Exclusive Shortlists Are Illiberal and Undemocratic
Those of you who watched the Andrew Marr show last Sunday would have seen much talk about the upcoming EU Referendum, but there is one story that emerged that has gotten me and many other within the Liberal Democrats, spitting feathers. The Independent on Sunday published a story claiming that the Liberal Democrats could become the first party to introduce candidate shortlists made up of only those from minority groups, in an attempt to widen the party’s diversity in the face of a very snappily named, “male and pale” horde of MPs. The party’s record when it comes to diverse representation apparently makes Tim Farron embarrassed and this latest policy motion to be put to the membership when we convene in York this march, is an attempt to show everyone just how liberal we are, by making a concerted effort to make sure people from all minority groups have the chance to reach the dizzy heights of political stardom. There’s just one problem: this policy motion does the exact opposite.
I’m not going to sit here and research statistics, facts and figures concerning the number of politicians in the UK who hail from a minority group for two reasons. Firstly because frankly I don’t think we should be considering ‘groups’ of people for reasons I’ll go into later. And secondly because someone told a room full of people at an ALDC Kickstart event that the reason she joined the party was because of its “common sense” approach to politics. So let’s take that sentiment. I can discuss why the policy motion is totally preposterous, just by using common sense.
This policy motion is a clear example of positive discrimination; favouring those usually prejudiced against above those who usually ‘do the prejudicing’. I know that’s putting it crudely, but you get my point. If this policy motion were to be passed, then we could see areas of the country having a Liberal Democrat candidate list, made up entirely of people who are either black, Hispanic, female, disabled, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender…the list goes on. That isn’t a bad thing. I want anyone and everyone to be involved in politics. But the problem comes when a “male and pale” person is not allowed to stand for election based purely on the fact that he is a white British male. He might be the best candidate the Lib Dems have ever had, he could go on to be Prime Minister! But no. We have to look to be as diverse as possible and so deny that man the chance to become elected. Are we seriously suggesting that someone should be denied the chance to stand for election, despite their overwhelming suitability, based purely on the fact that they are not from a minority group? Sounds ridiculous when you put it like that, doesn’t it?
Surely the only criteria for being selected to stand for election is the merit of one’s character and one’s competency to do the job one is being elected to do. When last I looked, sexuality, gender, race or disability did not hinder nor assist someone in performing a role in politics. So why are we making such a big deal over these labels? I want someone to look at me as a potential candidate for the Lib Dems, I want them to see my passion and drive for the role. I don’t want them to see the fact that I’m white and male. Exclusive shortlists are patronising and demeaning to those groups of people considered to be in a minority. They might only be selected on the basis that they’re from a minority, rather than on the belief and support from the party that they can actually do the job successfully. And by having these exclusive lists, we’re sending a message to these minority groups. You’re not good enough or capable enough to compete against the “male and pale” within society.
Many of you will look at me and think it’s easy for me to sit here and talk about how I disagree with exclusive shortlists because I’m white, male, heterosexual and do not currently suffer from any disability. Well both of my parents are disabled. My fiancée is (obviously!) female and a member of the LGBT community. But above all they are people. People who have lots of different traits, strengths and weaknesses. I do not look at them and attach labels, nor do they look at me and presume that I’m privileged solely because I happen to have been born with a penis and have a pale skin tone. If the Liberal Democrats want to really push for diversity, then we need to break down barriers between these groups. We need to combat the stereotypes attached to them and eventually, stop using labels to identify people because it is that which can be so damaging to inclusion. I don’t care what skin colour he is, can he lead our party?! I don’t care what genitals she had, she was good Prime Minister! I don’t care who they have sex with, do they have the qualities of a good MP?!
I want to live in a society where we don’t categorise people by things that are out of their control. Exclusive shortlists only exacerbate the issue of a lack of diversity and a lack of social cohesion. Exclusive shortlists discriminate against a majority instead of a minority. Call it what you like, discrimination is discrimination whether it’s labelled ‘positive’ or otherwise and cannot be considered a liberal value.