Thursday, March 04, 2010

How badly does Iain Dale want to be an MP anyway?

Whenever I see criticism from Conservatives over our apparent failure to adopt and select BME candidates, I always check for irony. And now that Iain Dale has decided to highlight this issue, it is a rare pleasure to respond.

I am intrigued by the notion that Conservatives have taken positive action rather than positive discrimination. What Iain quite cynically fails to mention is the process by which shortlisting takes place for Conservative PPC selections. A selection committee is appointed and meets in conclave with a member of the Party's Candidates Committee, one of whose members is Eric Pickles. It can be safely assumed that the senior party figure has an influence over the process, but because it is done behind closed doors, it is difficult to demonstrate how much external influence is applied before a final shortlist is announced. However, it is hard to imagine that the centre does not influence, as there would be little point in taking such an active role if the aim was simply to observe.

In the Liberal Democrats, there is no external influence, in that the selection committee is appointed by and from the Local Party membership, with no external member. The Returning Officer is there to ensure due process, and the only things that restrict the decision-making process are the appointment of the Returning Officer, which is the responsibility of the Regional Candidates Chair, and the selection rules, which are the preserve of the relevant State Party.

I am delighted that Conservative Associations across the country have chosen candidates that reflect the diverse society that their Party. Of course, as the Liz Truss affair proved, some need to be prodded and poked into action, and there are certainly dark mutterings from others about undue influence from Conservative Central Office.

But for Iain to make an unsubstantiated claim of the sort he has is merely a reminder that, underneath the veneer of being the editor of a neutral political magazine, there lies the heart of someone desperate to draw the attention of Eric Pickles so that his name can be considered for any last minute vacancies that might arise.

Liberal Democrats take the quaint view that the first task is to ensure that our processes and systems don't discriminate against groups or individuals. Allied to that, we are working to demonstrate to all that they are welcome in our Party. We have launched the New Generations project to seek, mentor and develop those who come from previously disadvantaged groups. What we don't do is rig the system. It is our expectation that good candidates, wherever their background, will emerge through a selection and go on to be successful.

It is somewhat odd that a Conservative doesn't see the logic of the position unless, of course, Iain is suggesting that we are racists. Of course, he has already claimed, on the basis of two ill-advised comments, that we are an anti-Israel party, so we'll just accept that he is making a cheap, partisan shot, and leave it at that.

That isn't to say that we won't remember...


Iain Dale said...

This is almost too hilarious to respond to, I don't really know where to start.

To think that I wrote that post to solicit Eric Pickles is a joke. There aren't any vacancies. I dont think there will be any vacancies. I have now given up any parliamentary ambitions I once had.

Nowhere in your response do you actually engage with the subject. Are you really happy with the LibDem record on BME candidates? I cannot believe you are.

Why not engage with the issue rather than make cheap shots against me? Many LibDems I know are deeply unhappy with the party's record on this.

Martin said...

I didn't find the entire post funny, but this sentence is daft in th extreme:

"Liberal Democrats take the quaint view that the first task is to ensure that our processes and systems don't discriminate against groups or individuals."

If you are not able to discriminate, then surely Tories and Labour members could apply to be candidates? This isn't "quaint" but progressive in the extreme. However, if the Liberal Democrats are as quaint as you claim, how do you account for the lack of BME candidates?

Mark Valladares said...


It is not unreasonable to expect that someone wanting to represent a political party shares the values and beliefs of that party. Like all three major parties, we test applicants for their adherence to our values and beliefs. Your charming attempt at torturing semantics conveys a sense of trying to clever rather than intelligent.

I will answer your second point though. We do not have a lack of BME candidates, as published statistics show. Our problem is in terms of them being selected in winnable seats. Given that a lot of our seats are in rural areas with low BME populations, and that many of our candidates are expected to work their seat for years in order to win (we can't rely on national swings doing the job for us), there is a lag between taking action and reaping the dividends.

I have no way of knowing how many BME candidates apply for winnable seats, and there is little information held in terms of whether BME candidates actually apply in representative numbers. I do, however, deeply suspect that the numbers we have provide little meaningful evidence to support discrimination. There needs to be a lot more research done to find out what, if anything, holds back BME candidates, where they apply, and whether that makes electing BME Liberal Democrat parliamentarians more difficult than, on face value, it should be.

There is no doubt that, statistically, we are not where we should be. Whether that means that we are failing is a more complex question, but we are obliged to do what we can to encourage and reward participation.