Tying up loose ends...

I haven't posted in nearly two months and in fact, my posts have been few and far between for at least the last year.

I wish I had more time to blog but with full time work, a time hungry allotment and a masters law degree in the evenings it's become an idle dream!

So, I've made a decision that I'm not going to blog for a while and probably not until I complete my Law Masters.

I will continue to Twitter though; my social network de choix!!!

Is the Campaign for Gender Balance trying to kid us (or just themselves?)

In its report to Conference[1] the Campaign for Gender Balance (CFGB) states that it knows what works. No, really, in the year that we actually reduced the number of women in parliament, it says that it knows what works!

It is beyond my comprehension that the CFGB can suggest this when we have fewer female MPs than ever in Parliament. At some point the CFGB has to understand that it is the outcome not the activity that really counts. That we would have done better if things had been different is not a response worthy of the intelligent & sensible heads running the CFGB.

Let's stop kidding ourselves that the route to greater female representation lies solely in encouragement & mentoring - handy as they are for some women - and look at some things that actually do work, in deed, on the evidence the only thing that has ever worked in a national parliament and that is quotas. To think we'll get there with encouragement and a bit of training is to follow the blind ideology that the only way to be fair and liberal is to ignore the difference that quotas make & place ambitions of the numerous but unremarkable male party hack above the difference that women and ethnic minorities in power would make to the well being of the whole planet.

The CFGB is in danger of becoming window dressing for a party that pays lip service to female representation. Even an 'A’ list like the Tories had, would be better that the current restricted scope of the Campaign for Gender Balance. Indeed if the CFGB is a mentoring programme then the ‘A’ list could be seen as the first part of a sponsorship programme: an informed assessment of those potential candidates that warrant sponsorship.

In this month’s Harvard Business Review (thanks to Neil Stockley and Shawn Callahan from Anecdote for the hat tip) there is a fascinating article that points out that the difference between men and women's upward trajectory in business is that women get mentored and men get sponsored.

This means that it’s still men getting most of the promotions or, translated into what we Lib Dems are dealing with, getting the positions of power, seats in Parliament, the government and in the Cabinet.

If we’re not as a party ready to countenance quotas for parliament (which is weird because we don’t seem to have much of an issue when our party lists for less powerful institutions have quotas) then let’s stop pretending that a reduction in female MPs is evidence of mentoring working and think again. Why don’t we try a formal programme of sponsorship, accessed via some sort of assessment programme for our very best female, male, black, minority ethnic and white candidates? And lets make sure that list is representative of the country!

Because, can we really say, in all honesty, that those Lib Dem men, whom are now cabinet ministers, were only mentored? No, they were sponsored into parliament, backed by key influencers and given their break, their opportunity on the basis of their potential.

The point of formal sponsorship programmes, rather the informal ones that got our guys into the cabinet, is that they seek to overcome the ‘who you know’ that the privileged few benefit from. They provide links (on the basis of merit) with influential leaders within the organisation who, importantly, are required to deliver.

The Campaign for Gender Balance suffers from having a very restricted scope, no doubt designed to stop any move towards quotas or all women shortlists. There is not a year that has gone by that they haven't failed most if not all of their self set targets. It is my view that, as constituted, they are doomed to failure as they have to ignore the evidence that the only thing that has ever got near 30% women into national parliaments is quotas either at party or constitutional level.

Until we move away from this straight jacket we will never be taken seriously by the very people we need in positions of power that will make us not just look diverse but be diverse.

[1] Yes, I know there is an opportunity to ask questions of the Report. The deadline for sending in questions for Federal Reports at Conference was 12 noon on Monday the 6th; a fact that I only remembered just before 12 midnight on Monday the 6th.

Still, judging by the very, very, few people who tend to be in the conference hall for the Campaign for Gender Balance and Diversity Engagement Groups reports in previous years, I might just reach a wider audience with a blog!

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The Boris Bike*

I've just signed up as an annual member of the Barclays (yawn, yawn - my ex-employer is following me around) Cycle Hire Scheme.  I think I need to use it for less than half an hour once a week for that to pay for itself.

I'm quite excited about it.

But, jolly though it will be (see how I can't help myself slipping into Borisisms), I am a little worried that its going to be stopping people from walking rather than getting them out of the cars.

My plan is to use the BCHS (*as Leo Hickman suggests, we must come up with a nickname soon) from Warren Street Tube to Birkbeck College and back again.  Not a massive journey but one that is irritatingly long when I'm late for a lecture or on the way home from one in the cold dark winter and just wanting to get home.  I think it will shave 10-15 minutes of my return journey and frankly, during term time, that's a precious 10-15 minutes.

This journey is too short for public transport so there'll be no reduction of congestion apart from on the pavements.

I have to say I'm underwhelmed by the cycle highways - really you need to seperate the cyclists from the traffic to make people like me feel safe doing longer journeys on major trunk roads.

And I'm impatient for whatever is going to happen utside of central London for local cycling, so that people no longer get in their cars to buy a couple of forgotten items at the supermarket etc, but get on a bike.

If course, if cycling is to come to Crystal Palalce in any sustainable kind of way, I'm also looking forward to the cycle ski-lift type thing that will be required to wynh all us moderatley fit people back up the hill!

*Could I ever sign up to a nick name such as the Boris Bike? I don't think so, but I'll have a couple of gos and see what I can come up with - perhaps experience will provide inspiration!


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Nothing to do with politics...

This has nothing to do with poltics and hat tip to Alison Wheeler who put this up on her blog; this is just sooooo cute!

<p>Meet the sloths from Amphibian Avenger on Vimeo.</p>

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Diane Abbott, Diversity and the Labour leadership...

Well, as Evan Davies said on his twitter feed just before she came into the studio, Diane Abbott is always good value!

And the race for the Labour leadership will definitely look more diverse now that t she has entered it. And she will indeed have an impact on the discussion and issues raised. And she has 'earned' her place on the short-list, as Simon Wooley says in the Guardian this morning. But even he's not suggesting she's actually going to become the Labour leader.

She's not going to win, everyone knows that and there's the rub.  What will happen is that Labour will be able to claim that their leadership contest was diverse and so feel no need to actually deal with the real issues that underpin why there are not more women at the most senior level in politics.

Blimey, I'm a party pooper, aren't I?

I don't blame Diane Abbott, as a woman, prominent in a political party she is, like Harriet Harman and Yvette Cooper, one of the few that everybody looks to when searching for more diversity.  'Why aren't there more women standing?', goes up the call and the weight of being a representative woman falls on their shoulders yet again.  The issue is always with women and ethnic minorities not coming through and putting themselves forward, isn't it?

Except that those of us who have put any thought into this know there's loads of reasons, perfectly valid and perfectly changeable, if only there was establishment will, underpinning why more of us do not come forward.

In the end, it's easier to blame the group who are under represented and no doubt fed up with this, Diane Abbott has thrown her hat in the ring.  She probably hopes, no doubt amongst other things, to give lie to the line: women don't have power because they don't come forward.

I say, we're doomed if we do, and doomed if we don't.  As a woman, and I am one, I have absolute confidence of my ability to be short-listed as a candidate - in fact I have, loads of times, including making it through Liberal Democrat star chamber to make it onto the Bromley & Chislehurst by-election short-list.  But getting onto the short-list means nothing; it only counts if you can and do win. My confidence in my ability to actually win is no longer as all conquering as it once was!

In the Lib Dems we have rules about gender equality on short-lists, meaning selection committees scour the country looking for women to shortlist; and I have been asked numerous time to stand, to provide the gender balance required, so that the process to select the favoured candidate can go ahead. As the difficulty is with so many 'secondary' targets, people work to achieving them, not the actual desired outcome that the target has been put there to facilitate.

So, having women and ethnic minorities make it to the short-list, whether they can win or not, only disguises the fact the only serious contenders for the Labour leadership are male and pale. 

And so, leads us to a situation where less is likely to be done about it than if there were none.  There is no longer an outcry because there are no women in the Labour leadership contest. Job done.

I wish Diane Abbott well in her campaign and feel sure that she will raise issues that might not have been raised if left to the men.

And there is of course the role model function.  DIane Abbott standing may well help with that;  I posed a question on whether Sarah Palin's vice presidency was net good or bad for women a couple of years ago.  And I'm still not sure; Dianne Abbott is not going to be as polarising as Sarah Palin (hopefully/obviously) but I can't help feeling that Obama's real strength as a role model is because he won the competition, not because he was a candidate on a short-list.

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Where I’m right and Boris is wrong…

I have always thought the development of the new Routemaster Bus was a mad, bad waste of time and effort when London has so many more pressing concerns.

And now it seems I’m not the only one; in a recent TFL survey creating the new Routemaster was deemed to be one of the least important projects to be undertaken in London. Only 18% of people thought it was a priority, as Adam points out.

Well, there’s a surprise!

I wonder if Boris is getting bored of being Mayor yet? After all he’s no longer the most powerful Conservative in the country now; should we be expecting him to give up on London and try and get into a safe Tory seat back in Parliament instead?

It wouldn’t surprise me.

Big Sigh I’m all cross now…grrrr….

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On sleep and the constitution…

Is this the first morning in four or five weeks that anybody, now involved in the government of this country, has woken up after an even vaguely decent nights sleep?

I can’t help thinking that I’d rather everybody got a bit more sleep around these occasions.   I’m not the only one: only this March, in the Justice Select Committee oral evidence sessions even Lord Butler of Brockwell (and as he used to be Cabinet Secretary, he knows a thing or two about this) said:

“I think the arrangements in Britain for the formation of a new government after an election are unwisely frantic because—I have seen this, and Lord Turnbull has seen it—if it is a new Prime Minister, when the new Prime Minister comes in, he or she comes in in circumstances where they have had a long campaign; they may have had to sit up most of the night waiting for their election results, they then may have to travel to London, and they arrive in a state of exhaustion. To then have to make decisions that are crucial for the country, including the appointments of your main lieutenants in the first few hours, and a lot of other important decisions, has never seemed to me to be particularly wise, nor does it seem to me to be necessary. It is part of a drama that we have got used to that everybody enjoys, and it is difficult to break.”

And of course, it’s been worse this time as they’ve all had 5 days of discussion followed by yesterday’s dizzying day of action.

I can’t help suspecting the reason it happens is the macho, testosterone driven political culture that we have; noting, of course, that women can be susceptible to that culture too.  But not me!  I love sleep. Fascinated by politics as I am on May 6th I left the all night vigil in front of the telly to my husband and the dog.

Why is everybody the media and political activists so impatient to get to an answer that they’d rather have the sleep deprived elected such important decisions than alert ones? Is knowing one day later really going to make the difference in a year’s time?

Uncertainty is a function of changing governments and I think the last week proves that the markets do have more patience that we, or the media, gave them credit for.  If we planned to make the change over of government slightly less frenetic, say giving them a week to change or even two weeks I think it would be better for everyone. After all in the US they give 2 months for the administration to change and the world doesn’t fall in then, either.

I am amazed and in awe of those who have negotiated this coalition government on such little sleep.  I think they have managed rather better than the media, whose tempers have become frayed on occasion in the last week. 

So, Sir Gus, when you finish the Cabinet Manual (well done for Draft Chapter 6, by the way), do you think you could add in an itsy bitsy convention around taking more time, so that everybody that needs to can get a bit more sleep?

And Nick, as you are now Deputy Prime Minster with responsibility for Political Reform, could you add the changes to your to do list too?

Just don’t stay up all night to get it done!


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Our Lib Dem Democratic Deficit

I am on the whole delighted today; amazed that a man, whom I knew had something good going for him from the moment I met him, that I drove about for a day in the back of my car during his party leadership campaign, is now Deputy Prime Minster. I suspect both car and driver have improved in quality somewhat! Well done, Nick! Hooray!

However, there is one big fly in the ointment for me and that is what looks to be like the lack of women in this new coalition government. An historic, new type of government and it’s still white, middle class men taking almost every plum job. The exception, as just announced is Theresa May, who seems to have two jobs Home Secretary and Women and Equalities. That to me, suggests that she’s the going to be the only female cabinet minster; let’s hope I’m wrong.

Oh dear!

Of course, you can’t put many more women into the Cabinet if you don’t have enough female MPs in the first place.

The number of Conservative female MPs has gone up but the number of Labour and Lib Dem female MPs has gone down. The only new female Liberal Democrat MP that we have is the wonderful Tessa Munt. However, Tessa has been standing for election for many, many years, starting off in the Ipswich by-election in 2001. So, it has to be said that despite the very best efforts of the Campaign for Gender Balance and Women Liberal Democrats that we have made no progress, in terms of outcomes in getting new women into parliament.

And you can’t get more women into parliament if you don’t have enough female PPCs in the first place. We didn’t even manage to get more women standing as PPCs: only 22% in 2010, compared to 23% in 2005.

Of course, the issues in why we don’t have more women as PPCs are structural – politics does not fit with the reality of many women’s lives, let alone that the whole thing seems to be a testosterone fuelled slanging match. Plus, the way to progress through the Liberal Democrats and get to the point that you can stand in a serious seat, also discourages many other potential female PPCs. We make a difficult journey, even more difficult!

I know that all PPCs make sacrifices and compromises; but I rather suspect that there are more compromises to be made by women, especially those with young families. Their male counterparts don’t have it easy, just easier.

This is a real shame as our policies that impact women are really good and we have made definite progress there.

As Ceri Goddard from the Fawcett Society said in the Guardian at the end of April:

"They have the most radical proposals of all the parties on issues such as equal pay audits and parental leave, but they haven't acknowledged the huge democratic deficit – their radicalism doesn't extend to challenging the status quo."

Nick Clegg has given us another election to sort it out; I hope that we don’t need another election I hope we get to grips with the fact that ‘encouragement’ and ‘training’ is not going to change the game and am sure that we will need to be far more radical in addressing this problem than we have ever been so far!

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Is this really a once in a generation opportunity?

It's very hard for us LIb Dems and those who are desperate, let's face it, for full scale political reform to feel that, as it has been our first chance to use our position as a pivot party in 34 years that it will be our last chance to use our position as a pivot party for the next 24 years.  The instinct therefore is to refuse to go into a coalition unless we get a promise of a referendum; unless we finally get what we were supposed to have got 13 years ago, if only Labour hadn't reneged on the deal.

Of course, that would be the best outcome.  But it's a very hard ask of the Tory negotiating team and we should be looking to see what package of measures could still halt this stitch up between Labour and the Conservative in its track.  It may be that one hung parliament isn't enough but two might be.

The eminent constitutionalist David Butler has oft suggested that transformational voting reform could take two hung parliaments to achieve, two consecutive hung parliaments. 

Although we haven't had a hung parliament for a long time, that may not be the case in the future.

Over the last 50 years there has been a consistent decline in people voting for either Labour and Conservative, from 97% in 1951 culminating with less that two thirds of voters in the 2010 election.  This means that hung parliaments are for more likely in the future.

Of course, the problem is that where the Prime Minister can, within a few parameters, can hold a General Election at a time of their choosing they will of course try and pick the point where a hung parliament is least likely.

But what would happen if the Conservatives agreed to fixed term parliaments? Well, the PM would no longer be able to manage the timing in their favour and hung parliaments would, on top of the psephological changes already working in favour of hung parliaments, again become more frequent.

The dynamics of election calling tactics would be changed forever.

I think we should go for as much as we can get;  I think we need more that just fixed term parliaments but I also think that political reform that provides an environment to create that second hung parliament leading to electoral reform is quite a prize and we should be wary of walking away from it.

I worry that all those who want electoral reform seem to be equating the Liberal Democrats raison d'etre with voting reform; while important we are not a one policy party.  It is unlikely however, that without a healthy vibrant Liberal Democrats that we will ever get voting reform as Labour's commitment to it comes and goes in line with their proximity to power.  So, do not make the Liberal Democrats succeed or fall on this one negotiation and this one election.

A coalition with the Tories, would allow us to reign in the worst excesses of conservatism, in all sorts of policy areas including political reform and if set up for a relatively long period help create the economic stability that this country needs.  Making a coalition work, on Britain's journey towards proportional representation, is as important as the concessions that we win from that coalition.

Coalition governments are risky in many other ways for support parties, whether or not their in it for constitutional reform, but could bring enormous benefits to the people of the United Kingdom; I'm not normally the type to be patient but I think that all of us who want a proportional voting system should look to the long game and not throw out the baby with the bathwater.




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Helping the Tories deliver...

If Benedict Brogan's report on the offer to Tory MPs of a free vote in parliament on an Electoral Reform referendum is true then that is a neat piece of work done by the joint negotiation teams.

Not only does the Lib Dem team have to ensure that the Liberal Democrats get what they want in return for a formal coalition with the Conservatives (I might have to stop calling them the Tories, I fear, as to me at least, it's a pejorative term) but they have to do as much as they can to help the Conservatives deliver a deal that is palatable to their own party.

At first glance, the parliamentary maths suggests that this is a bit of a pig in a poke, as Tories and pro FPTP Labour MPs could vote down any legislation to run a referendum but that ignores the payroll vote. 

This of course would only work for the LIb Dems if Cameron made government jobs dependant on support for a referendum - allowing those Tory MPs who feel sooo strongly about PR to follow their conscience whilst allowing other Tory MPs to follow their career.

It would also give groups such a Power2010 to ramp up the campaign and ensure a national conversation.  They already have the momentum as I don't see any keep FPTP demonstrations going on!


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Don't let anybody tell you thing can't be different...

The path to a people's parliament

Just over two weeks ago, I sat in the LBC 97.3 studios in Leicester Square being told by the very jolly Tory Bear that the Lib Dems were irrelevant!  Well, not so irrelevant now, are they Mr Bear?!!

That was at the height of Tory complacency about the election, the night before the first debate after which it became clear to everyone that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems if given a fair hearing are a force to be reckoned with.

There is so much excitement about the new politics.  There is, at the moment a feeling that everything could all be about to change, that the two party duopoly has gone for good.

Of course, the desire for a more representative parliament delivered through a proportional voting system isn't the sole preserve of Liberal Democrats; there are Labour, Green and even a few Tory supporters that believe in it.  But the path to such a people's parliament will be a long one and we will all have to adapt the way we do politics to it.

Balanced parliament means political parties have work together; so we are going to have to set aside our tribal loyalties, learn to breath without our nose pegs and be prepared to talk to anybody. Yes, even Tories perhaps or maybe even Gordon Brown (breathe 1, 3, 3 ,4, breathe, 1,2,3,4..scary thought, I know)

Balanced parliaments and coalitions are about creating outcomes, not throwing your toys out of the pram because you can't bear the idea of your political enemies benefiting in any way.

So, allow Nick, who has done us all so proud in the last few weeks to do his stuff.  Don't tell him now what he can and can't do a deal with; don't tell him who he should and shouldn't talk to. 

And stop going on about the triple lock! Crikey, I like the fact that the Liberal Democrats are a democratic party as much as the next Lib Dem but it is only a fall back position. For it to be invoked there would have to be a massive split in the parliamentary party and I think it's highly unlikely that there will be a split in the parliamentary party around who to talk to in the event of a parliament with no overall majority.

Any political geek who thinks she or he's going to have a direct influence on any coalition agreements is, well, over-egging their part in the pudding.

Every leader has to take his (or hopefully one day, her) party with them when negotiating with other parties.  The triple lock is just a formalisation of what all three of the Leaders will have to do.  Neither Cameron or Brown would be able to get very far without the support of their parliamentary party.

After all, have you not noticed that Nick has already set out what the terms of negotiation will be via his four priorities?

He's set out the terms of any negotiations and set the red line which cannot be crossed of electoral reform as his backstop. 

Not one of us knows what the electoral map and mathematics are going to look like come May 7th, so stop speculating and let Nick get on with what he is doing brilliantly: holding his and the party's nerve for another week!

Go Nick!!




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Making your mind up!

Oh, this is fab! Well done the team at Total Politics for putting this together!

Life with the LIb Dems in Government

Liberalism is at root an optimistic philosophy, free from the fear that Conservatism seeks to propagate.
It's Lib Dem Manifesto Day and here it is!

OK, the width of the video choice bit doesn't fit my template but hey, I should understand how to change the code so that it does!

Obviously I'm all for our 4 key priorities but I lurve the manifesto page on the website, I'm off to find out how to download the video onto my iPhone!

Political Wives

What a blinder! Miriam Gonzales Durantez is not giving up her very important post at DLA Piper to follow her husband around on the campaign trail; this is great news as it breaks the convention that if you are a woman married to a politician, that is your primary identity and everything else you do comes second

Even Mumsnet thinks it's great that Miriam has drawn the line at weekend campaigning only.

So, in insisting that she's not to be an electoral asset, she in fact becomes an electoral asset. One where principles and political strategy helpfully complement each other!

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