sections into the relevant fields on the online form.  You have to do it one section at a time, though.

If you have any questions or queries please pop by the PCA stand at conference where I can hopefully answer your questions.  Alternatively you can email me at

Some of these things are already in the FAQs but I will be updating them; not that anybody seems to be reading any of the FAQs….or am I just whinging?



The new Lib Dem website is up: the good, the bad and the ugly...

Well, on the whole I think the new website is great. I love all the extra functionality around getting involved. I love the fact that all I do is put in my postcode (wow – interactivity!!!) and I get details of my local party and my constituency MP or candidate. And when I do look at a person I get their contact details and the opportunity to offer my help, there and then!

So, all that I am about to say below needs to be taken in the context that it is infinitely better than what it has replaced which was dull and old fashioned and really rather hard to navigate around. Because this new web site is so much better at presenting information about who we are and what we are saying, it highlights the gaps and our blind spots so much more effectively.

I liked the tag list on the right hand side (although I prefer the aesthetics of a tag cloud) but I did notice once again that while we had room for all sorts of esoteric tags we have no room for anything on Women, Equality, Diversity or even more specific topics such as Domestic or Sexual Violence. Do we really have nothing to say on these issues as a party? We talk a lot wanting more diverse people to come and join us and put themselves forward for election both in elections and internally within the party but if I were somebody interested in those things coming to the Lib Dem website, I would think that we don’t seem to be that interested in women, diversity or highlighting important issues like rape and domestic violence.

We have however managed to find room for tags on ‘Older People’, ‘Families’ and ‘Children’; I wonder sometimes if we use the word ‘families’ as a euphemism for ‘women’, which of course if you’re like me, 37 and you don’t’ have kids, it is not and I do not take kindly to those who conflate the two groups.

It makes us look like a party of well, mostly white men. It’s something I noticed whilst I was browsing the Scottish Lib Dem website the other day (putting Who’s Who in the Lib Dems Online together takes you to the most surprising places); having photos up is great, really good and the way to go, but gosh doesn’t it reinforce the idea that we are a party dominated by white men? Of course, it’s not true, 40% of our membership is female but boy, you wouldn’t know it to look at the web site.

It cannot be too hard a thing to make the effort to look a bit more diverse, surely? I mean, the Tories who pay lip service to this idea are much, much better at looking like they care, even if they don’t. Having just had a quick look at our, Labour’s and the Conservative Party Website, ours is definitely the best now (beams with pride) but the Tories’, amazingly, looks the most diverse. I say: if you have to do two scrolls down to see a female face in our list of MPs then ditch the alphabetical order.

Having a lot more contact details of course makes it more obvious when peers people think that they are above providing a way to get in contact with them electronically. I have to say, my Who’s Who is pretty light at the moment on Peers just because they are so hard to get in contact with. When they do give an email address half the time it bounces. This is of course a generalisation and some of them are very easy to contact.

I like the photos of the staff. But really, all that hierarchy? Defining everybody by whether they are senior management or middle management? Yuk! How old fashioned! I think everyone’s photo should be on their irrespective of how the hierarchy favours them.

Lastly, the colour! Now, I’m no fan of our Lib Dem yellow or gold at the best of times but does this website have to be quite so orange?

So really, this is less a criticism of the website as a channel and its functionality but more of the content and the lack of leadership we have in certain areas.

What would I add? Because this does look like a structure that it is easy to add to; which, again, is great!

I like to profusion of pictures even if they do highlight out lack of diversity. However why just stop at elected representatives and staff? What about putting up pictures of those who are on the various party committees, SAOs, AOs, regions and working groups? After all, they put in a lot of hard work all absolutely for free! They don’t even get an allowance and putting up their photo on the website may not compensate for all that time but at least recognises their contribution which can be greater than those who have been elected at times. Plus it would make it easier for the rest of us to recognise them.

I’m not sure why Lib Dem Voice has been left off the other sites…maybe I just didn’t see it. I would add Lib Dem Voice.; didn’t there used to be a link on the old website?

Can there be a link to Who’s Who in the Lib Dems Online…or is that just too cheeky?

I would also put in a section for Lib Dems in the media. Lots of Lib Dems write in various media whether local, press, online or on the TV. For example, James Graham regularly writes in Comment is Free and is billed as a Lib Dem, as is Olly Kendall. I am billed as a Lib Dem when I do a regular slot on Sky.Com News (even though what I go on to talk about is rarely about the Lib Dems). This need not be set up as a feed and the web site could be selective about what it puts up. Of course, not all Lib Dems are open about their membership and I think they would have to be asked but raising our profile in the media shouldn’t just be about our elected representatives.

Well done Mark, well done everybody involved!!!

Man Booker Short List Out

The short list is out for the Man Booker Prize 2008 and it's rather a surprising one.

The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga (Atlantic)
The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (Faber & Faber)
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (John Murray)
The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant (Virago)
The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher (Fourth Estate)
A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (Hamish Hamilton)

I'm a bit surprised that Rushdie's the Enchantress of Florence wasn't in there; it's turned out to be my favourite Rushdie.

But I'm not too bothered though as I'd already decided that 'Sea of Poppies' by Amitav Ghosh was my favourite so far (I've finished 5 of the Booker Long List but have recently been distracted from my mission to read the whole long list by the announcement of the winner in October by Roy Jenkins' biography of Asquith).

Sea of Poppies is classic Ghosh a wonderful swirling saga with great plot and wholly realistic and generally quite likeable characters. It's going to be the first of the Ibis Trilogy and I'm glad to here Ghosh has already started working on the second!

The only other off the short list that I have already read is Linda Grant with a book well worth its place on the short list. If it wasn't for Sea of Poppies it would have been my favourite of the five I have read.

Right, Roy and Herbert are going to have to take back seat for a bit, whilst I polish off the other 4 novels on the short list. I think I'll start with Sebastian Barry. Tonight.

40 bloggers on Who's Who in the Lib Dems Online...

but more needed!  And all those shortlisted for the LDV Blogger Awards need to make sure they update their entry toute suite!!

In fact more of everybody needed and  especially women as only 19% of those who have either registered or added their entry are women!  Bearing in mind women make up 40% of Lib Dem membership thats pants!!  So, if you know any female Lib Dem members please drop them a link to the site and encourage them to add their entry!

Still, if were doing analysis by groups then women as a group are much, much better than parliamentarians (peers being the worst) at registering and adding their entries.  Though, I am pleased to say that probably our busiest parliamentarian our leader Nick Clegg has managed to find the time to gather together his membership number and register for the site!  Which is a great relief to me, I can tell you.

So, if you havent done so already then please click through to Who’s Who in the Lib Dems Online and register.  Its very easy if you follow the instructions on How to Register!!

Things to remember:

We check the membership database to make sure you are a real Liberal Democrat Member and therefore the details that you enter have to be exactly the same as those on the membership database; if you are having problems you can email the membership department at  This might be particularly the case if you live overseas.

Be really, really careful with the email address you send us and make sure you spell it correctly.  We send you a link to activate your registration to that email address and if it bounces you will never receive it!  It should come through pretty quickly so if it doesnt then try looking at your spam filter!

Once youre in please, please cast your eyes of Completing your entry as you may think you know what should be put in each field but you might be wrong!!

If you have any questions or queries please pop by the PCA stand at conference where I can hopefully answer your questions I wont be on the stand permanently but if you leave your details there I will be able to get in contact with you.  Alternatively you can email me at