Ming Campbell backs Reflecting Britain’s Leader’s Challenge

As you may have seen on the Reflecting Britain site, or deduced from the new campaign button on our website (just below the one telling you how to help in the Dunfermline by-election), Ming Campbell has signed Reflecting Britain’s Leader’s Challenge, answered their four questions and added his own personal perspective as follows:

I fully support this statement. Liberal Democrats have been at the forefront in promoting equality and anti-discrimination legislation since 1965. However we have not achieved fair representation in our party for women and ethnic minorities, nor indeed for other under-represented groups such as disabled people and young people. We cannot be at ease with ourselves until our Party is reflective of our diverse communities.

If you agree with Ming, please register your support by going here.

The Reflecting Britain campaign asked four further questions, which Ming answered as follows:

What system would be your ideal way of making the Parliamentary Party more gender balanced? Do you support all women shortlists as a way of increasing the number of Lib Dem women MPs?

I do not support all women shortlists, and this approach has been rejected by Lib Dem Conference in 2001 and again in 2005.

While we made good progress at this election, electing 7 new women MPs, 9 women out of 62 Lib Dem MPs is not nearly enough.

It is clear that a positive and dynamic campaign is needed within the party to actively seek out potential women candidates, and support and encourage them through approval and selection. Touring the country at hustings events, I have met many bright and talented women members and activists – we must encourage them to become candidates and investigate what factors are currently putting them off. Until we have as many women as men coming forward to be Lib Dem candidates, it will be difficult for us to achieve gender balance. Just like any by-election or target seat campaign, this campaign to recruit more women candidates must be properly resourced.

At the next Lib Dem conference in Harrogate, a motion has been proposed to set up an Ethnic Minority Election Task Force on a comparable basis to the Gender Balance Task Force. Will you personally be voting for this motion? What will you do to ensure greater representation of ethnic minorities within the Parliamentary Party?

The motion before the Harrogate Conference is the direct result of the work undertaken by Navnit Dholakia who has endorsed my candidature. During his presidency of the Party, Navnit was instrumental in producing a document on diversity, racial equality and the party. That document has been approved by the Federal Executive. It has been hailed by Operation Black Vote as the best document ever to emerge from any political party. The report provides a key insight into how we, as a party, can become properly representative of all our diverse communities in Britain. I will ensure the party machinery is equipped to deal with the recommendations contained in this report.

7 out of 12 Lib Dem MEPs are women, while 1 MEP is Asian. In 1999 the English party used “zipping” to ensure that 50% of candidates were women. In 2004 it used a quota system to ensure that at least 1 of the top 3 candidates of each regional list, and a third overall, had to be of either sex. How would you favour selecting candidates for the 2009 European Elections?

We can be proud of our representation of women at European level; of course zipping was initially used to guarantee this. However we should remember that had we zipped in 2004, we would not have elected our first Asian MEP nor have two women MEPs in the South East region. The system used in 2004 offers more flexibility, while ensuring a mix of both genders at the top of the list.

The Gender Balance Task Force has always struggled with resources. In 2001 it was agreed that it should be given an annual budget of around £30,000, including the cost of a member of staff, but in practice it has never received this. Are you personally committed to ensuring that the Gender Balance Task Force receives greater funding than in the last Parliamentary cycle and that the Ethnic Minority Election Task Force is funded to a comparable degree? How do you propose ensuring that sufficient funds can be raised?

I believe that we must tackle the problem of under-representation, and the way to do so is with positive action. That action needs to be resourced, and I am personally committed to that. Detailed budget-setting is done by the party’s finance committee, but if funds cannot be found from existing budgets, I will personally lead fundraising efforts to make sure this essential activity is funded. Many of our members share the concerns about lack of proper representation for women and ethnic minorities, and I am confident that such fundraising for these specific causes would be effective.

What positive steps have you personally taken to ensure that the Parliamentary Party is more reflective of wider society? What other things should the party be doing in general to encourage diversity?

Throughout my professional life, as a lawyer and an MP, I have worked to combat inequality. Sometimes that has been through individual casework, sometimes by supporting individual candidates and campaigners in elections. As one of the longer serving MPs I have come to realise the importance of working supportively with younger, newer colleagues. Having the support of our new colleagues this year, such as Jo, Julia, Jenny and Sarah, is refreshing and I welcome the challenge which they bring to me and the parliamentary party as whole.

For me, being supportive of people from minority communities, such as lesbians and gay men or black and minority communities, is a fundamental and integral part of liberal democracy. I’m pleased to have had the opportunity to support important legislative changes such as civil partnerships. As Leader, I would work with colleagues to build a bigger and stronger parliamentary party which has diversity at its heart.

We are a party of diversity. We cannot remain static. We need to keep pace with social and political change. The best way to do this is through our membership. Working at the grassroots, we must ensure that liberal-minded people from all backgrounds feel the Liberal Democrats are a comfortable home. Our membership is our most valuable resource. We must involve them, at all levels, from local fundraising committees, to the party’s Federal Executive and Parliamentary Parties. Monitoring is vital to identify where there are problems to address. We have some way to go but I want to ensure that we have policies and practices which will meet the challenges of our multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-religious society.

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