Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Women parliamentary candidates voting with their feet - is the Party fiddling while Rome burns?


A worrying trend in recent months is the number of good women candidates who have decided to give up the seats they fought so hard to be selected for. A variety of reasons have been given, but one of the hidden reasons is, I believe, the inability of the Party to address the problems which place pressure on candidates, regardless of gender.

Featured on Liberal Democrat VoiceA number of Local Parties assume that, having selected their candidate, that all of the things that haven't happened up to that point, will suddenly happen. The creation of delivery networks, enhanced fundraising, vast amounts of canvassing, all of these will come if only a PPC can be found.

Meanwhile, in good seats, Campaigns Department have a game plan. If the Local Party fulfil the central plan, funds will follow, creating an obligation to deliver the declared objectives. Regardless of the resources and, indeed, willing, of the Local Party, without achievement, funds may be withdrawn in favour of a more compliant alternative target seat.

In the middle of these competing pressures is... the poor PPC. And who is there to support them?

Not the English Candidates Committee, whose role formally ends at the point where a candidate is selected and only resumes after the election, when the performance review is conducted. Not the Campaign for Gender Balance, or Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats, or even the Parliamentary Candidates Association. Whilst they can provide mentoring, and very useful it is too, they have little enough funding to carry out core activities, let alone a meaningful programme of concrete support.

The Campaigns Department will support paid staff, as they have a responsibility as managers. There aren't many of them anyway, so their time is fully employed producing the ammunition for use locally. And as for the rest of the Party... we have plans for a Leadership Academy, and this will certainly help increase the skill levels of our candidates.

But who is there to stand by our candidates, to guide them when their Local Party is refusing to do the work necessary to properly support them, to provide assistance when work, family or carer responsibilities become too much to easily bear? Who is there to provide concrete support in terms of cash, support staff, telephone canvassing, a paid leaflet delivery?

Someone needs to step up and demand the resources to provide a genuine support system for our candidates, especially those in good seats. Unless we do, we risk losing a generation of excellent candidates because they burn themselves out trying to balance the conflicting demands on their time, energy and emotional fortitude. And if those losses are disproportionately women, we risk a major setback in our quest to seek a better balanced Parliamentary group.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said Mark. It all too true.

James Graham (Quaequam Blog!) said...

"Is the Party fiddling while Rome burns?"

Yes, but the real question is: is the Party fiddling while Bones roams?

Jennie said...

I think this is to do with lack of members. The membership is stretched so thin in some areas that the second we get new members we dragoon them into the leaflet delivery cult to take some of the pressure off the existing members and they don't have any time or energy left for candidate support.

Pretty much all the party work is undertaken by volunteers, in so that volunteers (PPC or otherwise) don't get burnt out and forget where the fun is, there need to be more of them.

I'm doing my best, having had three people sign up as a direct result of my behaviour over the last couple of months, and I'm working on a couple more, but there's only so much one blogger can do...

(NB, I'm mostly going all out for recruitment because I DON'T WANT TO DELIVER ANY MORE FRIGGING LEAFLETS myself ;) Sadly, none of the three are in my constituency... D'Oh!)

Anonymous said...

Or, James, roaming while Bones fiddles?

Liberal Neil said...

One of the root causes of this is the general lack of resources.

The reason the party doesn't provide support for staff, paid delivery etc. in more seats is because the money simply isn't there.

You are right that the Campaigns Dept expects winnable seats receiving funding to acheive an agreed campaign plan. But that is for the simple reason that the seat won't win if it doesn't.

You are wrong that this does not take account of the resources/history of the Local Party. There is massive variation in the quantity of cash and type of support provided which depends very much on the specifics of each seat.

At the end of the day we are limited by the amount of money we can raise and, as Jennie points out, the number of people we can recruit. That is why we also expect winnable seats to work hard at building their capacity on both these fronts.

Yes 'someone' needs to raise more money, it's certainly one of things I have always prioritised in the seats I have worked with.

Anonymous said...

Neil

The problem though is when there is a huge barrier in the way, the local party. Who do you pick the phone up to, who comes and mediates before it is too late, who helps when things go wrong or you do not have the support of the right people.

Anonymous said...

A lot of the organization work you are describing is work that the agent (usually an unpaid volunteer) should be doing, not the PPC. A good agent can do all this and more for PPCs. The party places too much emphasis on PPCs and not enough on agents. Agents do a lot of the work and get none of the credit. Bones talks almost exclusively about developing candidates. Agents do not get a mention or any suggestion of development or training at all. And the Agents Association is next to useless. If the party did more to develop and value good agents, it would take a lot of the pressure off of candidates, regardless of their gender.

Toby Philpott said...

Mark, we need to talk soon. There are too many cases out there for this to be isolated to individuals. There are systemic issues that MUST be tackled by Cowley Street. Upholding democracy and fostering appropriate practice would be a good start. Stamping hard on abuses would also encourage certain individuals who get too big for their boots to think twice as well.

Toby Philpott said...

That comment by anonymous is very valid and true. Unfortunately it is not always accepted that the candidate should choose the agent.

Ed said...

We need to be careful here. The system of supporting candidates who show they are willing and able to create and lead winning campaigns has delivered a three fold increase in the size of our parliamentary party in the last 11 years. Its a system that tends to be unpopular with those who have not been able to deliver the same results.

Resources are finite. And in the current economic climate they are likely to become finit-er. Do we want to switch resources away from those who have shown the drive and the skills to deliver a winning campaign?

The answer to that might well be 'yes' if we feel that diversity within the party is suffering as a result - targeting more resources at a smaller number of seats in order to provide support that is appropriate for the needs of individual candidates. But that would probably mean winning fewer seats.

It might also be the right answer if the current system creates artificial ceilings to our growth - by depriving all but the top 80-100 seats of any support and therefore seeing local parties dying off outside of that top tier. But again I emphasise 'might' because the evidence is that a strong candidate or a determined local party can create their own momentum if they want to even from a long way back - I offer the examples of Ashfield and Bosworth from my own patch.

Ed said...

We need to be careful here. The system of supporting candidates who show they are willing and able to create and lead winning campaigns has delivered a three fold increase in the size of our parliamentary party in the last 11 years. Its a system that tends to be unpopular with those who have not been able to deliver the same results.

Resources are finite. And in the current economic climate they are likely to become finit-er. Do we want to switch resources away from those who have shown the drive and the skills to deliver a winning campaign?

The answer to that might well be 'yes' if we feel that diversity within the party is suffering as a result - targeting more resources at a smaller number of seats in order to provide support that is appropriate for the needs of individual candidates. But that would probably mean winning fewer seats.

It might also be the right answer if the current system creates artificial ceilings to our growth - by depriving all but the top 80-100 seats of any support and therefore seeing local parties dying off outside of that top tier. But again I emphasise 'might' because the evidence is that a strong candidate or a determined local party can create their own momentum if they want to even from a long way back - I offer the examples of Ashfield and Bosworth from my own patch.

Chris said...

The issue isn't resources but attitudes. The PPC is seen as a Solution to All Problems. When that solution does not occur disillusion sets in. If the PPC has some obvious characteristic which may explain why All Problems Have Not Been Solved then these are picked on. Being female is often one such. Or not being available 24 hours a day. Or not being a major donor. Or all of them. It is unbelievably lonely as a PPC especially in the face of attitudes which do not belong in this or any Party. Time for action, I think.

Anonymous said...

When a local party put out a press release like this http://www.shepwaylibdems.org.uk/news/001253/standards_committee_complaint_no_further_action.html attacking a party member who was their PPC before a palace coup it is time to say enough is enough and form somebody with some balls to sort them out.