Sunday, 13 March 2011

Diversity debate at Lib Dem Conference

This weekend at Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Sheffield I spoke up in favour of increasing the diversity of Lib Dem MPs.
You can listen to the Podcast of the debate here (my intervention is about 42 minutes in)
I am deeply embarrassed by the fact there are no BME Lib Dem MPs and by the tiny number of Lib Dem  women MPs. Simply wishing and hoping things will get better has not worked so we must change the way we do things.
I contrasted my experience as a local councillor with my experience as a prospective parliamentary candidate at the last election. As a councillor I was lucky enough in 2008 to go on the Next Generation Programme for talented councillors run by the Leadership Centre for Local Government. When I joined the programme I was an opposition councillor with no experience of governing but keen to learn from others and ambitious for my Council Group and local Party . The programme enabled me to meet Lib Dem exec members and Council Leaders running Councils across England. These were people running cities and managing big budgets.
On the intensive course I was given media training, political skills training and perhaps most importantly training how to implement Lib Dem policy effectively.There is no way I could have got this experience without attending this course. The other side of the course was the chance it gave me to find mentors and meet for the first time other young councillors who were experiencing the same challenges as me. Given the space to grow everyone who attended the Next Generation Course I was on blossomed and many of them are now in leadership positions around the country.
The councillors I met on that course continue to support and encourage me today. I am very grateful to them and I would like to think that one day I will be able to support other young councillors in the same way.
Three years on I am a Cabinet member on Reading Borough Council responsible for a multi-million pound budget and taking decisions that effect thousands of residents. This did not happen by magic.I listened to the advice that I was given and had the confidence to push myself further.
And I am not the only one to have benefitted. My good friend and colleague Cllr Kirsten Bayes attended the same course the year after me and she is now Deputy Leader of the Council.
I, and all the other councillors who have attended the Next Generation Programme owe a debt of gratitude to Cllrs Erica and Richard Kemp, Bridget Harris and Joe Simpson who clearly saw something in us and who gave us the chance to realise my potential. More people need to be given these opportunities - at all levels of our Party.
Because investing in training and support works. I doubt I would have stood for Parliament had I not been on the course. Why? Because I lacked confidence and experience, not ability.
Contrast that with my experience as a young female candidate in a non-target seat where apart from adhoc pieces of training and advice picked up from friends, other candidates and at conferences there was no specific programme to help us win. Like hundreds of other first-time parliamentary candidates across the country.
It's not rocket science. If we want women and BME candidates to get elected as Lib Dem MPs they need to be given the support, training and tools they need to win elections. I am delighted that the Party hierachy has finally realised this and Lib Dem Members have a agreed the motion takes us forward. As a result a new Leadership Programme will be created to help get talented people from all backgrounds into Parliament. It won't fix everything, but it's a start.

1 comment:

  1. Totally get "Why? Because I lacked confidence and experience, not ability."

    And that should be measure of those put into fight the relevant seats ... not their sex, skin colour or birth place ...

    We need a government full of passion and skills to get things done ... the House of Lords should be the mentors of the young new bloods.