Demo for democracy

Nick Clegg addresses crowd marching for electoral reform.

A demonstration today brought together a range of democratic reform groups, blogs, campaigns and organisations at the instigation of Guy Aitchison, George Gabriel and others. It gathered in Trafalgar Square and then marched to Smith Square, where the Lib Dems were meeting to decide on their strategy.

Word went out that a delegation could go and meet Nick Clegg to hand in a petition. Over 1,000 voices cried "No" -- he had to come out. "You serve us," suddenly arose as a chant. Clegg came. I think this was a historic first: a major party leader being summoned by a crowd and speaking to it.

It was both friendly and determined. Many on the left think there is no political basis for the Lib Dems to close a deal with the Tories. But there is: a Freedom Act to roll back the threat to liberty from the database state and a referendum on PR, which the Tories can campaign against. Of course, Labour can offer more, but not with Gordon Brown at the helm.

The role of the demonstration was both radical and practical. Clegg can't now agree to the mere "inquiry" on electoral reform as offered by Cameron as his payment for a deal. To do so would ruin him. We don't need another inquiry -- we need a referendum.

If you have not signed the petition, you can still do so.

Anthony Barnett is the founder of openDemocracy and co-edits its British blog, OurKingdom.

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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