Electing Diverse MPs

Earlier today, I gave a speech from the platform at the Lib Dem conference in York. It turned out that I was Tim Farron’s warm-up act – he was next on. The motion was essentially about all-women shortlists – the Lib Dems currently have 8 pale and male MPs, and their history hasn’t been brilliant either.

For me, equality is measured in outcomes, which often means that you may need to treat people differently at the outset. There’s a classic picture of three kids of different sizes looking over a fence. Equality means that the smallest kid gets the biggest box. Giving them all the same sized box does nothing effective.

Anyway, lots of people came up afterwards and congratulated me on the speech, including an MP. A few guys said it had changed their minds. I didn’t get all the way through, but here’s the full version:

Conference, let me start by declaring an interest in this debate. I’m a woman, one of that minority of 51% of the population. I’ve also just started the process of seeing if you want me as a parliamentary candidate. Who knows, this speech could bring that process to a swift conclusion.

I support the motion and amendment 2.

Something that some of you may not have twigged is that for the first 40 years of my life, I lived as male. Transitioning to live as female reinforced what I had already learnt – that men have a lot of power and social status, and most don’t realise it.

I started a software company just before I transitioned in 2004. As a woman I have to work a lot harder to be listened to, to be taken seriously, than when I was perceived as a man. I had experience of doing software demonstrations and training for many years before 2004, so I can make that first-hand comparison. Doing presentations over the last 10 years with my male sales director, you can see men wonder why I am there, because surely I, a woman, couldn’t have the required technical knowledge, and I clearly am not there for my looks. The fact that I had designed and written the software seems beyond their initial comprehension. And yet, my male sales director simply hadn’t twigged this until I pointed it out to him. Men simply unaware of the status and privilege they have – bless.

Having been in politics for just 10 months, it feels similar. While we, as Liberal Democrats, support the idea of equality, it can be hard for the men amongst us to grasp what that truly means. Lack of equality means lack of representation where it matters. Let me give you an example.

How many out trans MPs are there? How many have there ever been? The answer, my friends, is a big, fat zero. While Parliament has just woken up to some of the issues that trans people face, and the Commons has just had an Inquiry where they talked to a few trans people, including me, we rely on allies to raise issues. While we have some great allies in the Lords, like Baronesses Barker and Featherstone, and had some great allies in the Commons like Julian Huppert, we can’t currently force parliamentarians to look a trans person in the eye in either chamber to explain exactly why we should continue to suffer discrimination in schools and in wider society, continue to receive poor and often delayed healthcare, and be locked up in the wrong prisons should we do something wrong. Despite the best efforts of our allies, these things continue to happen, and the law continues to enshrine some of it. It was only when MPs and peers started to come out as lesbian and gay that things started to improve markedly for lesbian and gay people.

(My time ran out here)

So you see, lack of representation is dangerous. When minorities aren’t taken seriously, people in those unrepresented and under represented groups suffer. And women are suffering in this harsh climate of Tory austerity. Women who are also part of other minority groups are probably suffering most.

Conference, we need to ensure that we have diverse Liberal Democrat MPs to work alongside our diverse Liberal Democrat peers, who have first hand experience of the issues faced by their various communities.

While I’m not calling for all trans or all LGBT lists, we need to ensure that women have assistance to overcome the unconcious bias against us. Look where the status quo has got us. Bear in mind that the Church of England is currently using all-women short lists as a temporary measure when appointing new bishops. We can’t be out-liberalled by the church.

Please, conference, support the motion, reject amendment 1, and support amendment 2.

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