Croydon Central’s all-women shortlist: Discriminating in the name of equality?


By - Wednesday 1st May, 2013

After Labour activist Tom Black’s article on the Citizen, Conservative Mario Creatura responds with some thoughts on all-women shortlists


Subjectivity is ultimately where the danger lies in the selection of parliamentary candidates. The bureaucratic, political, and democratic process by which we elect our representatives has been forged over hundreds of years, contains checks and balances, and theoretically acts as a filtration method for picking the best of the best from our communities. But it’s created a gender imbalance in parliament that can’t be ignored. I’m not opposed to gender equality in parliament, but when Labour ordered its members to only interview women to be their parliamentary candidate for Croydon Central, alarm bells started to ring. I left a comment on the Croydon Advertiser’s website that led to Tom Black writing a great discussion piece on the Croydon Citizen. If you’ve not read it, then I strongly suggest you take a look before reading my response.

Freedom should not be sacrificed on the altar of equality

When the freedom of any party member is restricted for social-engineering purposes, or when candidate choice is corralled to reach an intellectually defined quota, the situation should be examined and if necessary opposed. Freedom should not be sacrificed on the altar of equality unless absolutely necessary. It’s not required here.

If someone wishes to represent their community in parliament, being selected as a local political party’s official candidate is a necessity. The formal selection process operated by local parties is, therefore, the first key campaign that an aspiring candidate must successfully negotiate on the road to becoming an MP. That process is crucial. If you can’t convince your loyal local supporters that you are the best candidate, then you’ll never make it in a general election fight.

This process is founded on the principle that discrimination is, on balance, a good thing. It’s a choice to discern the best option for your varied special interests – a choice that should be made free from unnecessary restrictions. All-women shortlists fundamentally reject self-determination, the ability for Labour Party members to have an unfettered choice in picking their standard bearer. That’s an attack on an essential freedom, and one that shouldn’t be tolerated by anyone regardless of political affiliation.

The United Kingdom is a pluralistic democracy, meaning that there is no one seat of ultimate power. From Downing Street and the House of Commons, to Local Authorities and constituency-run political associations, politics is always a negotiation, often characterised by conciliation and consensus. At every level we all have the ability to make decisions that impact the national landscape. Freedom of choice is essential in keeping this power spread around the country and ensuring our state is as representative a possible. It’s not perfect, but it is fair.

If you are a member of any minority group who wants to be an MP nothing about your background should ever stand in your way. But inevitably life and society will throw up obstacles that will need to be overcome. Manage that, and you will succeed. It all sounds a bit ‘self-helpy’ but it’s true. It may be harder for a working class guy to become PM than for an old Etonian, but that doesn’t mean he shouldn’t try. It may be complicated for a black woman to be selected in a Shire seat over a tweed-toting farmer. But if you play the game correctly then you honestly can win. Realise that humanity is inherently biased; that we each have our own lens through which we view the world. That’s where the power of our democratic system is based. Our ability to act as a collective filtration system for our governing structures is what makes our representative parliament the powerhouse that it is today.

Each party should put up the best candidate that they can find at time of selection

To understand the damaging effects of a curtailed shortlist, it’s essential to get the bias of the party member. They play a crucial role in helping the electorate out. They are the ones who audition, scrutinise, and ultimately decide who their prospective party candidate will be. It’s here that the freedom of a party member to choose matters most. And it’s threatened by a restriction as unwieldy as an all-woman shortlist.

Each party should put up the best candidate that they can find at time of selection. Anyone should be able to apply and be considered by their fellow party animals. Some will be rejected. But the best one should win based on merit. They then go up against political rivals, the best of each tribe, and the idiosyncratic public will decide. This cannot be guaranteed to happen with all-women shortlists, as one anonymous Labour member tells Tom: ‘a directive to select women for council seats was seen as ‘patronising’, and had led to talented and capable women shunning the selection process’.

I’m not averse to nudges and it’s entirely right that parliament should be representative of its population. It isn’t enough just to open up and say we will treat everyone equally when you are starting from such a position of disadvantage. Just opening up and saying ‘You’re welcome to try if you want to’ doesn’t get over the fact that there have been all sorts of barriers in the way. Companies, political parties, and other organisations need to actively go out and encourage women to join in, to sign up, to take up guidance courses, to become part of the political system. That’s the approach the Conservative Party have taken and that’s why the Conservative Party has improved their number of female MPs, from 19 before the last election to around 50 now. It’s still not good enough, but it’s getting there through encouragement and training, not by rigging the democratic system to their advantage.

It’s obvious that all-women shortlists deliberately discriminate against men, which is why it strikes me as paradoxical that those fighting discrimination should actively champion it in this instance. It’s easy in the equality debate to group men all together, as if the archaic sins of the father should be visited upon their descendants for all time. Not all men are sexist pigs, out to consciously dominate all womenfolk. But on a level political playing field they might – cries of sexism and discrimination shouldn’t follow that blatant exercise in equality. In Croydon Central there will be male Labour Party members who have worked for many years to have a shot at being their candidate, only to have their loyal service rewarded with the door to the race being firmly slammed in their faces by their leaders. How must they feel? Emasculated. Demeaned. Resentful. One Labour Party councillor I spoke to about the all-woman shortlist  recently explained, “I’m used to disappointment”. Resentful, not from fairly losing to a woman, but because they didn’t even have the chance to prove their worth. That is sexism. That is undemocratic. That is wrong to women and to men.

What must it feel like for Croydon Labour to know that they’ll be running a campaign where the best candidate might not even be allowed for consideration?

Equality of opportunity should mean that race, gender, age, and sexuality should not be factors in restricting choice. The Conservative Party believes that. A working class lad from Brixton became our Prime Minister in 1990, preceded by the forceful daughter of a greengrocer. They didn’t need help, and she certainly didn’t need a national equality initiative to become Britain’s first female PM. Why should anyone else? Tom notes that ‘approximately 50% of female MPs were elected using all-women shortlists’. If 50% of them can do it without assistance then is it not patronising for others to need the leg up?

In the 2012 Croydon North by-election the final three Conservative candidates were as different as different can be. The membership deliberated and chose a local, disabled, charity worker to be their champion. He was quite simply the best at the point that they had to choose. I worked very closely with him – he was superb, and I know he was the right choice. What must it feel like for Croydon Labour to know that they’ll be running a campaign where the best candidate might not even be allowed for consideration? Tom rightly brings up the case of Fabian Hamilton MP – like him, Croydon’s male candidates will be dismissed before the race even begins simply for having the rotten luck to be born with a penis.

Maddie Henson, a Croydon Labour Party member, explains that Croydon Labour ‘totally agrees with the principle of encouraging gender balance in politics’ by making sure there are ‘many women candidates in Labour-held and winnable seats.’ This claim that Labour wants to create equality in parliament, and that all-women shortlists aren’t a cynical attempt to manipulate the electorate to viewing them compassionately, is an honourable goal, and entirely plausible. But if that’s the case then isn’t it odd that in Croydon North, a safe Labour seat, they didn’t restrict it to an all-woman shortlist? If they had then it would have guaranteed another female MP, to balance out parliament. Isn’t it odd that David Miliband’s recently vacated safe seat also isn’t restricted? Then there’s Corby and Cardiff with their Labour majorities – all odds-on favourite Labour by-election victories, but not good enough for an all-women shortlist it seems. Think about it. For a party that supposedly champions equality, they tend to only use it when it is of strategic benefit, in marginal seats. I do wonder why.

Seeing good MPs selected on merit is a far more powerful incentive for under-represented groups than any forced quota

The beauty of our democracy is that the competency of an MP to represent us comes down to how they communicate, not how like us they are in gender, ethnicity, or social background. Constituencies are diverse, varied, and issues in parliament change on an hourly basis. I don’t need someone who looks and sounds like me to be my representative, but I do need someone who can empathise and speak powerfully on my behalf. We are told to never judge a book by its cover, yet that’s exactly what we are doing by assuming that parliament must look like the country it represents. As a tool for inspiring more diverse candidates to throw their hats into the ring, seeing good MPs selected on merit by the local party membership, without any restrictions on their choice, is a far more powerful incentive for under-represented groups than any forced quota.

Choice and trust. That’s what it ultimately comes down to. By refusing to trust the unfettered judgement of Labour Party members and rejecting their right to a free and fair say in who they want to fight the seat, they are not only insulting their loyal activists but also denying the electorate their freedom to choose based on merit.

Tom concludes his piece with a simple assertion: that all-women shortlists are a solution to a problem that everyone wishes didn’t exist. He admits that they are divisive and messy. But he also believes they ‘work’ and that this justifies the political disenfranchisement of Labour Party members. I disagree. We can improve diversity without sacrificing our democratic principles. All-women shortlists can’t be fair. They can’t be right. And the Croydon Central election will be all the poorer for it.

Mario Creatura

Mario Creatura

Mario is a lifelong Croydon resident. He works for Heineken as their Public Affairs Manager. He has previously worked in Parliament as a researcher for Gavin Barwell, MP for Croydon Central. Mario has been a Conservative Councillor for Coulsdon West on Croydon Council since May 2014.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/liz.sheppardjones Liz Sheppard-Jones

    I think we all agree it would wonderful if nothing about your background ever stood in your way to achieving whatever you want. And how many Etonians sit at the present Cabinet table? Mario Creatura may not need someone who looks and sounds like him to be his representative, but statistically his chances of getting this are far greater than mine and unlike him, I do think an MP’s similarity to me in background and experience make them more likely to understand what my interests are in a variety of areas.

    Take a look at the countries which actually use all women shortlists and
    quotas and the results achieved there. A club that has Sweden (with 47%
    female MPs), Denmark (38%), Norway (36.1%), Iceland (33.3%) and Finland
    (41.5%) in it is one I feel very positively about joining.

    And the evidence is clear : inequalities resulting from background, including ethnicity and gender, will not be overcome without affirmative action. This is not about introducing inequality – manifest equality already exists. It’s about replacing grave injustice with imperfect remedial action.

    • http://twitter.com/jonnycope Jonny Cope

      There is 1 Etonian with a Cabinet Portfolio (David Cameron). Two others attend cabinet meetings (Oliver Letwin and Sir George Young) but are not ‘Cabinet Ministers’. It’s hardly an old boys club.

      Another point worth noting is that the Conservative Party was able to almost treble its number of female MPs in 2010 without the use of all-women shortlists. So I’m not sure that the argument that the problem ‘will not be overcome without affirmative action’ stands up.

    • http://twitter.com/MarioCreatura Mario Creatura

      Theoretically by your logic we’d all only ever be happy if our MP looked, sounded and had a similar background to each one of us. It would never work in reality. Take the constituencies average gender; average ethnic make-up; average IQ; average class – all collated so we can only select candidates that offend the fewest people? It’s a nonsense,

      • http://www.facebook.com/liz.sheppardjones Liz Sheppard-Jones

        Reductio ad absurdum :-) I said it was more likely that an MP of a similar background to me would understand my perspective (for example, she might have similarly struggled to combine career and motherhood) and as a result of this, represent me better. This is one reason I think it’s important for a Parliament to represent its population.

        • http://twitter.com/MarioCreatura Mario Creatura

          I jest – but my point was that no single MP can embody the majority of their constituency demographic. What pleases you (similar education, female etc.) will not please many others. Why should the system be rigged to please you and not them? What if Parliament is 90% representative but your constituency is not? Will you be happy then? It’s a logistical, as well as philosophical issue, where I differ with you on this.

          • http://www.facebook.com/liz.sheppardjones Liz Sheppard-Jones

            If we decide to proceed down this path, as other countries have done, we would need to devise a mechanism (AWS in a certain proportion of seats, for example) to produce a Parliament representative by gender of the population of the UK. I consider that a worthwhile and perfectly achievable goal. I’d also support state-educated only shortlists, for the same representative purpose. I don’t have a problem with depriving people of unfair, purchased social advantage and we won’t have any kind of level playing field until we do.

            The point in danger of being lost here is what we currently have is a system which delivers inequality. Inequality, and injustice to individuals, is our starting point, not something which AWS introduces. The question is whether to continue to tolerate that or to take action.

            To me the suggestion that if you only play the game right, you can get the outcome you desire, simply suggests lack of experience. This is not remotely the case when the rules were devised before you were even allowed to join in.

            And if anyone else cites Margaret Thatcher’s extraordinary, exceptional political success against all odds as proof of ANYTHING, I will find a large Tory party hat (since I do not possess one) and eat it.

  • Sian M

    I take Liz’s points below, but overall am in agreement with Mario. I would hate to know that I’d been chosen for a job primarily because I was a woman – for me personally, there would be no pride in it unless I knew that I’d beaten all candidates in a fair fight. In my opinion, the best thing we can do to resolve this ongoing issue is to empower women to be the best candidates they can be. How we can do that, I’m not sure – providing support for childcare could be a good start- but I do know that all women lists are not the answer. As a resident in Croydon Central, this would put me off voting Labour just on a point of principle I’m afraid.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gilesap Anne Giles

    Fantastic article, Mario. I totally agree. One should not be left out because of having a penis. It would be ridiculous.

  • http://www.facebook.com/samir.dwesar Samir Dwesar

    As an ethnic minority, I believe it is patronising and wrong that there is positive discrimination in place when selecting parliamentary candidates & I’m therefore disappointed that the Croydon Central Labour Party has chosen to adopt an all-women’s shortlist. This effectively denies many qualified local Labour activists/Cllr’s the chance to represent this constituency simply because of their gender. I’d be horrified if I got a job just because of the colour of my skin.

    I think there are better ways to empower women and minority groups. I’m a staunch advocate for open primaries in selecting prospective parliamentary candidates. Not only do they give voters the chance to engage more effectively with the politicians but they usually lead to the best, more independently-minded & qualified to be selected. A quick internet search led me to see that in the various constituencies that the Conservatives have held primaries in, the majority of those have selected women. Open primaries are the answer to increase women’s representation not patronising all-women shortlists.

  • http://twitter.com/JamesThompson5 James Thompson

    A well written article Mario. I personally feel things should always be based purely on merit, never on race/gender/religion etc. As a Human Resources professional we often have to have certain quotas of certain groups when making hires, but I think it is far better to say at least one candidate must be of a certain background to ensure they are considered, rather than all of one groups shortlists which causes only resentment and discrimination the other way.

  • Suzi Dutfield

    In next week’s edition: all state school shortlists? To me this would be much more effective. This isn’t just a sexism issue.

    As a woman I do feel all female shortlists are a patronizing way of ticking off another E&D check box in the HR department. There needs to be more proactive work done to encourage women into the big bad man’s world of politics. Perhaps they need to drill down to the real reasons behind why women are less likely to pursue a career in politics.

    I agree with comments by Liz Sheppard-Jones that I’ve never really had a female role model to aspire to. I wasn’t Thatcher’s biggest fan and the female MP in the area I grew up in was cornered over claiming MP’s expenses to buy dog food. Not overly reassuring or inspiring.

  • Mahyar Tousi

    Brilliant article! I personally believe people should be chosen on merit; therefore I think those who agree with all-women shortlists and positive discrimination, also believe that women or people from any minority group are NOT good enough, so they need assistance!

    Perhaps we should remind them of a certain individual who became the first woman Prime Minister without taking advantage of any “female shortlist”.

    • http://twitter.com/tomblackuk Tom Black

      Would it be churlish to also remind them of the revelation this week that a young Margaret Thatcher actually lost the selection battle for Finchley, but the local Conservative Party chair decided she deserved a leg up and ‘lost’ two votes? Evidently he, at least, felt she did need assistance.

      The story can be read properly here: http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2013/04/margaret-thatcher-and-the-missing-votes/

      • Mahyar Tousi

        So a guy claims his father said something 50 years ago, and decided to keep it quiet until now?

        Let me remind you of an important thing in political arguments: Always show evidence in order to be taken seriously!

        • http://twitter.com/tomblackuk Tom Black

          What a rude tone to take with someone who you’ve not met. Let me remind you that civility is a very important part of political arguments too.

          I’m afraid I don’t understand your comment, either. I have presented evidence (the link to The Spectator, which is not exactly known for being a left-wing attack mag) and rather than refute it, you have declared you don’t believe it and not presented any evidence to the contrary. I think if you’re going to simply disqualify evidence based on your own instincts this discussion isn’t going to go anywhere productive very quickly!

  • http://twitter.com/bieneosa bieneosa

    Mario, you state that “Equality of opportunity should mean that race, gender,
    age, and sexuality should not be factors in restricting choice. The Conservative Party believes that.” If this is the case, then please could you explain why the Conservative Party wanted to repeal the Equality Duty?

    Also, you do not offer any real solutions to the problem of under-representation other than political parties actively engaging women to join their ranks and for women to take “guidance courses”. You also say that if minorities “play the game correctly then you honestly can win”. You make it sound so simple, yet the statistics say otherwise.

    You have put the onus on the individual to overcome the challenge, but miss out a
    crucial and often overlooked piece of the equation: the level of interest, drive and motivation of the political class to change the status quo.

    In order for real change to happen when it comes to under-representation in parliament we need the political class, whose position affords them considerably more clout when it comes to implementing and affecting the speed of change, to be genuinely interested in changing the status quo in tandem with the under-represented group ‘playing the game’. The political class needs to have both an intrinsic and extrinsic interest in seeing more under-represented groups in parliament, as well as being willing to move outside of the old boys’ network; opening themselves up to learning about people from different backgrounds and understanding the value they bring.

    Unfortunately, we are increasingly seeing political discourse around issues of equality and discrimination being sidelined, whether that’s calling for the equality duty to be repealed or scrapping equality impact assessments. These are all fundamental markers of a society (and government) that it committed to equality of opportunity for all.

    In a perfect world there would be no need for all-women shortlists, but this is not the case. Unless the political class become more progressive and have that drive I alluded to earlier about wanting to change the status quo, I fear that we’ll be having this same debate for many years to come. I, for one, do not wish to stand still.

    • http://twitter.com/MarioCreatura Mario Creatura

      I’ll happily talk about equality legislation and impact assessments but that has little relevance to private Party Parliamentary selection procedures. Like religious organisations, political groups are not subjected to the equality laws and can discriminate based on whatever ideals they choose to champion.

      That aside, you suggest that the political class need to be the ones to alter the status quo. I disagree entirely. The status quo, as I say in the piece, is most readily and permanently altered by the grassroots activists and members of the public getting interested, involved and changing their local politics. If the party selection officers in each constituency modernise then the national parliamentary picture will also modernise.

      That being said, I know that the Conservatives (through groups like ‘WomenOn’ and the ‘Conservative Women’s Forum’) are actively going out into communities to encourage women, through training and explanations of the process, how they can participate in the system. Similarly we have a Vice-Party Chairman with a specific focus on BAME enagement, touring the country promoting Conservative ideals in typically conservative religious and cultural communities. I’m sure Labour are doing the same.

      The best way for politics to diversify is not quotas or forced discrimination, it’s by encouraging people who feel they are wanted or welcome that they really are and helping them to play the democratic game.

      • http://twitter.com/bieneosa bieneosa

        Mario, if you refer to my post, you will see that I stated the political class needs to work “in tandem” with the under-represented group to change the status quo.

        In essence, what I am talking about is cultural change. There is a need for the political class to adapt. You link to this in your reference to party selection officers and the need for them to “modernise”. However, once again you have missed the overarching point that in order for the political class to adapt, for this cultural change to happen, they need to have the interest, drive and motivation to change the status quo. Many thought leaders in the field of cultural change have referenced this idea of ‘buy-in’ from leaders as a key parameter in order for change to be successful.

        Equality legislation can be viewed as part of the ‘culture’ of the political
        class. By attempting to relegate its importance, this sends a message to society that interest, drive and motivation in this area is waning. It questions the status of ‘equality of opportunity for all’ as one of our cultural values. In turn, this narrative permeates across society and subsequently influences its behaviour.

        You mention the Conservative Party is engaged in positive action initiatives to reach out to under-represented groups. This is good, but these initiatives are just part of the solution. We need to look at the bigger picture and include my points in relation to cultural change. This is how parliament will foster authentic and long-lasting change.

  • http://twitter.com/tomblackuk Tom Black

    First of all, thanks to Mario for a great and thorough response to my piece on this a few weeks back – I’m pleased this issue is able to generate debate, it’s what the Citizen is all about for me.

    I have to say, all party politics aside (which is something I don’t say often enough, really), Mario makes a compelling case for free selection battles and against positive discrimination. I’ve had a number of my own assumptions and understandings challenged – unsurprisingly, given this is a response piece to something I wrote!

    However, with all this in mind, I do feel Mario is (perhaps unsurprisingly) a little too easy on the Conservatives here. At times, just as we’ve seen with some of the comments here, this debate can descend into two camps shouting ‘no, YOU’RE sexist!’ at each other. Mario stayed relatively clear of this but there were times when I felt proponents of AWSs were being accused slightly too loudly of being patronising.

    Bieneosa has (as is often the case) put forward a number of things I agree with but articulated them much better than I could, but one thing from my piece that I was disappointed Mario didn’t respond to is the matter of the Tory A-list (which, incidentally, Mario’s boss and current Croydon Central MP Gavin Barwell was on). Its very existence puts an inherent restriction on ‘the freedom of individual party members’ that Mario says the Conservatives are so committed to, but that’s another debate. What’s relevant here is the 50:50 gender quota for candidates on the shortlist – imposed by Cameron (who, in another thing unmentioned by Mario, said last year he intended to introduce all-women shortlists for the Conservative Party). If the Tories wanted a fair fight with the best there could be, there wouldn’t be centrally-enforced ‘change from above’ lists of any kind, much less one where men and women are left out because ‘we’ve got enough of your category now’.

    This doesn’t detract from the forcefulness and various merits of Mario’s arguments (indeed he has pleasantly surprised me by not being ‘straight party line’ on this – and I don’t mean that facetiously, Mario, or to cause offence) but I thought it best to flag up a few things that had been, conveniently it seems, left out. A Creatura-led Tory Party would evidently be a bastion of libertarianism and fundamentally rooted in the principles of open contests and free debate. Our Cameron-led Tories, to say the least, do not quite fit that description. One hopes that anyone now seeing the Conservative Party as a bastion of women’s rights will go below the line and have a look at the lively discussion this contention has engendered!

    Other commenters have touched on the merits of open primaries – the Tories’ only successful candidate from one is a woman, incidentally – and this is definitely something for all parties in Croydon to chew on once the dust from 2015 has settled and Croydon Central’s MP begins her casework.

    But Mario’s argument that he doesn’t need his MP to look like he does definitely makes sense – Mario presumably would’ve moved to Doncaster North a long time ago if he needed an MP that looked like him!

    • http://twitter.com/MarioCreatura Mario Creatura

      Hear hear about the purpose of the Citizen! Sorely needed in the greatest of all London boroughs!

      As you say, most of your comment addresses points that I didn’t include in the post so to be criticised for them does seem to be a bit odd. The article was specifically about the flaws in Croydon Labour accepting their central office diktat that they should bar men from running in Central. That I referred (largely in passing) to the Conservatives is neither here nor there.

      On a practical point, due to length of the post (if not out of sympathy for the boredom of the reader!), I could not respond line-by-line to every point you made. That would have been a futile exercise.

      As you point out, I’ve not followed the party line because I’ve written a discussion piece that is entirely based on my own views. To therefore, in your next sentence, be subjected to criticism for decisions in my national party has taken without consulting me is a poor rhetorical attack. I can only answer by saying that I have little to no problem with a very high level discrimination to ensure that the candidate pool nationally is ‘equal’. This is something that most parties do: the national party acts as a metaphorical doorman to ensure that the right candidates get on the list. Once that happens then the national party should withdraw and trust the approved candidates to play the game and trust the membership to do the rest of the whittling. Labour’s all-women shortlist strategy removes that trust, infringes on a basic tenet of democratic freedom, and deters many women who are the exact ones we want to attract – something you acknowledge in your original article.

      I’ll let the cheap jibes about my appearance slide. But to think that Croydon Central will be an easy win for Labour is naive. Gavin is widely regarded across all parties as being one of the hardest-working, politically reasonable and empathetic MPs that Croydon has ever had. He may be paying my wages at present, but I didn’t write this article for him. I wrote it because I disagree with discriminatory all-women shortlists. We are collectively better than that. A shortlist accepted from above is easy. Genuine engagement, in the vein that Gavin is acknowledged to espouse daily, is tough and, in my view, the only real way to make equality work long-term. Quotas are not.

      • http://twitter.com/tomblackuk Tom Black

        A number of entirely fair points here – though I think to be compared to the fine stallion of a man currently leading the Labour Party ought to be taken as a compliment! ;)

        You’re right that to expect a line-by-line response to my piece would be wrong, but I do think you’ve taken slightly too much offense at my not-particularly-aggressively-expressed disappointment that you didn’t answer certain points of mine. But, as I say, I completely accept your reasoning – please don’t feel I’m accusing you of cherry-picking or spin.

        In response to your implied feeling that I’m somehow needling you personally for decisions taken by the wider party, let me assure you I am not. I know all too well how unfair that can be (as any member of any political party will tell you, I’m sure). I feel you’ve misunderstood my point – as I tried to make clear with my speculations of what a party in your image would look like, I wasn’t criticising you personally for decisions taken by the top of your party, but rather picking up on this sentence: ‘Equality of opportunity should mean that race, gender, age, and sexuality should not be factors in restricting choice. The Conservative Party believes that. ‘ As the debate we’ve had shows, certain wings of the Tories might believe that absolutely, but it seemed an unfair characterisation of the party at large given, in particular, its leader supports the measures you have attacked so effectively here. Hence my comment above, saying I wanted to set the record straight for anyone who took your quoted sentiment at face value.

        If you like, you can take it as a compliment that I spent so much of my comment looking at the bigger picture rather than refuting your own personal arguments – for I genuinely mean it when I say I’m not sure how to, aside from echoing the slight distaste at the assertion that minorities just have to learn to ‘play the game’. To extend the metaphor, I think women (who aren’t a minority, as has been said, but I know what you mean), BAME or LGBT ‘players’ are on Hard mode, while white middle class straight men are playing on Easy. Some players will always succeed, but not many minorities will reach the High Scores of Dennis Skinner, Simon Hughes or Priti Patel (I’m now stretching this metaphor a bit much, I suspect…).

        Perhaps this unfamiliar sensation I’m getting is what being partially won-over feels like? I still support AWSs, for the record, but that ‘probably’ in my first piece’s title might look a little more shaky now.

  • http://www.facebook.com/christhegoth Chris ‘thegoth’ Wilcox

    The Torys suck.

    As one of Croydon Labour’s researchers/ advisers I was going to be one of the many training our candidate anyway. Having the AWS foisted on us did annoy many; but we decided to rise to the challenge, as we believe in a decent male to female ratio in Parliament. Unlike what The Torys clearly demonstrate with their numbers. It’s got ‘Old Boys’ written all over it.

    Our candidate will be chosen based on skill & ability, and will then study further to improve herself even more. She may not be the best at time of selection ( a fair comment ), but by voting time she’ll be damn close. Very few Labour women are true d-graders. We have a-graders in our team. This can still, work for Croydon.

    The biggest concern was the risk of voter alienation in a marginal ‘Croydon Central’ seat. It’s not a safe seat. But we have 2 years to show our skill, & allay those fears.

    • http://twitter.com/MarioCreatura Mario Creatura

      ‘She may not be the best at time of selection’ – why not? Shouldn’t she be? You’re picking someone that’s not the ‘best’ and training them to be a robot, professional politician? You also say ‘she’ll be damn close’ to being ‘the best’ by the end of the process. Does that imply that even after your intensive training programme she still might not be good enough? And we wonder why people have little faith in politicians!

      • http://twitter.com/stephenjmann Stephen Mann

        Two points. Firstly, Mario I would suggest consulting party rules on by-elections and even party rules on selection processes. I agree with regards to by-elections that the process is not always the best but we have seen two women rise to the top on an open shortlist so some food for thought all around (almost 3 in case of North). I also believed there was some equality criterea attached to the Tory A list in 2010 which I haven’t seen mentioned above. Might be worth expanding upon?

        Secondly, Chris I think you really did leave yourself open to Mario there and I think in certain sections you might want to reword your post. As in all selections the party will decide who is best based off the standard process within the set perimeters. I am confident that the candidate will be capable of seeing off a very hard fight vs GB in Central. We will see how things go.

        • http://twitter.com/MarioCreatura Mario Creatura

          You’re right, Chris did leave himself open there.

          I’ve a couple of questions Stephen:

          1) That you say ‘the party will decide who is best based off the standard process within the set perimeters’ is political double-speak. The ‘set perimeters’ means ‘no men aloud here’. Did you vote in favour of all-women shortlists for Croydon Central?

          2) Out of interest, if Val Shawcross had won Croydon North do you think Croydon Central would still be designated an ‘all-women shortlist’ zone by Labour HQ?

          • http://twitter.com/stephenjmann Stephen Mann

            Mario, I like how you ignore the section regarding the A-list! Like with all selection processes there are premimeters even laid down by selection committees etc e.g. local link typicallyWhilst I’m not the biggest fan of AWS I do see its merits in places like Croydon which has never had a woman MP. As you can appreciate I do not disclose inner party information on this and I would think that you would take a similar approach.

            If Val had won I honestly don’t know. There has been talk for ages r.e. AWS (part of the joy of being a target seat). It would however have knocked my above argument off the table.

  • http://www.facebook.com/moguloilman Robert Ward

    The balance that the parties are trying to strike on this
    issue is between local interests that would like to see the candidate most able
    to represent the local party, win an election and thus represent the party and constituency
    in Parliament, against the justifiable wish of Party leadership for the Party
    in the House of Commons to be composed of a diverse group of individuals who together
    represent the entire country. In recent times, this conflicting need has manifested
    itself in the candidate selection process regarding gender, race, religion,
    education, class and whether the candidate is local or parachuted in from a
    central party list.

    The parties are trying to get to the same place, balancing
    their national and local needs. Their approach to solving the issue is in my
    view largely determined by their political credos. The Labour party
    instinctively leans towards central control whereas the Conservative Party is
    more reluctant to impose from the centre. That the Conservatives are exercising
    some measure of central mandate illustrates how seriously they are taking the
    issue.

    Where I part company with the articles and especially the
    attached comments are when the dialogue descends into the all-too-common ‘my
    party good, your party bad’ ping-pong. For me there is no right and wrong here.
    What is right for me may not be right for you. Diversity in the selection
    process adopted by the Parties is ok.

    When it comes to the next general election the electorate
    will take a view on which party best represents their interests. One of the factors
    in making that judgement will be the gender balance of their candidates. How
    they got there will not be the issue.

    • http://twitter.com/MarioCreatura Mario Creatura

      Very wise correct Robert.

      I do have to disagree with you slightly on this – I’m not entirely sure that saying ‘there isn’t a right or wrong’ here might not be wholly accurate. That there is a debate to be had, and that we are having it, indicates that us sharing ideas may have a benefit in the process. I might be entirely incorrect, I don’t think I am. Tom Black may be entirely correct, I don’t think he is. He will disagree. In the process of the dialogue something might happen that helps the situation to get better.

      Tribalism, different sides in an argument, (dare I say it) Party politics, is a good thing.

      But you’re right, how the public makes up its mind when it comes to voting is a very random, idiosyncratic process for each person!

      • http://twitter.com/tomblackuk Tom Black

        I agree with you on tribalism but have to agree with Robert that there’s no objective right or wrong here – and now seems an opportune time to point out that the title of my piece on this issue was ‘Why Croydon Central’s all-women shortlist is *probably* a good thing’ (emphasis added)! It seems to me we have a universally accepted ‘wrong’ – under-representation of women in parliament – but a wide and open debate on what the ‘right’ answer to it is *in practice*. That, to me, suggests there’s certainly no accepted ‘right answer’ to this.

  • http://www.facebook.com/moguloilman Robert Ward

    Returning to my point that there is no right answer, here are a few questions that I would want to answer if I were making a decision on AWSL.
    - Do I have enough talent in my established MPs to form a government? If not, where are the gaps, and would AWSL help to close them?
    - Do I have enough talented women candidates, both on my central list and in local parties to form a decent set of candidates? It would be counter-productive if I ended up with poor candidates just to make up the numbers. It might also be seen as a back-door method of bringing in central list career politician candidates if local candidates were systematically poor.
    - Does the electorate really care about gender balance? If so, how much?

    BTW, my personal view is that a 50/50 requirement in the candidate list is the way to go. It sends a clear message about direction without the pitfalls of an AWSL. This is similar to some of the positive discrimination processes in the U.S. on things like minorities entry to top universities.

  • Jo Stimpson

    I broadly agree with you that quotas and positive discrimination are highly problematic, and I’m not convinced that they are the right solution.

    However, you seem to be extremely brusque about the challenges facing so-called minorities (a misnomer when it comes to women) in getting into Parliament. If you really think there is a level playing field and success comes down to a candidate ‘playing the game correctly’ then you are too naive. Yes, it can be done by some, and yes, Thatcher did it, but that does not mean that there aren’t real barriers which fell a lot of potential candidates.

    The way you’ve used the word ‘emasculated’ rings alarm bells. Do you feel castrated by having your privilege mitigated? Is it fundamentally ‘demeaning’ to be feminized in this way?

    An interesting article, but after reading I don’t feel that you are a friend to women or to equality.

    • http://twitter.com/MarioCreatura Mario Creatura

      Jo – the article was addressing the discrimination that I feel all-women shortlists create, not me offering solutions to the challenges that women and other minorities face when running for public office. That’s a much more complicated issue and one that I have a lot of thoughts about! This particular piece was saying that AWS is a bad mechanism to create equality, not that I was rubbishing all efforts to create equality. Something that I think you agree with based on your comment?

      I said several times in the piece that there isn’t a level playing field. But that I felt the best way for us to collectively make a long-term difference in political gender equality is not with quotas or forced discrimination. I in fact said: ‘It isn’t enough just to open up and say we will treat everyone equally
      when you are starting from such a position of disadvantage. Just opening
      up and saying ‘You’re welcome to try if you want to’ doesn’t get over
      the fact that there have been all sorts of barriers in the way.
      Companies, political parties, and other organisations need to actively
      go out and encourage women to join in, to sign up, to take up guidance
      courses, to become part of the political system.’

      Claiming, therefore, that I’m not a friend of women or to equality is entirely disingenuous. I am, but not at the expense of our core democratic principles. Women deserve more respect than that.

  • Adrian Winchester

    I read Tom Black’s piece first, with an open mind, but in fact it helped to convince me that AWSs are generally a bad idea! I’m not surprised that the “parachuting problem” can cause dismay and disillusionment, in a situation where a male candidate (e.g.) has been a lifelong resident in the constituency and is highly respected for his work and accomplishments on behalf of the local community.

    I’m all for equal opportunities in the sense that any obstacles that are specifically detrimental to women need to be addressed, but I feel there’s a fundamental point that never seems to come up: what is the male/female balance of the people actually seeking to be candidates? If it’s anything like 50-50, there clearly is a serious equality issue, but if it’s comparable to the balance of MPs, I’d argue that female candidates are not at a disadvantage, because they are being elected in a similar proportion to male candidates. Does anyone know?

    Although we want our MPs to display a sense of vocation, it also a job and many jobs have gender imbalances. One example is the very low number of male primary school teachers, which is surely far from ideal, but no one seems to propose having all male shortlists as the best way to address this.

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  • Carmen

    I would be curious to find out how many women you actually spoke to as research for this discussion?