Saturday morning dawned bright and sunny, but whilst most people heading for London were on their way to Pride, or Lords for the cricket, or Wimbledon for the tennis, a few dozen hardy Liberal Democrats were heading towards the St Alban’s Centre near Chancery Lane station for the first of 2010’s two meetings of English Council.
Unusually, the first item on the agenda was a speech by the Party President, Ros Scott, who talked about the challenges facing the Party in the weeks, months and years ahead, as well as some of the work being done at Federal level to address them. She noted that, whilst the Special Conference had been an expensive affair, it had been vital to allow members from across the country to have their say about such a critical decision.
She also touched upon issues such as diversity, the importance of maintaining the Party’s independence of thought and action beyond Westminster, and the opportunities for Regional Parties to feed into polict making, before fielding questions on subjects as diverse as security at future Federal Conferences and how policy defence and attack lines can be fed to local campaigners from Government. And then she was gone, to join the Liberal Democrat cohort at Pride.
Reports from the Chair and Treasurer of the English Party followed, although most of Jonathan Davies’s best lines had been spoken by President Scott before leaving (that’s why he normally goes first…), before we moved on to the first piece of serious business, the motion calling for ratification of the new Selection Rules for Westminster. The case was made by two members of the Working Group that had produced the document, Sal Jarvis and myself, noting that issues of administrative burden, diversity and candidate campaigning had been addressed as far as was possible, producing a twin-track approach which left a rigorous process in place for target and priority seats, whilst allowing development seats to apply a rather more ‘cut down’ version. Despite some misgivings, with a few present suggesting that potential priority seats might try to manipulate the position to avoid the more onerous process, the Rules were ratified with no more than four votes against.
Reports from various English Council representatives to other bodies followed before lunch, leaving the afternoon session for a review of the General Election campaign. This saw an English Council first, with Andrew Stunell becoming the first Minister ever to address such an event. Andrew’s key role in the campaign allowed him to give a very candid overview of what happened, including the strengths and weaknesses which influenced the final outcome.
I have to confess that some of the comments that followed verged on whinging, with a number of quite barbed attacks on the performance of the Campaigns Department. These were rebutted to some extent by Ian Horner, East of England’s Campaigns Officer, with support from others, but there is no doubt that there are reservations as to the efficacy of our campaigning methods. And with the likelihood of a reformed second chamber to be elected by regional list-based STV, our target-orientated strategy may need a major overhaul.
And so, the meeting broke up, leaving us to head back to our Regions and reflect on the work to be done…