We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Building a diverse party: the Leadership Candidates respond to Daisy Cooper’s questions

June 10, 2015 8:30 PM
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

On 17 May, I set out my challenge to the Leadership candidates in an LDV blog, asking each of them whether and to what extent they would commit to some achievable measures to build a more diverse party. Here are their answers - presented without comment.

1) Will you promise to take a zero tolerance approach to inappropriate behaviour, insisting that all elected representatives and everyone in your team has a "responsibility to act" on any and all anecdotal and substantive evidence that reaches them?


First of all, thank you Daisy for these questions, and thank you LibDemVoice for giving us a platform to discuss these important issues. I'll take each of Daisy's questions in turn.

The painful and shaming chapter we went through as a party forced us to face up to the fact that we failed to put our values into practice and upheld our duty of care to those within our party. I made fixing that a priority of my time as President, and worked hard with members, activists and staff to implement the recommendations made by Helena Morrissey and Diya Sen Gupta.

We now have an excellent Pastoral Care Officer in Jeanne Tarrant, providing one clear, effective port of call for complaints about bullying or harassment.

Just before Christmas, Helena Morrissey reviewed the steps we've taken so far, and made clear that, while important progress has been made, there is still much more to do and no room for complacency. We need to set out very clear processes for handling, investigating and resolving complaints, including time limits for each stage, and disciplinary actions where they are found necessary.

I will always keep listening to members, volunteers and staff and searching for ways to improve how we deal with these issues. As I've said before, I won't be satisfied until the Liberal Democrats are the gold standard for how voluntary organisations treat their members and staff.


As a former employment lawyer, I am very strongly of the view that the party must always follow proper process and must take allegations of inappropriate behaviour extremely serious - and act decisively to address them. I have the understanding and experience to lead on how we should act in dealing with such issues.

I proposed that the Parliamentary Party should adopt a sexual harassment policy years ago. I take a very clear position on any abuse of power within the party and beyond. I would not tolerate it. I would insist on the highest standards of behaviour and for people to understand that there will be consequences if they fail to meet those standards.

We must ensure that the way we behave as a party is always consistent with our Liberal values.

2) Will you promise to appoint at least one recognised senior Disability Activist, as a spokesperson for the party (possibly as a Peer)? This person may well be required to speak out against Tory cuts that could impact disproportionately on disabled people.


Yes I would certainly want to look into doing this - and within the context of how we can use shadow/spokespeople to maximum effect to increase diversity. There cannot be any doubt that the Conservatives' £12 billion of welfare cuts will have a huge and disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable in our society, including people with disabilities - not to mention the damage repealing the Human Rights Act would inflict as well.

Liberal Democrats have to fight Tory plans to balance the books on the backs of the poor and water down rights outside government just as we did within it, and we have to make use of all the talents and voices in our party to do so.


I confirm I would appoint at least one recognised senior disability activist as a spokesperson for the party. I would also want someone who has experienced mental ill health specifically to be appointed as a spokesperson.

Appointment to the House of Lords would be positive but may be difficult because of our situation post election.

I strongly agree that the spokespersons and all of us will need to speak out against welfare cuts impacting on disabled people and those suffering mental ill health. The Tories cannot impose £12 bn of welfare cuts in two years without hurting highly vulnerable people. The fact that they are planning to do this whilst not contemplating any tax rises for the very wealthy speaks volumes for how they intend to govern.

3) Will you promise to support a motion to Conference to ring-fence money to support the election of at least one BAME candidate to Parliament in 2020, or similar ideas towards the same goal?


One of the many deeply depressing aspects of our election results was the huge number of incredible, talented candidates who would have been brilliant Liberal Democrat MPs, including BAME and female candidates in many of our top target seats. And yet it has made our route to diversity clearer and more urgent.

We need to make sure that by 2020 we have even more excellent women, BAME candidates and people from a whole range of backgrounds standing for the Liberal Democrats in seats we can win, and then, yes, we need to put the funding and the resources behind them to get them into Parliament. We need a 50/50 split of women and men candidates, and an appropriate proportion of BAME candidates. We need to achieve this - and quickly, in time for selecting MEP candidates. We need to work with the Scottish and Welsh parties to secure strong, diverse candidates for their elections.

The benefits wouldn't just be getting great new MPs and a more diverse parliamentary party, but also creating brilliant role models for the next generation - so they can see leading Liberal Democrats who look and sound like them - and that's vitally important too. We should seriously consider positive action to ensure that our candidates for top target seats are gender balanced and that we have a minimum number of BAME colleagues in place. The most important thing though is that the leader demonstrates an active and ongoing commitment to balance at all levels. That includes appointments to the Lords and possibly most importantly in includes the informal 'appointment' of the people who advise the Leader. Any meeting, no matter how informal, of more than say 4 people that is not balanced and representative will unconsciously lead to unbalanced, unrepresentative and - frankly - bad decisions. This is a key area in which the Leader must show leadership.


I would be willing to support, in conference, earmarking resources to do everything we can to elect a BAME candidate at the next election.

But I also want a fundamental rethink about how we operate as a party and how we ensure genuine equality of opportunity for all people in our party. Our failure to achieve representation of women, BAME, those with disability is shocking and must be a top priority. I would want to secure help of the best people in the party to achieve an equalities policy and action of which we can all be proud.

4) Will you insist that creating accountability for decision-making is a guiding principle of any review into the structure of the party?


Yes. Those who make decisions about campaigning and messaging need to be answerable to the membership.

We do need a full review of the party's internal structures. Our current over-complexity was identified by Helena Morrissey as one of the obstacles to making the changes we need to tackle harassment and bullying and make our party the inclusive family we all want it to be. A simplified structure will allow consistent, clear standards and procedures at all levels, making decision-making more transparent and accountable.


Proper accountability for decision-making is completely critical. It has to be a central principle of how we review party structures.

5) Will you promise to support efforts to create a leadership scheme that includes people with a wider range of lived experience, drawing on the scheme run by our South African sister party, the Democratic Alliance?


The Leadership Programme set up by Sal Brinton has made a lot of progress on this, helping to train and prepare around 40 of our finest candidates from under-represented groups - women, those from BAME and low socio-economic backgrounds, those with disabilities. It helped a number of them win selection in some of our key target seats, and I am sure we'll see many more of them fight and win seats for the Liberal Democrats in 2020.

I do want to expand this scheme and recruit more candidates from all backgrounds and all walks of life. First, though, we have to inspire those people to join our party and become active members. That's part a much bigger mission: to make our party more attractive and inclusive.


I would certainly commit to the sort of leadership scheme you propose. I would be interested to learn more about the scheme run by our South African sister party, the Democratic Alliance. Lived experience is so important.

I have worked a lot with those with lived experience of mental ill health over the last 2 1/2 years and found it of immense value. I jointly chaired a board on learning disability at the department of health with Gavin Harding, who, himself, has learning disability. We set up this arrangement. We must ensure opportunity in our party for people with a whole range of lived experience.

6) Will you promise to support a scheme of financial incentives for local parties to select candidates from under-represented groups, and efforts to ear-mark financial support for candidates from low-income backgrounds?


Yes - it's an interesting idea Daisy, but actually I think we need to be stronger than this. Twenty years of gentle nudging on diversity has not worked.

We should certainly say to local parties where we have a realistic chance of winning: 'If you select one of our excellent candidates from under-represented groups, we will put the money and resources behind you to get them into Parliament.' And I'm confident that we can raise money for the clear goal of making sure they win those seats.

But I want to look at how we can massively increase our diversity - I'm in favour of a return of zipping - but the broader point is that we need to prioritise this and push it more actively if we are to succeed.


I strongly support the sort of approach you outline. Action to promote representation from a range of under-represented groups is of fundamental importance - including supporting those on low incomes. Without this sort of approach we do not follow our Liberal values.

7) Will you promise to only appoint new Peers from the party's Peers panel list as elected by the party membership?


I take the relatively straightforward view that the reason we as members elect a peers panel is to help determine who represents our party in the Lords. I do think it's right, as well, that there is a little flexibility in the system to help get the balance right when it comes to appointing a group of new peers, particularly when tackling diversity.


On appointments to the House of Lords, I suspect this will be more a theoretical issue rather than a real one given the prospects of new places in the House of Lords. My principle, however, would be to use appointments to further diversity. This may not always mean appointments from the panel but I would absolutely respect and take very seriously the panel.

* Daisy Cooper came second in the contest to become Party President in 2014. She is on the party's Diversity Engagement Group though has put these questions to the Leadership candidates in a personal capacity. She was Chair of Campaigns for Norman Baker MP in 2015, and stood as a Parliamentary Candidate in 2010 and 2015.