We might already be a few days into January but it's this week that 2016 really gets going. With that in mind I'll be sharing some ideas on what the party's priorities should be for the new year through this week, starting with our number one problem; diversity.
So without further ado.
Resolution 1: Do something serious about diversity.
I'll start this with a supposition, or two. Firstly, that the fact that we have an all-white, all-male parliamentary party is simply unacceptable, represents a serious threat to our status as a national party and has to be dealt with. Secondly, that despite the best efforts of many fantastic people, our previous (and current) solutions to this problem have failed.
I suspect few people will disagree with the first point, more with the second. Even if you don't agree that we've failed, I suspect you'll at least agree that we need to do more.
During his leadership campaign Tim Farron made a commitment to have a gender balanced slate of candidates in 2020, with 10% of those being from BAME backgrounds. It’s a good proposal, but it doesn't go far enough or tackle the real issue. The party is facing nothing short of a crisis, not just in terms of selecting candidates from under represented groups but in actually electing them.
In 2015 the party actually did OK in terms of selected a gender balanced cohort of candidates, not as well as it could, but the fact we have ended up with an all white, all male parliamentary party isn't because we failed to select any female or BAME candidates in winnable seats, it's because none of them won. The same thing happened in 2010, when half of the party’s target seats were fought by women but we ended up with only a tiny number of female MPs.
The reasons for this are complex, but if you look at the pressure and expectation that the party puts on candidates. it doesn't take long to see why the whole thing is totally biased towards middle class white men. For example, candidates are often expected to relocate at their own expense, to give up full time work for (at least) several months before polling day, to be able to give up family commitments and to have a network of high net worth donors who can fund their campaign. All of these things make it disproportionatly easy for middle class white men not just to get selected for seats, but to go on and win them.
We must take action that results in us actually electing some under represented candidates, not just selecting them.
There are no shortage of options here, and some of them will be controversial, but carrying on the way we are is simply not acceptable. The leadership needs to be bold, and they must stand up to the usual voices who either directly argue against any change, or attempt to kill it by committee.
We also need to face up to the uncomfortable truth and centre of this issue; any real solution to our diversity problem will make it harder for middle class white men to get elected.
That, dear reader, is the whole point. We shouldn't pretend otherwise and, speaking as a middle class white man, those of us negatively affected need to take a second and reflect on all the accumulated advantages our gender, background and ethnicity have conferred on us up to now. Any steps the party takes will not "disadvantage" middle class white men, they will merely reduce by a fraction the huge advantage we carry with us daily. We'll need to grow up and get over it.
Also, a small addendum to this. As well as dealing with gender balance and BAME representation, we need to also do more to support candidates on lower incomes. There is no reason why a comprehensive solution can't be found to deal with that as well.
Anything we do here will be controversial and difficult, but it's essential. The fact that we're still having this debate in 2016 is humiliating, if we're still having it in 2020 it will be unforgivable.
Edit: When originally posted this stated that Tim Farron had committed us to 20% BAME candidates, the correct figure is 10%.