Monday, 28 October 2013

Sexism in the Lib Dems

Something which is really pissing me off at the moment is the way that overt sexism can continue to get a free pass in the Liberal Democrats.

I mean, the vast majority of liberals would say they're against sexism and would claim that they wouldn't tolerate it but actions speak louder than words. And when it comes to actions, things are pretty disappointing. Of course, this isn't unique to the Lib Dems as sexist double standards and hypocrisy are par for the course in every political party and across society as a whole but it still sticks in the craw when the Lib Dems are a party meant to be founded on the principle of the fundamental equality of every human being.

What's triggered this rant is a report in the Independent that Nick Clegg is considering supporting introducing All Women Shortlists (AWS) if the proportion of female Lib Dem MPs (currently 7 out of 57) doesn't improve significantly in 2015.

(As a quick explanation, an all women shortlist is where only women are allowed to be considered as candidates for a particular seats in order to guarantee that a woman is selected).

Now, whether or not people support AWS is one thing. Personally I tend to support the introduction of them (or preferably, all diversity shortlists). But what is clear to everyone is that the party has a big problem with gender balance at a parliamentary level - and also in fact at every other level apart from a European one where positive action was taken in the first election in order to obtain a gender balance which has maintained itself ever since.

So that's why comments like this underneath the Lib Dem Voice article on the story are so frustrating:
I would suggest that most women are far too sensible and considerate to their families to put themselves and their loved ones through the terrible strains required by the prolonged self-exploitation required to be a Lib Dem candidate in anything other than a ‘safe’ held succession seat. This doesn’t leave many seats for them to ‘go for’. Not all men are basically more selfish and inconsiderate but more than enough are.
Now what this is is a spectacular example of "benevolent", paternalistic, patronising sexism. It's basically saying that women are much "nicer" and more "gentle" (subtext: weaker) than men and that's why not so many women don't stand as candidates. Or, basically, it's saying that women are too weak compared to rough and tough men to get involved in politics and this is the source of the problem rather than sexism within the party which prevents and discourages women from standing to be elected.

Yes, sure, benevolent sexism like this can sound friendly, and even complimentary - after all, this guy is just saying that women aren't selfish and inconsiderate, what's wrong with that?

Except this is the exact problem with benevolent sexism. It sounds friendly so it tends to get less scrutiny and yet the underlying assumptions of it, that women are all have families and are focused mainly on them, that women are weaker and less interested in involvement in "tough" subjects like politics, are just as awful and harmful as run-of-the-mill sexism.

And the guy who said this is a Lib Dem councillor in Southport. His name is Tony Dawson.

Cllr Tony Dawson
So here we have someone in a position of authority in local government, who is an elected office holder representing the Lib Dems and who, by virtue of being a councillor, will have significant authority in his local party compared to an ordinary member.

Yet this kind of comment by him gets a free pass. I'm the only person who bothered to challenge him in the thread on his sexism. And when I did I got this comment from another person who rushed into defend Tony Dawson:
You can put silly words into Tony’s mouth if you want to, but when you have been around as long has he has, and have seen what it involves, you will realise he is telling the truth. You may not like it, but there it is. 
P.S. You can call us ageist if you wish, but the one place you get experience from is having seen your own and others’ youthful naivety fail before. You may not like that either …
Yup, you heard it here first ladies and gents. Saying that women are "far too sensible" and "considerate to their families" to get involved in politics is just a statement of fact about reality. And only naive, silly young people would think otherwise.

Well bollocks to that kind of sexism and bollocks to that kind of ageism. I've been an active party member for four years, I sit on a regional executive, I'm policy officer for the Lib Dem Disability Association, I've stood twice as a council candidate, I'm secretary of my local party and I'm a member of my local party's campaign committee as well as chairing our membership development and events committee.

And in all of those four years I've had first Sue Doughty and then Kelly-Marie Blundell as my local Lib Dem parliamentary candidate. Both of them women. Both of them fantastic, amazing candidates. Both of them considerate and sensible people who care about their families. And both of whom have been fantastic standard bearers for the Lib Dems and as good as any a candidate a local party could ever ask for.

So, I'm sorry to the benevolent sexists and ageists out there but women are just as good as men, just as capable as men and the fact that we have so few women MPs is a problem with sexism in the party - not with women being innately too shy and passive to stand for election in the same numbers as men.

And, while I'm at it, any twazzock who thinks that just because I'm under the age of 25 my opinions can't be valid can go fornicate themselves given that the likes of them seem perfectly happy to exploit young people as leaflet deliverers and general campaigning canon fodder whenever they need us but can't stand the idea of us having opinions of our own and being entitled to the same respect for them that anyone over the age of 25 is entitled to.


  1. George,

    Before you go on and make yourself seem like a complete Twazzock (to use your own expression - apparently a general insult to suggest that someone is stupid and/or weird) even on your own Blog, can I say that “One thing that really disappoints me at the moment, is the way that overt ‘I know bestism’ is rampant in some members of the Lib Dems”. They tend to espouse evidence based policy making, but only when the answers agree with their own pre-conceptions of what they would like the facts to be. Instead, they resort to name calling, random use of what used to be called “bad language” and talking down to anyone who disagrees with their analysis.

    So let us look at a bit of the evidence base around Lib Dems getting themselves elected, and how hard it really is.

    1) Ronnie Fearn - Southport

    1970 first stood for parliament, increasing our share of the vote from 20% to 30%.
    He became a councillor in 1973
    He was second again in 1974 (both times) when he increased our share of the vote to 36% (still 10% behind the Tory).
    In 1979 he increased our share again to 38%.
    In 1983 he wasn’t selected, but supported Ian Brodie Brown to achieve 40%.
    In 1987 he stood again and won with 48% of the vote.
    In 1992 he lost,
    In 1997 he won again with 48% of the vote, before handing the constituency on the John Pugh in 2001

    Seventeen years of hard slog to achieve success. Another ten to be sure it was embedded.

    2) Gordon Birtwistle – Burnley

    1982 became a local councillor
    1992 stood for Burnley – 36.6% behind Labour
    1997 – 40% behind Labour
    2001 – not selected
    2002 – Burnley Council 27 Lab; 8 Lib Dem; 10 Others
    2003 – Burnley Council 24 Lab; 7 Lib Dem; 14 Others
    2004 – Burnley Council 21 Lab; 11 Lib Dem; 13 Others
    2005 – 14% behind Labour
    2006 – Led Burnley Lib Dems to control Council
    2006 – Burnley Council 16 Lab; 16 Lib Dem; 13 Others
    2007 – Burnley Council 12 Lab; 23 Lib Dem; 10 Others. Lib Dems take control.
    2010 – Burnley Council 14 Lab; 24 Lib Dem; 7 Others
    2010 – elected 4.4% ahead of Labour

    Eighteen years to achieve success. Whether our involvement in the coalition makes it impossible for him to embed it will be seen in 2015 and beyond.

  2. Now I have no doubt that since you joined Guildford Lib Dems when you went to Surrey University, you have found that first Sue, and now Kelly Marie to be fantastic, amazing candidates. I personally was overjoyed when Sue was first elected, and so disappointed in 2005 when she just lost out. Also, when you say “every parliamentary candidate we’ve had since 1983 has been a woman and been absolutely fantastic,” I have no reason to doubt you, although you must have been quite young (Age minus 8 years?) when Margaret first stood in 1983, and only 6 when she last stood in 1997. However, allowing for the usual political license in some areas of debate, sadly often being “absolutely fantastic,” isn’t enough, and as I’m sure you can see, the Conservatives have a remarkable ability to recover lost ground on the Council without there being anything like the effort needed to get the Lib Dems originally elected, and likewise in Westminster. All in all, it will take even more than just the best efforts of Margaret, Sue and Kelly-Marie to achieve the result we all want (i.e. Guildford to be a Lib Dem stronghold).
    As I said in my post on Lib Dem Voice, you do seem to want to reinterpret other’s comments to support your own view of the world, and apply your own form of ‘I know best’ rather than to engage in discussion and debate. Thus your comment, ‘What a brilliant example of paternalism and sexism. Tony Dawson, please let me translate the subtext of your comment: “Listen women, stay at home with your family and don’t worry your pretty little heads about politics – the big strong men will take care of it for you. It’s all for your own good.” ’ really says to me “I won’t enter into discussion with you, I will just put words in your mouth to make me sound good”. When you then expand it further with the casual “That kind of attitude and people like you who hold them are the problem with this party and this country. I really hope that you’ll wake up to the patronising sexism of what you’re saying because it really is awful,” I think the truth as to just how dangerously blinkered you are being comes out.
    Tony knows how difficult it is, because he has seen the failure of many idealistic young Lib Dems like you and Liberals before them. He has also seen at first hand what it takes to achieve success. He is giving expert advice so you have a chance to avoid the mistakes of the past rather than repeat them and fail again. Feeling it is wrong that it takes more effort than you can imagine to achieve success for the Lib Dems is understandable, but don’t blame someone for pointing it out. To learn from the mistakes of the past takes a willingness to listen and understand, not just to pen a quick one line put down, and then retire in the comfort of personal self-righteousness. Recognising sexism is a bit more tricky than simply calling someone you disagree with a sexist.

  3. Sadly however, it is the almost random unpleasantness that you choose to include in your posts which is most disappointing. Branding someone with the comment “those that do put themselves forward face sexism from the likes of yourself and Tony.” Or “Well bollocks to that kind of sexism and bollocks to that kind of ageism.” Or finally “And, while I'm at it, any twazzock who thinks that just because I'm under the age of 25 my opinions can't be valid can go fornicate themselves given that the likes of them seem perfectly happy to exploit young people as leaflet deliverers and general campaigning canon fodder whenever they need us but can't stand the idea of us having opinions of our own and being entitled to the same respect for them that anyone over the age of 25 is entitled to.” Respect really has to be earned and all in all this post says a lot more about you than anything else.

    I would very seriously suggest you approach someone you really respect (perhaps Sue or Kelly-Marie) and ask them what they think of your language and demeanour in these posts and whether they think it will portray the Lib Dems in a way that is likely to make their job in Guildford easier. I will await your reply, but I would suggest deleting this entire thread from your blog will be a start. From there, perhaps an apology to Tony would go some way to remedy the situation.

  4. Now I think I understand why you haven't been blogging George. I had thought it was because of studies.

    I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for your comments. Frankly, you are one of only two LibDems that I have any respect for - and you know me as a member of the Labour Party from the point of Coalition. I hope that doesn't embarrass you. It doesn't embarrass my best friend's husband who was a LibDem!

    I do hope that you haven't given up blogging, because you have so much to say and so much more to say.

    Good luck for the future. I hope you find a decent depository for your wealth of understanding.


  5. You say:' any twazzock who thinks just because I'm under the age of 25 my opinions can't be valid can go fornicate themselves' - a great way to impress us all with your maturity!


I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

I am happy to address most contributions, even the drunken ones if they are coherent, but I am not going to engage with negative sniping from those who do not have the guts to add their names or a consistent on-line identity to their comments. Such postings will not be published.

Anonymous comments with a constructive contribution to make to the discussion, even if it is critical will continue to be posted. Libellous comments or remarks I think may be libellous will not be published.

I will also not tolerate personation so please do not add comments in the name of real people unless you are that person. If you do not like these rules then start your own blog.

Oh, and if you persist in repeating yourself despite the fact I have addressed your point I may get bored and reject your comment.

The views expressed in comments are those of the poster, not me.