In this morning's Times, Jenni Russell writes interestingly about the lack of women in modern politics. And, naturally, she is critical of political parties for their lack of progress in this aspect of candidate selection. Apparently, women are less likely to be approved and less likely to be selected when they do compete.
I can't speak for the other political parties but, unlike Jenni, I do know how my own party's processes work and, I have to tell her, as far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned, it isn't about approval or selection, it's in some ways worse (or at least, more difficult than that). My experience is that, in the Liberal Democrats, women are as likely to be approved to go on the candidate list as men - indeed they tend to perform slightly better - and as likely to be selected to fight seats, even winnable ones, as their male counterparts.
2015 won't be a great year for Liberal Democrats, with everyone expecting us to lose seats. And yet we have women candidates who have taken over from retiring male MPs, and we are optimistic that some of them will win. But, we are reminded of 2010, when exactly the same thing happened, under very much more promising circumstances, and what happened? They lost. in South East Cornwall and Harrogate and Knaresborough, to name two. In target seats, where we really thought we could win, like Derby North and Truro and Falmouth, women candidates lost. And in held seats, like Redruth and Camborne and Richmond Park, good women MPs lost.
So, we have an apparent problem at the sharp end, when the electorate, uncontrollable and unfathomable, made the decision not to elect some women - not really something that political parties can control.
We do, also, have a problem at the initial stage of the supply end. Women don't come forward in anything like the same numbers as men - the ratio was about 1:2 in my days as a candidate assessor and member of the English Candidates Committee. To be honest, I have no idea why and it's hard to envisage how one might easily find out. However, the answer to that question is essential in determining possible solutions.
Jenni's solution is a simple one - quotas. But, if you don't have willing applicants, even quotas won't offer a real solution, especially for smaller parties without safe seats. The life of a Liberal Democrat PPC, especially one in a target seat, is a tough one. You wouldn't get me doing it. Indeed, because of my wide experience of our Party, I have huge admiration for anyone willing to do it, especially given the high risk of defeat.
So, I invite Jenni to dig a little deeper. Indeed, I'm perfectly happy to help her do so, because the fact that she cares enough to express her view, in print, somewhere where lots of people will see it implies that she wants to be part of the solution. Unless, of course, she just wants to beat political parties with a stick...