Saturday, January 06, 2007

Mr Dale with his knickers in a twist.......again!

I was interested to hear of Iain Dale getting his knickers in a twist over the work our party is doing to ensure our parliamentary candidates are representative of the electorate they seek to serve. I have to agree, in an ideal world there would be no need to try to redress the balance, but the reality is that for years, in all parties, prejudice had often triumphed over selecting the "best" candidate. It is not that long ago (and may still be the case) that the Tories were asking their female married candidates, what their husbands would do if they were elected, poor menfolk, unable to manage without the little woman. The truth is, even with the most rigorous equal opps procedures, subconcious judgements are made. We tend to have a mental image of what "the good manager" "the chief exec" the "MP" and even the "Beefeater" should look like..........and that tends to be male, middle aged, white and wearing a sharp suit (except for the Beefeater of course!). We all know of highly qualified BME and women candidates whose cases fill the schedules of Employment Tribunals up and down the country, who have been passed over by people who are far less qualified, so to suggest that selection panels - which are not subject to employment law automatically pick the "best" candidate, is palpably stuff and nonsense!

Before I reverted to my maiden name my surname was Weerasirie - a fact that my local party were willing to accept may lose me votes. I can remember one man I canvassed, on being told that my then husband was Sri Lankan asking, well what's he doing here then? Sadly we don't have to scratch that deeply to find such attitudes within our society, and heavens, even in our parties.

What we see is what we expect and invariably what we get. My daughter as a small child started ballet lessons, I asked if she would like to be a ballet dancer, to which she replied "but brown people can't be ballet dancers" - as a white woman I hadn't noticed, but as a mixed race child, she had never seen a black dancer (she later asked - on John Major succeeding Maggie Thatcher - "but can a man be Prime Minister? - we are all still pondering that one!*).

So lets get real shall we? Perhaps as a white, middle class, privileged male, Mr Dale is perfectly happy with the status quo, but if not, I wonder what measures he would adopt to improve the situation? He appears to be equally unhappy with A Lists in his party but he nonetheless trumpets the fact his party have 38% women candidates. Can't have it both ways Iain dear!

As a footnote I would have to say my belief is that one of the most effective ways to begin to change not only the profile of our politicians, but also to engage more of the disengaged electorate would surely be proportional representation........but that would no doubt be a step too far for Mr Dale........

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