Next year all Liberal Democrats in England are going to have to get used to new local parties. The coalition government’s plans to change the boundaries of parliamentary constituencies across the UK, assuming they get passed into law, will have implications for how we organise ourselves at a local level.
Traditionally Liberal Democrat local parties have been organised on a constituency basis. The local party would cover one or more parliamentary constituency. More recently a change was made to allow local parties in London to be based on borough boundaries, but for the rest of England local parties remained tied to constituency boundaries.
The far-reaching changes to the current boundaries that will come about as a result of the review, and the new approach to how those boundaries are determined, makes organising our local parties in that way less sustainable. So the party is preparing to carry out a major reorganisation of local parties to meet the new situation in 2013.
I recently posted a short introduction to the work and responsibilities of the English Council. These responsibilities include the rules governing the organisation of local parties.
At its next meeting on 23 June the English Council will be discussing an amendment to the Constitution of the Liberal Democrats in England that helps to prepare the way for this reorganisation. (It also includes a business motion that amends the model constitution for local parties to achieve the same ends.)
If passed at the meeting next month the area covered by a local party in England in future could be either:
“(a) one or more parliamentary constituencies, or
(b) one or more principal local authority areas, or
(c) a combination of all or part of a parliamentary constituency and all or part of an adjacent or overlapping principal local authority area.”
I’m not sure that wording is as elegant as it could be, but the meaning is clear. Local party organisation no longer needs to be tied to parliamentary constituencies. While this is going to be an administrative challenge as the new arrangements are put in place, it could also be a challenge to assumptions about how the party works at a local level.
In most cases the choice will be between sticking with constituencies or shifting to a local party based on your local authority. Many of the choices are likely to be driven by how far reaching and coherent the boundary review is in your area. However, the potential for doing something more innovative is there. Does anyone fancy trying out a county wide local party?
Whatever new arrangement is chosen it could have significant knock-on effects on how you campaign and organise in your area. This is something that local party chairs and executives need to start thinking about now. What is the ideal local party structure for your area?
* Andy Strange is a member of the Lib Dems' English Council. He blogs at Strange Thoughts.