The so-called Liberal Democrats need more discrimination

by Ray Filar

“Political equality is a pre-requisite for, not just a
consequence of, social equality”.

– Why Lib Dem Women Face Electoral Meltdown, the fabian society.

Fans of the political cockfest rejoice: Lib Dem women MPs could soon be “wiped out”. This week, The fabian society released a report arguing that in the next general election it is possible that all current women Liberal Democrat MPs will lose their seats. Wake up and read that again. It is possible that after the next general election, there will be 100% male Lib Dem MPs, and 0% female Lib Dem MPs. All men, no women. Not even one woman. Not one.

Those of you who have been living in a crater on the moon since 1905 will wonder why this matters. I’ll tell you one reason why. It matters that the Lib Dems do not lose their women MPs, just as it matters that Labour and the Conservatives continue to push for increased women’s representation in their still under-representative parties, because representative voices in government are the only way to representative policy for people.

Its easy to see how this might play out. To take just the first example that springs to mind, the identity of a fundamentalist Catholic is totally at odds with the identity of a woman who believes in her right to not have other people tell her what to do with her body. One only needs to look at certain parts of the USA, or Ireland, to see that a female and feminist counterbalancing voice in its own interest(s) is required.

Before you resolve to immediately run to Nick Clegg HQ to froth angrily in person, stop a while for the fabian society’s breakdown of the facts. This is their argument: five of the Lib Dems’ twelve most vulnerable seats are held by five of their existing seven women MPs. The two women MPs that aren’t in the twelve most vulnerable seats are nevertheless in relatively marginal ones, constituencies that might easily swing to Labour on the basis of general Lib Dem bastardry. None of the twenty safest Lib Dem seats is being contested by a woman.

Considerable pinches of salt accounted for, if the polls are even half right, all of the current Lib Dem women MPs will lose their seats in the next general election. The whole situation epitomises that old adage, “women: last hired, first fired”.

The twittersphere (will the terrible twitter-related modernisms ever end?) went mad in reaction to Cameron’s sexist put-down, “calm down, dear”. That the House of Commons, allegedly the heart of British political decision-making, is an environment where the prime minister feels able to attempt an old misogynist silencing technique speaks volumes about the need for more women in Parliament.

I was once (un)lucky enough to dine with a conservative of the hellfire and brimstone ilk. Over our main courses, he asked me if I genuinely believed that rich, white, middle-class men are stupid, that they are just intrinsically incapable of taking into account anyone else’s political interests but their own.

A little thrown by this, I spluttered “no, of course not”, before immediately contradicting myself, “but their track record isn’t that great”. Needless to say, the following pause was rife with consideration of the implications of this for rich, white, middle-class men’s cognitive capacities.

Of course, in true esprit de l’escalier, I realised immediately after that the witty, burden-of-proof-transferring retort would have been “what do you believe is so intrinsic to rich, white middle-class men that it is right that they alone should make policy for everyone else”?

Given forty plus years of organised British feminism, one might be forgiven for believing that this discussion was rather redundant. Except that, clearly, it isn’t. Even if the Lib Dems lose only the five female MPs who are in the twelve shaky seats, the gender ratio will be worse than it was in the 1930s. In other words, the utterly unbelievable none, compared to the pitiful one out of ten.

Leaving aside the distinct probability that the Lib Dems will, in general, be entirely decimated come the next election, this is still awful. The fabian society suggests that the Lib Dems need to take at least one of two measures. One, they need to reopen selections and allow women to contest a quarter (though why not half?) of the twenty safe seats. Two, they need to adopt positive discrimination in the form of all-women shortlists.

To advocate positive discrimination, however, hits at the heart of the right-wing libertarian interpretation of liberalism taken on board by much of the Liberal Democrat party. There seems to be an underlying belief that liberalism equals the “get on with it free market free-for-all”, and bad luck if you lose out. But there is nothing illiberal about positive discrimination where to adopt it works to promote, not hinder, liberty.

Identity politics, in the feminist sense, could be described as the belief that being a member of the class “woman” is relevant to politics and its effects, women’s representation in politics is important. We aren’t slaves to our socialisation as members of a particular class, gender, sexuality, or race, but neither are we totally immune to it.

The “calm down its just a joke and why can’t I make your decisions for you, dears” who queue up to decry identity politics, to suggest that it isn’t necessary anymore, fail to see that it is hard at work within current party politics. The white men who hold fifty of the fifty seven Liberal Democrat seats are an identity group just as white women are, or ethnic minority women, or, for that matter, black lesbian disabled jewish women.

Women need voices in government to defend our liberties, social, economic, and otherwise. If there are no women’s voices, it is easy to see the ways in which our freedom, and the political and social equality and support that is needed for access to our freedom, is denied, ignored, or stifled.

The prime minister clearly believes that a “calm down, dear” can be appropriate or funny, and that it has not been said a million times before to a million women who are, for the millionth time, sick and tired of being told to shut up when we express a forceful opinion.

I suggest more women in government, starting with a wholehearted Liberal Democrat adoption of positive discrimination. It’s not only to speak up for women when some wanker tries to silence them, though that, at least, would be a start. If a gender-equal weight of diverse voices isn’t liberal and democratic, nothing is.

Ray Filar blogs here.


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12 Responses to “The so-called Liberal Democrats need more discrimination”

  1. iain ker says:

    a woman who believes in her right to not have other people tell her what to do with her body

    ***************************************************

    She can do what she wants with her body, it’s the baby inside that might just have some rights all of his/her very own.

    Consider the hospital where in one room a 23 week old baby is born prematurely and the resources of the hospital are mobilised to care for her/him, before after some weeks of intensive care going back home to a loving family.

    But in another room in the same hospital a 23 year old baby (now rebadged as ‘a foetus’) is injected in the heart and/or decapitated, induced, and after no care whatsoever packed off to the incinerator.

    If you think the latter is acceptable, fine, but don’t dress it up as some kind of noble feminist ‘right’.

  2. Ray Filar says:

    @iain ker

    Women are not just baby containers. The right to abortion is a feminist right.

  3. Josephine says:

    Iain, I think somebody’s playing a bit fast and loose with the knowledge they picked up from the BBC documentary about 23 week babies, aren’t they?

    The lovely summary you just gave is far from the truth isn’t it? The resuscitation of 23 week old foetuses is considered highly unethical, not least by doctors (who in the programme all said that they would not choose to resuscitate their own 23 week babies, do you remember that bit?) They do not just chill in intensive care for ‘some weeks’ and then go home leaving everyone happy – these are babies that need a whole other trimester in the womb and to survive for more than a few moments outside it they need to have their papery skin bruised and pierced with needles and their tiny hearts aggressively pumped. A miniscule percentage survive after millions of pounds have been spent on this brutal treatment, and those that do are left with some form of extreme disability, and these vulnerable young adults are given no state support whatsoever past the age of 18.

    You are a perfect example of the many people who get extremely passionate about the rights of foetuses yet have no answers for those already living, like the young woman locked in her own paralysed body after being born too early and resuscitated, or the woman who is faced with the enormity of suddenly discovering there is a baby growing inside her that she didn’t plan (something you will never be able to empathise with).

    A 23 week old foetus is not ready to be born and it is cruel to attempt otherwise. It IS a woman’s right to have full control over her own body, and every child deserves to be wanted and healthy.

  4. iain ker says:

    23 week old baby – please edit

  5. “She can do what she wants with her body, it’s the baby inside that might just have some rights all of his/her very own.”

    Yes, I quite agree. On the other hand, why do you privilege those rights above those of the mother who has, after all, been a living being (independent of *her* mother’s body) for long enough to reach puberty and for her body to carry a baby. Surely she deserves just as many rights as the as-yet-unborn foetus whose life, for the duration of its time in the womb, is a huge drain physically and emotionally on the mother.

    Furthermore, what also bothers me about those who object to abortion on the grounds of cruelty to the child, and the responsibility of a parent, seem to forget that maybe abortion is sometimes the more ethical choice than bringing a child into the world when you are not in a position to give it the love and care that every human being deserves. Maybe there’s always adoption, but that can be just as traumatic a process as abortion, if not maybe sometimes more so, for both parties.

    I would argue that it’s sometimes the more responsible thing to know in your heart of hearts that you cannot give the foetus you are carrying the life it deserves and so to take steps to protect both it and your own body from the potential agony of pregnancy and an unhappy/insecure childhood.

    If, however, you think that is irresponsible and cruel, then I’m sure you’ll agree that the far better course is for a woman to have to carry a child to full term, take on the pain and the risks (because even in Britain, giving birth is still hugely risky) and the trauma of childbirth, and then send child and mother out into the world with the mother knowing that for whatever reason she cannot give the child everything it both needs and deserves from its parents. That’s definitely both responsible and kind.

  6. AnneJGP says:

    This article tackles a really important issue and it’s a pity the comments have plunged straight into the abortion debate, vital though that debate is. It could well be that more women in parliament would render the abortion debate more productive.

    It seems to me that, rather than the current half-baked attempt to foist voting reform on a disinterested populace, we actually need a good, solid debate on what we want from parliamentary representation in the 21st century.

    Kudos to the Labour party for their all-women short-lists; could you go the extra mile and adopt a policy to work towards dividing the country into male/female constituencies? Now that is going to take some doing – but best adopt that policy when the party’s seat-count is at a comparative low, surely.

    That policy would provide an excellent reason for voting reform, would it not? A dual representation (constituency and list) system would provide the necessary flexibility – if too many constituency PPCs were of either gender, the list would enable a balance to be struck.

  7. iain ker says:

    A miniscule (sic) percentage survive after millions of pounds have been spent on this brutal treatment – Josephine.

    *******************************************

    20% according to Epicure. Hardly minuscule.

    Cancer treatment is pretty brutal, so is heart surgery, brain surgery, should we stop doing that.

    Your use of emotive language hardly helps your argument, and neither does ‘it IS (ooh big letters) a womans right’, either.

    I didn’t see the BBC documentary, I can actually, you know, think for myself.

    You may be for wimmin’s rights; big whup: I’m for the poor mite that gets carted off to the incinerator all because he or she is a wee bit inconvenient.

    And as for

    ‘I would argue that it’s sometimes the more responsible thing to know in your heart of hearts that you cannot give the foetus you are carrying the life it deserves and so to take steps to protect both it and your own body from the potential agony of pregnancy and an unhappy/insecure childhood.’

    I’m doing it for the foetus (always a foetus of course and never a baby) not for me, me, me – no really I am.

    Horse dollop.

  8. iain ker says:

    ‘it’s a pity the comments have plunged straight into the abortion debate’
    AnneJGP.

    Yeah, you say that now.

    I bet if you were 23 weeks old with a sneaking suspicion that you were ‘getting in the way’ you might have a different view.

  9. Ray Filar says:

    @iain ker

    Care to estimate the number of 23 week old babies who are annoyed to see the abortion debate being sidelined on Labour Uncut?

    @AnneJGP

    A dual representation female/male system sounds good, but how would it work/be implemented?

  10. AnneJGP says:

    @iain ker

    Thank you for your passion. I believe that future generations will look back with loathing and contempt for our casual slaughter of the innocent.

    Unfortunately, the vast majority of us have already made up their minds that this slaughter is a good & compassionate thing.

    Awakening the consciences of such a vast number of people requires an effort akin to the abolition of slavery.

    I applaud your own efforts in that line, but individual efforts sway very few people.

    I believe that having more women in parliament (and, specifically, more Lib Dem women) will be a very useful step in the effort.

  11. AnneJGP says:

    @Ray Filar

    I’d be interested to hear proposals from those who know about parliamentary representation.

    For starters, how did Labour decide which constituencies should have all-women shortlists imposed?

    From my own position of ignorance, one might begin by looking at those constituencies which have never yet elected a woman MP. Or looking at whether there are places where female/male role models are particularly needed.

    We have a Commission to look at constituency boundaries; why not have a Commission to look at constituency needs? For example, if a largely Muslim constituency had a female MP, wouldn’t it smooth the path of Muslim women who need a meeting with their MP?

    I don’t know too much about the “list” system but it obviously works, so why wouldn’t it work with a 2-part “list” divided by gender? Once the gender totals for constituency MPs are known, “list” MPs could be allocated according to the gender which needs increasing.

    But unless experts look into it, we’ll never know whether it is either possible or desirable, will we? As I said above, what we really need is “a good, solid debate on what we want from parliamentary representation in the 21st century”.

  12. Hugh says:

    Just out of curiosity, was I the unnamed conservative diner? I presume not as I felt practically leprechaun-esque that night.

    I love the first sentence of the second paragraph. Personally, I try to think as if I have been dead in a coffin since, oh, some time between 1840 and 1870 (I haven’t honed the date down yet as real life distracts me from doing enough historical research) for solid poststructuralist reasons. It puts a serious strain on the coherence of my noetic structure doing that whilst using the internet, I can tell you.

    One of the regular problems with this debate is the dual sense of the word ‘representative’ and how left-liberalism has made a modern sense the dominant one. Because I have to get up early to commute to Brighton tomorrow (it’s going to be an *excellent* place for the fire and brimstone when I move down in August), I’ll shamelessly plagiarise an academic here, without telling you this academic’s income, skin colour or underwear equipment so as to avoid a fuss.

    “Although British politics today is certainly not free from short-term populism or populism based on hatred, the two sorts of populism that dominate are of a different, newer variety, which hide under an unexamined and vague notion of democracy. The first of these sorts – the populism of ‘representation’ – concerns the mechanism of politics: the way in which we choose the politicians who will both conduct day-to-day politics and government and who often take a role in formulating more general policy.

    The way ‘represent’ has changed in meaning epitomizes the character of this type of populism. Representative government means, traditionally, government which is not a direct democracy, but rather in which the people choose a select group to do the business of government as their representatives. These representatives are not supposed in any sense to be like the people they represent. On the contrary, they should be those who are good at the business of policy and politics which they are elected to conduct. This older meaning of ‘representative’ has almost entirely been lost in political discourse (it remains in other contexts – for instance, a sales representative’s job is to act on behalf of his or her firm). ‘Representative’ in political language is now generally an adjective. In this new sense, one group is representative of another larger group where the variety of its members is similar: so the proportions of men and women, young and old, able and disabled, racial minorities are roughly the same. Similarly, an individual is thought to be ‘representative’ of a group if he or she is like an average member of that group. It is now generally and unthinkingly accepted that those who stand for election to Parliament, from among whom most members of any government will be drawn, should be representative of the electorate in this sense of the word. It is seen as a matter for concern, needing rectification, that Parliament does not in fact mirror the racial, cultural and gender balance of society as a whole, and on the level of individual MPs, those choosing who can stand for election think it perfectly proper to try to choose someone like themselves and the people of the constituency, and some parties, so far from acting to eradicate this populism, have even encouraged it.”

    In short, I’d adhere to the first notion because, for quite boring Platonic reasons, I think democracy should be about getting good government without bloodshed, not enacting the will of ‘the people’ (whoever they are). In this regard, my only concern is to get more Conservative MPs in parliament, not because of identity politics (because I know lots of frightful Libertarians and Whigs and Watermelon Socialists etc. who carry a blue party card) but because Conservatives are more likely to be conservatives, and I do think (again on sweeping grand-narrative judgments about history similar to your own as regards ‘women’s rights’) that there is something intrinsic to being conservative that makes one better at the process of government, even if this betterness is often hopelessly mitigated by all the other factors at play in an individual.

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