The phrase 'Speakers Conference' is meant to reassure, to provide the cover of apparent cross-Party agreement for an authoritarian attempt to blackmail other political parties to adopt the sort of 'nanny state' positive discrimination that, as liberals, we prefer to eschew. However, a closer look at its membership reveals that, far from being cross-Party, there is an inbuilt Labour majority, with nine Labour members, four Conservatives, two Liberal Democrats (Andrew George and Jo Swinson) and one Democratic Unionist.
So, unsurprisingly, it has gone for a 'name and shame' approach in its efforts to make Parliament more representative of the nation. If that is the best that they can come up with, then we should be demanding our money back.
I fundamentally object to being told that I must betray my Party's philosophy and principles in order to achieve the goal of fair representation. As a liberal, I believe that everyone is equal, and that equality of opportunity is something that we should strive for. That doesn't mean equality of outcome regardless of merit, it means creating processes that do not discriminate, and providing support and encouragement for anyone who wishes to offer themselves up for consideration.
More than most people, I know that Liberal Democrats have wrestled with the desire for proper representation with the idea that we select on merit, with the only consideration being ability. We believe that Local Parties are sovereign, with the only roles for the centre being in setting minimum quality standards for candidates and designing the processes for approval and selection. I've been at the heart of the debate for a long time and I know that we haven't always got it right, but we have tried.
For smaller Parties without deep-pocketed funders, it is difficult to provide the training and support that candidates, regardless of background, need. We do our best given the limits placed upon us, trying to be smart rather than omnipresent. And given the evident lack of support for state funding of political parties, I suspect that it is a problem that will not go away.
However, it seems that they have also fallen into the classic trap of believing that numbers are all that matters. As I have pointed out, and won the subsequent argument, the number of women, ethnic minority, disabled and gay candidates is far less important than the numbers in those categories who can actually win. In the past, I have heard positive reports that we selected, for example, eighteen BME candidates in London. The fact that none of them had a hope in hell of winning was considered to be of less importance.
On the contrary, this is not like the Olympics, it isn't the taking part that matters, it's the winning, and only the winning, that matters. The runners-up don't sit in Parliament, they don't count towards the diversity statistics that anyone cares about - the number of women/BME/disabled/gay MP's.
So, Mr Speaker, if you think that you'll make friends and influence people with a report like this, you're wrong. Oh yes, your new Labour friends will love you. But remember, they auctioned off their principles to the highest bidder years ago...