All-women shortlists to select Lib Dem candidates? 66% of party members say no.

by Stephen Tall on August 10, 2013

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. More than 600 party members have responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

Party members oppose all-women shortlists by 66% to 26%

Events this year have once again shone an unflattering light on the party’s lack of female representation in the House of Commons. Though, as Mark Tompson has previously highlighted here on LDV, this is in part at any rate down to first-past-the-post skewing Lib Dem election results. All-women shortlists is a proposal with a controversial history: a heated debate in 2001 saw the party conference reject the idea. Then, just 5 of the party’s 52 MPs were women; today there are 7 among 57. So we asked…

Would you support or oppose the introduction of all-women shortlists in target seats to increase the number of women Lib Dem MPs?

    26% – Support

    66% – Oppose

    9% – Don’t know

A pretty overwhelming two-thirds of Lib Dem members in our survey oppose all-women short-lists; one-quarter support them.

Women Lib Dems are opposed by 2:1 margin (men by a 3:1 margin)

We collect gender data on those completing our surveys. As is common in online surveys, men are over-represented in our polling and I was curious to see if this would be one of those questions where the views of female and male party members might differ. The answer is they do, but not hugely significantly. In our survey, female Lib Dem members oppose all-women short-lists by a 2-to-1 margin, while male Lib Dem members oppose them by a 3-to-1 margin.

Would you support or oppose the introduction of all-women shortlists in target seats to increase the number of women Lib Dem MPs? Women Men
Support 31% 24%
Oppose 59% 68%
Don’t know 10% 8%

Here is a selection of your comments:

Members already select women candidates all other things being equal. We need to explain better what happened in 2010. We had lots of women in winnable or held seats, but we were unlucky. The women all lost. We cannot afford to risk losing held or target seats by choosing women if they are not the best candidates.

The best person for the job should get the job. I would not like to be given a job simply due to my demographics. It is the fact that not enough women come forward that is the really issue and needs to be addressed directly as opposed to simply ignoring the root of the problem and thereby perpetuating it. We need to sort out child care!!

There should be all-Diverse shortlists – for those with disabilities, LGBT+ and BAME etc.

Support very reluctantly, and only because nobody seems to have come up with an alternative that works

I could be persuaded, but as with other measures of positive discrimination, I see it as a last resort and am not sure we’ve exhausted the alternatives.

We will only get a representative house of commons if the electoral system is one designed to get a representative house of commons. We shouldn’t be in the business of fixing candidacies.

Support extra help with selected women PPCs in winnable seats

It’s important for democracy that local parties have complete freedom in selecting their candidate rather than been coerced into a top-down selection. However, local parties should mark down candidates who are political-career clones and actively seek good women. I think they can be trusted to do that.

Merit can be the sole reason

Positive discrimination is self-defeating and hides fundamnetal problems with giving women the support and oportunities to excel.

Positive action please not discrimination. I could only support this measure if all existing MPs seats were divided up for shortlists as well.

We need to recruit higher-quality (political) women to our candidate list, not pretend to ourself that its only because of X that they don’t get selected.

This is the only way now until we get to a sustainable 50% of women LD MPs (or PPCs in target seats)

Local parties should be free to choose their candidates

I would support all-women shortlists but ideally I’d prefer that shortlists should have at least 1 female and 1 BAME candidate (who could of course satisfy the minimum female requirement!)

All women short lists are sexist. It is more important to get the best candidate, rather than ones with desirable genitalia.

Difficult one. Most women I know oppose all-women shortlists as they say it brings into question their legitimacy.

Women should be encouraged and trained to stand on equal basis.

There is no difference between men and women and there should be no sexual discrimination. It is insulting to both men and women

Don’t like criteria on short lists: but I do think we should be working a damn sight harder to bring forward female candidates.

Was against, but my opinion is slowly changing.

If we select enough women anyway, as we did in 2010 (we got very unlucky with women getting elected – half the seats where MPs stepped down selected a woman, but only one of those women got elected), then we don’t need AWS. If we fail to select enough women, then we will need AWS to cover up our party’s sexism. But we shouldn’t pretend that AWS does more then conceal our sexism – if we can succeed without AWS, then that’s a sign of not being sexist in the first place, which is a much better thing.

Every time we discuss this we hear the same arguments – wait and see if it gets better. It hasn’t and it won’t until we kick start it. Zipping worked really well for the Euros, so we should look into it in Scotland & Wales for devolved regional lists. AWSs (and possibly BME shortlists and others for underrepresented groups) are probably the best choice for Westminster. This isn’t giving women/BME people/anyone else an unfair advantage, it’s balancing out the current discrimination against them by default.

We seem to have a good set of female PPCs selected for the next election (as we did last time), all parties need to focus on helping less wealthy candidates to stand.

Put more effort into training women. In the end the choice must be for the person most likely to win the election.

We need good candidates regardless of gender who will work damn hard to get elected. There is enough support in place now for good women candidates to succeed without further assistance.

I would have to see the ratio of Female to male standing in target, recently held and held seats (separate and the overlap) to assess whether it is a problem of selecting female candiates.

We need more women in parliament but not by fascist means.

Positive discrimination isn’t a way of solving other forms of discrimination. I’m in favour of giving women candidates more support, however local parties should be voting for the person who is best for the area and represents their view, that should be opened up as wide as possible, not confined to a select number of people based on their genitals.

The current policies are just not working.

We need the best people for the job, so we need to encourage more women to train themselves and put themselves forward. All-women shortlists are discriminatory and risk us having to put up a candidate as poor as the Tory candidate in Eastleigh.

  • 1,500 Lib Dem paid-up party members are registered with Just over 600 responded to the latest survey, which was conducted between 19th and 23rd July.
  • Please note: we make no claims that the survey is fully representative of the Lib Dem membership as a whole. However,’s surveys are the largest independent samples of the views of Lib Dem members across the country, and have in the past offered accurate guides to what party members think.
  • For further information on the reliability/credibility of our surveys, please refer to FAQs: Are the Liberal Democrat Voice surveys of party members accurate? and polling expert Anthony Wells’ verdict, On that poll of Lib Dem members.
  • The full archive of our members’ surveys can be viewed at
  • * Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

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