A new programme aims to help the Liberal Democrats increase the number of disabled people – and other under-represented groups – elected to represent their party as MPs.
The Liberal Democrat leadership programme was launched by the party’s leader, Nick Clegg. The first eight candidates have already been selected.
The programme is designed to support about 50 future parliamentary candidates through training, mentoring, and shadowing existing elected officials.
At least two candidates from the programme will be shortlisted to fight each priority seat, if enough of them apply. Ten per cent of the places on the scheme will be reserved for disabled people.
Greg Judge, a disabled activist from Coventry, was among the first eight party members selected for the leadership programme.
Judge, an executive member of the Liberal Democrat Disability Association, said he believed the programme would lead eventually to more disabled Liberal Democrat MPs.
And he said that other parties could be watching the success of the new programme closely.
He said: “It gives us the assured knowledge that we will at least be put in front of a panel and have a consideration of what we have to offer local parties.
“It gives us the leg-up we need in order to overcome the limited representation that diverse demographics currently have in the UK.”
Last week, the government announced that – following a consultation – it had decided to go ahead with five of six proposals aimed at supporting more disabled people to become local councillors and MPs.
Most of the £1 million-a-year package will go towards setting up a fund to help disabled people with the impairment-related costs of running for office, and providing them with training and development opportunities.
But the government will also work with political parties, the Local Government Association and disability organisations to raise awareness, and work with parties to promote their legal obligations under the Equality Act and analyse their existing access policies.
The government said that the sixth proposal – to set up a network of disabled MPs and councillors to act as role models –would not go ahead, because of the comparative lack of support for it during the consultation and the level of funding required.
The Government Equalities Office is to work with other organisations to develop the five proposals.
The announcement came more than 18 months after the cross-party speaker’s conference on parliamentary representation reported on ways to increase the number of disabled, female and minority ethnic MPs.