Lewes MP challenges Lib Dem leader on gender equality ‘excuses’

Lewes MP Maria Caulfield speaking at the House of Commons' Women and Equalities Committee (photo from parliament.tv). SUS-161210-134452001
Lewes MP Maria Caulfield speaking at the House of Commons' Women and Equalities Committee (photo from parliament.tv). SUS-161210-134452001

Lewes’ MP has challenged Lib Dem leader Tim Farron on his ‘excuses’ for being a parliamentary party of ‘eight white blokes’.

The House of Commons’ Women and Equalities Committee is currently holding an inquiry into the number of women in the chamber after the 2020 general election, as 70 per cent of MPs are men.

Representatives of the main Westminster parties gave evidence to the committee last Wednesday (October 12), with Lewes MP Maria Caulfield asking Lib Dem leader Tim Farron what he was doing to improve gender equality in his party.

She said: “The impression I get is the Liberal Democrats are blaming two things as to why it’s not more representative of the public it aims to serve.

“Firstly is PR [proportional representation] well you know we had a referendum on that during the last Parliament and it seems to be that the Liberal Democrats aren’t respecting the result of that referendum, because we are going to have first-past-the-post so you are going to have to live with that and learn to elect more women MPs with that system that the British public voted for.

“But the second issue is the excuse that you are only a small party so that’s why there’s only white men in Parliament, but actually in 2010 you only had one more MP than the SNP currently have and yet they have managed to elect MPs that are representative of the populations that they serve.

“Is it something about the Liberal party itself at the moment that there are problems there and you are using those two excuses for why you are all white men?”

Mr Farron conceded they had lost the alternative vote referendum in 2011.

He said: “I merely reflect that all the empirical evidence shows that the defining factors in every parliament in the world where there is gender equality that we would aspire to is proportional representation and all-women shortlists.”

Ms Caulfield replied: “But that’s not going to happen.”

Mr Farron added: “I’m saying if we want to fix it those are the two common features. You are right, what can I do to affect what I can affect?

“Really this is about all of us seeking to get our own houses in order and keep them in order.”

He explained his shadow cabinet had a 50/50 ratio, but it was ‘blindingly obvious’ to look at the Lib Dem parliamentary party of ‘eight white blokes’ there was a lack of diversity, but he had introduced ‘radical’ measures including a diversity programme and all-women shortlists for the 2020 general election.

Ms Caulfield, a Tory MP, unseated Lib Dem Norman Baker at the last general election in 2015.

The Lib Dems have already chosen a parliamentary candidate in Lewes, Kelly-Marie Blundell, in case of a snap election.

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