A simple way to improve party selection rules

You may have noticed I have a thing or two about the party’s internal election rules (not to mention those of other organisations). There’s a reason and it reflects my wider view of the world – administrative details can have significant knock-on effects well beyond their own apparent immediate remit.

Details of how the paperwork for the Office of the Public Guardian is worded may seem a minor matter. But when unnecessary duplication and complication results in it being harder for people to take control over their own lives, the impact can be serious and even heart-rending. In other words, details matter.

So, what next to improve about the party’s election rules?

There will be plenty of discussion about how the use of electronic voting in the federal committee elections panned out. I’d like to see some more details before coming to a view. For example, how much money was saved by using the new approach this time and how did turnout vary between those sent electronic ballots and those sent paper ballots?

Whilst holding fire on that issue therefore for the moment, there is another rule I’ve got in my sights: the qualification period before someone can vote in the party’s candidate selections. Details vary a little depending on which selection you are talking about, but typically you have to have been a member for a year prior to a contest taking place. Joined more recently? Sorry, no vote.

It used to be much more common to allow people to join at the last moment and still get a vote. That caused problems in a few places with last-minute stuffing of the electorates – candidates signing up people they knew, who then voted for them but did not get involved in the party and let their membership lapse at the first time of asking. So a qualifying period of some sort makes sense.

However, here is a better way of doing it.

We could instead say that the electorate is made up of people who have been members for at least a year, plus previous members whose membership has lapsed in (say) the last two years, as long as they rejoin before the ballot papers are issued. And, crucially, when candidates get given the list of members, include the list of those lapsed members too.

The result? A double win. Win one – in a search for their votes, candidates go round talking to lapsed members getting them to rejoin the party. Result? More members. Win two – those candidates who are best at getting people to (re)join the party benefit most. Result? More candidates winning who have this key skill.

Bingo.

As an added bonus, change the rules for party leader and president elections. They do allow last-minute new members to vote, but they don’t allow for the candidates to be given the list of lapsed members. Make that change and again we would see people going round talking to lapsed members and encouraging them to get involved.

Now just to work out how to get all this through the relevant decision-making apparatus. I may need a flowchart…

* Mark Pack has written 101 Ways To Win An Election and produces a monthly newsletter about the Liberal Democrats.

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15 Comments

  • “Anything can be turned into an excuse for not doing something by someone sufficiently determined to be negative, lazy or obstructive. ”

    Well said that man. Enthused to see many more “can-doers” in the party these days :)

  • Peter Andrews 14th Nov '12 - 5:53pm

    Sorry Dave I think you missed the point Mark said nothing that I could see about forbidding candidates spending on re-recruitment, quite the opposite this change would incentivise them to do so.

  • Tony Dawson 14th Nov '12 - 8:48pm

    ““Anything can be turned into an excuse for not doing something by someone sufficiently determined to be negative, lazy or onbstructive. ””

    Would that be like the way the Candidates Committee insist on people ‘doing nothing’ on publicising the make-up of a selection short-list? ;-)

  • Andrew McLean 14th Nov '12 - 9:17pm

    I like it. The database already has the details of the relevant people to include on the “selection register”, the process is in place, it would just need a change in the rules.

    I tried to think if there were any practical problems. The only one I came up was having a process in place to deal with lapsed members who tell one of the candidates they don’t want to be contacted by any more candidates. You can’t really have a situation where Candidate A can tell the other candidates not to contact a potential elector. I suggest that lapsed members who want to “opt-out” of the process should be asked to contact the Returning Officer, who would then circulate that information to all the candidates.

  • Good idea. . and in our internal elections perhaps the rules could fall into line with normality by allowing candidates to have a list of the electorate.?
    Any problem with the electronic voting will be the surprise(even suspicion) because we didn’t know it was going to happen, er- just like the change to LibDem News.?. and I thought we were supposed to have an internal democracy to be proud of?.. it seems though that someone at HQ is taking ‘Executive’ powers…

  • Nick (not Clegg) 15th Nov '12 - 1:22pm

    May I , as a “lapsed member” , offer a couple of thoughts?

    1. It seems to me that when one joins a political party one implicitly gives consent for the officers and leadership of that party to send occasional information bulletins, requests for help, etc. And for those seeking election as officers, prospective candidates, etc. to canvass for support. When one leaves the party, one withdraws that consent. Is it therefore in order for a returning officer in an intra-party election to give details of lapsed members to the contestants of such an election? Is such behaviour compatible with the terms of the Data Protection Act? Andrew McLean offers a partial solution, but it does not really work. How many lapsed members are likely (a) to be aware that a PPC selection is in progress and that they are likely to be contacted by the contestants and (b) sufficiently interested to trouble themselves to find out who the Returning Officer is and ask not to be approached? For Andrew’s solution to work , it would be necessary for the Returning Officer to approach lapsed members to ask them whether they are willing to be approached. Aahh, my brain is beginning to hurt.

    2. Former members who have lapsed over the past two years are likely to be predominantly those who were unhappy with the coalition and/or with the performance of Liberal Democrats in the current government/parliament. Aspiring PPCs who are the most successful at re-recruitng such people, and gaining their votes in the contest, are likely to be those who are the most critical of the party’s current leadership and direction. Do those of you who have remained supportive of the current regime really wish to give an in-built advantage to aspiring PPCs who have not?

  • Richard Shaw 15th Nov '12 - 7:57pm

    @ Nick (Not Clegg)

    Lapsed members mainly constitute those who have forgotten to renew (and who may still believe they are members), as opposed to resigned members who actively cancelled their membership prior to expiry. Indeed the main source of lapsed members is members coming to the end of their first year and whom may be quite likely to renew if prompted or if they had more positive contact with their respective local parties.

    While there are of course people who have protest-lapsed, probably a minority of total annual lapse, would they really be willing to pay money to rejoin and influence the party into something more of their liking? If so, then why leave (unless they were unaware of their potential influence)?

  • Nick (not Clegg) 16th Nov '12 - 4:14pm

    @ Richard Shaw

    How many members has the party lost over the past two years? Did I hear somewhere that it was some 25% of the membership? And how many of those, do you suppose,” forgot” to renew as opposed to consciously choosing not to?

  • Richard Shaw 16th Nov '12 - 11:57pm

    @ Nick NC

    I don’t know how many genuinely forgot or not and neither do you probably. What I do know and which has been often discussed by others before, is that there is usually a spike in membership at general elections followed by a dip after the first year. 1st year retention is a perennial issue – decreases in membership cannot solely be pinned on your not-namesake. My real point was about your comment about whether we should be concerned about people who protest-lapse rejoining the party to influence it, rather than doing so through remaining members in the first place.

  • Nick (not Clegg) 17th Nov '12 - 11:28am

    @ Richard Shaw

    “Lapsed members mainly constitute those who have forgotten to renew … ”

    “I don’t know how many genuinely forgot or not … ”

    Err?

    “What I do know … is that there is usually a spike in membership at general elections followed by a dip after the first year. 1st year retention is a perennial issue”

    So do you believe, or are you asking me to believe, that the party’s loss of a quarter of its members over the past two years is attributable , in the main, to people who joined in the run up to the last general election and who subsequently “forgot” to renew? No haemorrhage of long-term activists or former councillors, then?

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