The Liberal Democrat leadership hopeful Tim Farron has described his party as “too male and too pale”, promising to ensure that 50% of target seats are represented by women and 10% by black, Asian and minority ethnic (BME) candidates.
Farron, the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale and a former Lib Dem party president, is standing against the former care minister and MP for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb, to replace Nick Clegg as party leader.
In a YouTube video, Farron said it was a disgrace that the lack of diversity within the Lib Dems was still an issue.
“As a voter in a whole series of leadership elections over the last quarter of a century, I know that the issue of diversity is raised every single time,” he said. “What a disgrace really that today you’re asking us the same question, because we’ve failed to meet our aspirations.”
The party’s group of eight MPs in the Commons was now “too male and too pale”, said Farron. “There are only eight of us, but you’ve got a parliamentary party that is entirely male, far too pale, no LGBT folks there, nobody with a disability and very few people like myself from a working class background.”
Farron said he wanted the Lib Dems to “look like the nation we wish to represent” and would ensure that 50% of candidates in target seats were women and 10% were from BME backgrounds.
This would be achieved not through all-women shortlists but by using a method called “zipping”, which involves pushing women and BME people to the top of the candidates list, as well as providing extra mentoring and support for them.
Farron also said he would ensure that 50% of his spokespeople were women and that his deputy leader was a woman, something that would require a change to the party’s constitution. Under current party rules, the deputy leader of the party needs to be an MP, which leaves no female candidates.
Clegg resigned as Lib Dem leader the day after the general election, as the scale of his party’s defeat – the worst since it was founded in 1988 – became clear. The Lib Dems lost 48 of their 56 MPs, reducing it to the joint fourth biggest party in parliament, tied with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party and behind the Scottish National party.
Before the election the Liberal Democrats had seven female MPs, none of whom attended cabinet, and no MPs from a BME background. Clegg, who also described his party as “too male and pale” before the election, previously said he would consider introducing all-women shortlists in the runup to the 2020 election if not enough women and people from ethnic minority backgrounds were selected in winnable seats.
Nominations for the Lib Dem leadership race closed on 3 June and members will now cast their ballots under an alternative vote system. The winner will be announced on 16 July.
A key figure on the left of the party, Farron is the bookies’ favourite to win the leadership race and has secured the formal backing of three of the party’s eight MPs (Mark Williams, John Pugh and Greg Mulholland); the heads of the Scottish and Welsh branches of the Lib Dems, Willie Rennie and Kirsty Williams; the party’s only surviving MEP, Catherine Bearder; and more than 100 former Lib Dem election candidates.
Lamb, who is considered to be more aligned with the politics of the coalition, has been publicly endorsed by Tom Brake, the MP for Carshalton and Wallington, and Shirley Williams, a founding member of the Social Democratic party, which joined with the Liberals to form the Liberal Democrats in 1988.
This article was written by Frances Perraudin, for theguardian.com on Friday 5th June 2015 16.16 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010