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.
A 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 Regardless of the resources and, indeed, willing, of the Local Party, without achievement, funds may be withdrawn in favour of a more compliant alternative target seat.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.