The Problem with Candidate Lists

Following the promotion of Heidi Alexander, there is a by-election taking place in the constituency of Lewisham East, where OUCA has, of course, been helping to campaign. When researching the area however, it emerged that the candidate selection process for the Labour Party had involved a female only, BME only list, of which the candidate was then selected from.

I fully support a representative government and parliament. After all, how can an institution claim to represent a population if it is made up of a homogenous group of people? But it is also more than just representation of the population; there should be more diversity in parliament simply because there is no reason for it to be dominated by any one group, other than due to past attitudes not changing quickly enough.

However, the way to increase representation is not how the Labour Party has done so in Lewisham East, with a very restrictive candidate list. Nor are quotas or positive discrimination the answer.

As a constituent, I want the best person to be in that job, representing me and my constituency as effectively as possible, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. If the best person for that job was a white male, then they should not be prevented from standing and doing that job for the sake of diversity.

As a woman who wants to work in politics, I don’t want other people, or myself, to question my ability, and whether I have that job because I am good at it, and was the best person for the job, or because I ticked the relevant boxes, and they had to employ a certain number of women. I can only see this creating friction and an uncomfortable working environment, where people’s ability comes into question, when that shouldn’t even be a thought that crosses colleagues’ minds.

So yes, I want a more diverse government, and yes, I want it to represent the British population more accurately. But I also want it to be filled with people based on their skills and merit, and to know that they got the position because they were the best person for the job. For my own future career, I want to know that I am good at whatever it is that I do, and know that I am surrounded by people who are also the best person for the job, because as soon as we start introducing restrictive candidate lists, quotas or positive discrimination across Parliament, our belief in meritocracy starts to fail, as we no longer believe with absolute certainty that the people in the jobs around us are there due their ability, which is an environment of suspicion I hope never to work in.