How can we change Politics for good?
The last month has been a rollercoaster of emotions. The despair of the referendum result; the anger more people are being attacked for who they are or the colour of their skin. The hope of talking with people from all parties and none about movement-building. The exhilaration of walking out front with our leader shouting for Europe through the centre of London with loads of newcomers joining in.
Young people who were new to party politics telling me after one of the pro-EU rallies how they were now inspired to get more involved. This was, then, sadly followed by a crushing feeling. The sinking feeling when some of those self-same political newbies said they could not understand what was happening with our party. They could not understand why I was not allowed to tell local members why I want to represent them in any seat the Lib Dems will try to win.
I’ve been asked several times the past week to explain why I was not shortlisted for Richmond Park and why they should be concerned about it. Others have told me to shut up and move on. Or warned me that by speaking out I’ve ruined my chances forever.
I should say from the start that I do not know Sarah Olney, who won the selection, and who I have congratulated but do not know. A party that can let a relatively new member of 18 months represent them in a key seat is exactly the sort of party I want to exist. A party in which shortly after joining you can perform well at giving a speech and answering questions from members and stand a chance of becoming their MP. I would have liked to have had the same opportunity. And that is where the party has let me, and all of us down.
The rules meant that there was no interview process, no appeals. And no publication of how we were to be judged. And with all deadlines for all the seats on the same day, applying for one was essentially a roll of the lucky dice. This led to me being refused from even being shortlisted to represent the party I’ve poured heart and soul into. Since then, I’ve tried to find out why. I’ve been told by senior figures that for reasons of efficiency applicants have to be whittled down to a manageable number. I’ve been told that being a local candidate is the trump card for many parties that seek a reputation as local champions, standing up for local people.
Then I found out that in another south London seat eight people were shortlisted , six of which didn’t have an obvious connection to the local area. I’ve been told that Nick Clegg did not live in the seat when he was shortlisted. Inconsistent, yes; but also flawed. People my age in London are not primarily concerned with their locality when they vote. They are having to move around every year or two and cannot put down roots. They cannot suddenly move, as it’s been suggested I should have done, before being selected for a job. Like many my age, I work in the gig-economy, and cannot leave a place that is a relatively cheap just on a chance something might come up. Especially if all our target seats are in more affluent areas.
So the party I love is closing the door on me and people like me. It also wants to shut out the huge swathes of the population round my age who we need to inspire and involve. Who think politics is nothing but bad, as their future grows ever-darker and opportunities are snatched away. We have a rising tide of nationalism and an opposition with all factions now talking about how we can reduce immigration. A politics that talks more about dividing us than uniting us. That talks little about expanding the opportunities for younger people. I believe I can connect with these anxious, angry voters.
But a local party in deciding I was not a “credible candidate” for their area simply because I do not live there implies conversations with the voters should be about local amenity issues. And says where you live is more important than what you’ve done. A local party that was not interested in the diversity and experience I would bring as a gay Jewish renter while seeking to represent area that is less and less Christian, less white; and indeed increasingly private renting.
I would have been willing to move to the area in the event of an election. I would have liked to prove myself but was not given a chance. We need sensible reforms so we are not killing new talent, new ideas or restricting diversity. If you even think there’s something of a point in any of this, then it can only benefit the party to have a full independent investigation. Given threatening private tweets from senior members of the party to donors phoning saying ‘he’s just not the right calibre of candidate,’ the party should get to the bottom of what went on.
I’ve had a lot of support the last few weeks from people who understand my frustration. I’ve also had criticism though for speaking out about this. That is why there should be an appeals process. To avoid public discussion and manage a situation so that everyone feels heard. But for an organisation with the words Liberal and Democrat in to allow a few people to restrict candidates without being held accountable is wholly unacceptable. I would have been happy to lose after a fair, open and democratic debate on the relative merits of being local and having campaign experience, or whatever.
I’ve been told that although it’s clearly unfair, it somehow doesn’t matter. There’s not likely to be an election anyway and by next year there will be full selections. But as well as handing incumbents a now unfair advantage virtually impossible to overcome. And a sense that a small number of people, however temporarily, can control a very important privilege. And that sets a totally unacceptable precedent.
And Richmond Park aside, how can we possibly champion electoral reform and fairer votes if we don’t practice strong internal democracy? When we go out and stand on external stages and talk about fairer voting systems — we need to be able to point to our own undeniably fair voting. And every new member should know that should they want to run in the future, they will all be given a fair opportunity. If you agree, I’d encourage you to email email@example.com and ask for a full independent review. We urgently need a better politics and we need to get our own house in order. Thank you.