Labour attacks the Lib Dems for rejecting female deputy leader candidate

Gloria De Piero says "This result comes as little surprise when you remember Nick Clegg leads a Parliamentary Party which has as many men with knighthoods as it has women MPs."

There was much surprise in Westminster last night when the Lib Dems announced that Malcolm Bruce had been elected as their new deputy leader (replacing Simon Hughes, who stood down to become a justice minister). While Bruce is both liked and respected, it was widely thought that the party's MPs would elect female candidate Lorely Burt in order to ensure the party finally has a woman at the top table (not least after the Rennard and Hancock scandals). But it was Bruce, who will stand down at the next election, who emerged as the winner.

In response, Labour has wasted little time in going on the attack. Gloria De Piero, the party's shadow minister for women and equalities, has just issued the statement below. 

This result comes as little surprise when you remember Nick Clegg leads a Parliamentary Party which has as many men with knighthoods as it has women MPs.

When it comes to women's representation, the Lib Dems really need to move up a gear. With just seven out of 57 MPs, they score even worse than the Tories.

The statement that the Lib Dems have "as many men with knighthoods as it has women MPs" might seem too bad to be true, but it's not. 

Here are the knights (one for "every day of the week", noted Bob Russell)

1. Sir Alan Beith 

2. Sir Malcolm Bruce 

3. Sir Menzies Campbell

4. Sir Nicholas Harvey 

5. Sir Bob Russell

6. Sir Robert Smith 

7. Sir Andrew Stunnell 

And here are the women:

1. Lorely Burt

2. Annette Brooke

3. Lynne Featherstone

4. Tessa Munt

5. Jo Swinson

6. Sarah Teather

7. Jenny Willott

Just 12.3 per cent of the party's 57 MPs are female, compared with 31 per cent of Labour MPs (the only party to use all-women shortlists) and 16 per cent of Tories. And the situation could be even worse after the next election. 

Of the Lib Dems' seven female MPs (not one of whom is in the cabinet), five hold seats among the party's 12 most marginal, including deputy leadership hopeful Lorely Burt, Jo Swinson and Tessa Munt, while none hold any of the 20 safest. The two safer seats held by Lib Dem women - Cardiff Central and Hornsey & Wood Green - are both vulnerable to a Labour challenge having been gained in 2005 on the back of the party's opposition to the Iraq war and top-up fees. Here they are listed in order of marginality.

1. Lorely Burt (Solihull) 0.3%, 175 votes

2. Annette Brooke (Mid Dorset) 0.6%, 269 votes

3. Tessa Munt (Wells) 1.4%, 800 votes

4. Sarah Teather (Brent Central) 3.0%, 1,345 vote

5. Jo Swinson (East Dunbartonshire) 4.6%, 2,184 votes

6. Jenny Willott (Cardiff Central), 12.7%, 4,576 votes

7.  Lynne Featherstone (Hornsey & Wood Green) 12.5%, 7,875 votes

Of these seven, two (Brooke and Teather) are standing down. Brooke has been replaced as the party's Mid Dorset candidate by Vikki Slade and Teather has been replaced by Ibrahim Taguri.

One point in the party's favour is that it has selected women in two other seats where incumbents are retiring (Julie Pörksen for Alan Beith in Berwick-upon-Tweed and Lisa Smart for Andrew Stunell in Hazel Grove), both of which are winnable (the party has a majority of 2,690 in the former and 6,371 in the latter, with the Tories in second place in each). 

Whether the Lib Dems manage to at least maintain their current level of female representation will depend on how successful they are at defending their seats against mainly Conservative opponents. With Swinson, Willott and Featherstone all at risk from Labour, they will have to hope that the split in the Tory vote (owing to UKIP) allows Burt, Brooke and Wells to preserve their tiny majorities. But it is plausible that the Lib Dems could be left with as few as two or three female MPs after the election. 

Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg at the Liberal Democrat conference in Glasgow last year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496