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...