The Lib Dems should elect a female deputy leader to address their woman problem

With just seven female MPs and no female cabinet ministers, the party needs to raise the profile of its women at Westminster.

While the world feigns indifference at the news that there is to be a new deputy leader of the Lib Dems, following Simon Hughes's elevation into government (pretend all you like, but I know you care really), the party is buzzing with speculation about who will get the nod.

It’s a limited field – essentially Lib Dem MPs who are not part of the government– and already several names are being mooted. The right are pushing Jeremy Browne and already have a #teamjezza hashtag running. The left are pushing the activists' favourite, Julian Huppert. Everyone’s wondering if Tim Farron will have another go (and if he needs the bother). And of course there’s the endless amusement the election of Nick Harvey would provide, given it does appear Nick Clegg is not his absolute favourite person. What fun their daily catch-ups would be.

But all of those folk, and most of the other names getting mentioned in dispatches – Duncan Hames, Stephen Gilbert, Andrew George  - have one thing in common. They’re blokes.

Now, it’s easy to overstate the Lib Dems' 'women issue'. After all, we have numerous highly effective female ministers (Jo Swinson, Lynne Featherstone, Susan Kramer). We have some fantastically talented women in the party outside Westminster like Kirsty Williams, Leader of the Welsh Lib Dems or Sharon Bowles MEP, the first Liberal to chair the EU Economic and Monetary Affairs committee. And in candidates like Jane Dodds, Kelly-Marie Blundell and Layla Moran, we have accomplished women standing in winnable seats.

But the fact remains that just seven of our 57 MPs are women (two of whom are standing down in 2015) and we haven’t put a women into the cabinet since taking office. We need to find ways of raising the profile of women in the party in Westminster.

What a brilliant opportunity this is take a step in that direction – and elect one of the two eligible women MPs who could stand for the deputy leader role – Tessa Munt or Lorely Burt. Both are highly respected amongst the grassroots. Both would benefit from the boost in profile the job provides (and let’s not forget they are defending sub-1,000 majorities). And in one fair swoop, we’d have a future female leadership candidate in place. It seems a fair swap for the PPS roles they both currently fulfil.

There’ll be a lot of politics going on right now in Westminster, with soundings being taken and promises made. But I hope Tessa or Lorely grab the chance to stand. And I hope one of them wins.

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

Nick Clegg with Liberal Democrat MP Tessa Munt at an election rally in 2010. Photograph: Getty Images.

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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Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.