Letter: Lib Dem women hold power

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The Independent Online
Sir: I comment on Louise Jury's report on the Fawcett Society's challenge to political parties to "match Labour women's triumph" (30 June).

The Fawcett Society has over-simplified the issue of women's representation. They forget that all-women shortlists were ruled illegal. Mary-Ann Stephenson from the Fawcett Society is quoted as saying "it wasn't the fact that Labour did really well that got the women in". Tosh! If they hadn't done so well they wouldn't have so many women MPs.

Fawcett have overlooked the very different cultures within each of the three main parties. Conservative women have to battle with ingrained sexism and prehistoric views.

What Liberal Democrats must do is not a simple question of boosting raw numbers, as implied by Fawcett. There are several issues, for example persuading more of our top women it's worth bothering with Westminster. That when they get there, they will be able to achieve some good. In the past our good women have aimed where our real power lay - local government.

We unfortunately lost three excellent women MPs at the last election; one, Emma Nicholson, stood down to pursue a career in Europe, another, Liz Lynne, lost to a Labour woman and the third, Diana Maddock, achieved an outstanding swing of 18.3 per cent but it was not enough to keep her by-election victory. There were other women Liberal Democrats in "winnable" seats who sadly did not get elected; high quality women like Yvonne Emmerson- Peirce in Salisbury (her first seat) or Paula Yates in Dorset North.

As a political party we certainly do not deserve to be castigated on our overall approach to women. The Liberal Democrat general election campaign was positively "femo-centric".

We were the party that talked about issues, our policies and the effect they would have on real lives, just as groups like Fawcett advised us women wanted. We published a clear and costed manifesto for women. Our press conferences and rallies promoted women. The campaign was heavily influenced by women.

However, the Women Liberal Democrats have called for a constitutional change to increase the proportions on shortlists from at least one third women to 50 per cent, thus ensuring choice and opportunity for all. But we are clear that this is only one step of many. This is not just a numbers game.

JUSTINE McGUINNESS

Chair

Women Liberal Democrats

London SW11

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