Conference preview: party strategy

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When I last made a broad-brush comment about how many conference strategy motions pass without leaving much of a trace behind, Tony Greaves pointed out the major exception to that: the Community Politics strategy motion of 1970. When it comes to details mattering, the triple lock mechanism from the No Glass Ceilings strategy paper also turned out to be important, as we saw last year.

The prime author of this year’s strategy paper is one of the founding fathers of Community Politics and the author of the triple lock, Gordon Lishman. The related motion being debated on Sunday morning at the Liberal Democrat spring conference may be lengthy but is unlikely to have the same impact of either of those two other texts. It can be summarised as, “We’re an independent party and we don’t want any pre-election deals”.

The motion rules out pre-election pacts or any preferences for post-election partners and sets out a five point list for how the party should decide who to make any future post-election deal with. Unlike the triple lock, this list is likely to have little lasting value as the political and media pressures to have a simple, clear one sentence answer to such questions means the list will be stripped down to a much shorter position as the next election nears – and it’s the debate over that which is what will really matter.

Tempting though it is to find reason to object to the motion calling for the party to win elections … I suspect the motion itself will not be controversial (unless there is an amendment submitted which kicks off a dispute). Rather, it will give people the opportunity to talk on a wide range of matters and it is the tone and balance of those contributions which will be the more revealing and, possibly, the more influential.

An overwhelming vote for a motion that says no to pre-election pacts and no to picking a preferred post-election partner may also be useful in both quieting some of the more fanciful speculation in the Conservatives and the media, and also in reminding one or two Liberal Democrats what the party overall thinks.

The full text of the strategy motion (F16) is in the conference agenda and directory embedded below.

Liberal Democrat Spring Conference Agenda and Directory 2011

Further information about the Liberal Democrat federal conference is available in the Party Conference section on the main party website and the official Lib Dem conference Twitter account is @LibDemConf.

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7 Comments

  • toryboysnevergrowup 11th Mar '11 - 11:16am

    Perhaps the Conference could discuss last night’s byelection results given that the LibDem Voice spin unit’s eternal optimism has yet to surface this morning.

  • I know that there are lots of trolls here, and they are variously annoying. However, at the risk of seeming like another one, I have cancelled my party membership today, after 28 years, and just wanted that to be recorded. I’m not in the ‘SLF’, and am not a ‘left-winger’, and in fact supported both Nick Clegg and the coaltion, but not now. The last straw should have been fees, but was in fact the disgraceful assault yesterday on public sector pensions (to which I am not a likely recipient). There is no Liberal principle behind the coalition’s policies, and, if there is, that connection (whatever it may be) has failed to be made on an enormous scale.

    I’m not joining Labour, they are historical failures, but will wait to see what emerges from the car-crash so obvioulsy ahead for the party.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '11 - 1:04pm

    john mc, why should you resign from the party after 28 years because of the behavior of the people at the top?

    The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, its members are the masters, the people at the top are our servants. The party has not yet had a chance to express a view on the behaviour of those servants, at least not after giving them a bit of time to prove their worth. If you don’t like what they are doing, shouldn’t it be you staying and them leaving (I mean their positions, not their party membership, I’m not calling for a purge), rather than vice versa?

    What you are doing is a bit like finding your butler has been doing a rotten job, so your response is to give your house to him.

    I agree it is hard to think in these terms because of the way party politics is presented in the media, as if the parties are built on a fascist/Leninist model under which all members must obey their leader without question. If the media realised this is not what we are like, this whole idea they have got into their heads that there is going to be some electoral pact with the Conservatives in the next election would never have got off the ground so it would not be necessary to have to pass a motion opposing it. The idea works only if you accept that most members on receiving the command from The Leader reading something like “Comrades – previously you fought against the Conservative Party, in this election I order you not to stand candidates and to campaign for the Conservatives in all constituencies except where I direct you otherwise” will reply “All Hail our Great Leader, we will do as you command, Oh Wise one”.

    Now we know this is not going to happen, but it is surprising how so many people outside our party seem to think we work on that sort of basis. This is why we have that bizarre phenomenon of people who will willingly do delivery and other sorts of work for us but won’t actually join the party, because somehow they think that entails some sort of denial of self and coming under command. Some of the bizarre conversations I have while canvassing only make sense if one realises that most members of the public who don’t have much interest in politics really do think of all political parties as sinister cults, whose members are paid or brainwashed to work for them, and who work at the command of The Leader, presumably getting commands sent in sealed envelopes to read at breakfast (or the modern on-line equivalent).

    That is not how liberal democratic parties work, is it, so why can’t we promote the idea of what a true liberal and democratic party is? Politics in this country could be so revitalised if we could do that, if we could sell the idea that what we are about is people working together to achieve things, using the power of numbers against the power of wealth and influence that so dominates when organised political parties are weak, and so building a real force that can challenge all that is going wrong in today’s Britain, with its growing inequality of wealth and its growing inequality of power.

    One powerful way of doing this is by demonstrating who controls this party through its democratic mechanisms such as the conference. But how is this to be done if those who should be doing it because they dislike what our paid servants at the top are doing run away from the party instead?

    The time for resigning if if the party itself seems too supine in accepting being pushed down the wrong direction by its leader, or if it has so changed its direction by new people joining who do not have the vision of those who were its members when we joined it. As liberals we may have to do this because we don’t have the socialist cult of “The Party”, any liberal party is just a convenient way of bringing people to work together, there is no specially ordained and particular “The Liberal Party”.

    Some may remember (at least I fondly hope) this was the point I made back in 1989 as my reason for not joining the new party founded then and calling itself “The Liberal Party” because however much I disliked the merger (because I found the SDP too right-wing and too top-down), I did not like the party cult which the people who founded that new party were using with it. The definite article became a point of principle, and I wrote a paper (blogs then not being in existence) called “A Liberal Party” explaining that.

  • Depressed Ex 11th Mar '11 - 1:38pm

    The Liberal Democrats are a democratic party, its members are the masters, the people at the top are our servants.

    If this conference affirms the NHS policy that the party arrived at through its democratic processes, and – more importantly – if Paul Burstow and Nick Clegg accept that and stop supporting the Tory policy that replaced what was in the coalition agreement, then I’ll accept that is true.

    But if that doesn’t happen, you really ought to face up to what has happened to the party. A small number of people around Nick Clegg are making the decisions, and they’re not going to take any notice of what the members think. And in those circumstances you can’t be surprised that people prefer to leave the party rather than lending legitimacy to the charade.

  • “The last straw should have been fees, but was in fact the disgraceful assault yesterday on public sector pensions”

    That was a report written by an ex Labour minister which the Government hasn’t yet expressed a view on whether it endorses it in full, part or at all.

  • Matthew Huntbach 11th Mar '11 - 4:45pm

    Depressed Ex

    If this conference affirms the NHS policy that the party arrived at through its democratic processes, and – more importantly – if Paul Burstow and Nick Clegg accept that and stop supporting the Tory policy that replaced what was in the coalition agreement, then I’ll accept that is true.

    The Liberal Democrats do not control the government, and are therefore not in a position to push through complete Liberal Democrat policy. So I don’t think the party leader or ministers who are MPs from the party should be automatically condemned for every policy that goes through which is not in accord with party policy. The questions which the party needs to ask are:

    1) Are they doing the best they can to forward party policy, given the limited influence they have?

    2) Is there popular support in the country for action which may damage or bring down a government less than one year into its term?

    Additionally, on the party leader:

    3) Is he doing as best as he can to publicise the party’s situation, to ensure the public realise the extent to which it can and cannot influence government, and to promote an alternative vision that could be achieved were the party in the lead in government?

    On 1) I am fairly sure the answer is “No”, but I could be convinced otherwise. On 2) I am not yet sure. On 3) I am quite definitely sure the answer is “No”.

    I do feel the party should make a stand on this, and I agree that if the membership gives the impression (which I’m sure they won’t) of just changing what is PARTY policy because Clegg says so, I would question whether it is worth staying. The big point here is that the NHS policy is in direct contradiction to the “no top-down restructuring” words (or whatever they were) in the Coalition agreement, and also that if this is a government whose prime aim is emergency measures to cut the deficit, it ought to be taking a cautious approach to restructuring rather than a big step which is going to be costly in the short and medium terms as restructurings ALWAYS are, and I don’t think has at all been proved to be cost effective in the long term. I have heard arguments on both sides for this policy, and I’m not taking a knee-jerk “this is privatisation, and I’m against it” line on it as many are, however I think what I said in the previous sentence is sufficient for the party to voice its opinion against it.

    If the line in reply from Clegg is “back the government on this, or the government falls”, well I think it’s Clegg who’s threatening stability with this, not the party if it votes against Clegg after that. This policy is not a necessary part of the main aim of this government, therefore it can fall, or be delayed without stopping that aim. Clegg as our leader needs to be our leader if the party votes against. He needs to be tough, going into government and saying “My party can’t accept it – so do something about it”. If the government is true to its word, that it wants stability so it can carry on with its main aim, which is to cut the deficit, it will accept that it would be silly to have a general election on this basis, so it would back down and postpone implementation of this policy.

    If the party votes against government policy, then it will be a test for Clegg as to whether he does act on that. The party may then choose to make a judgment on whether they wish him to continue as leader when it considers things at a later conference.

    The position of Deputy Prime Minister is a separate one from the position of Leader of the Liberal Democrats. One could imagine, and in some ways it would be sensible, Clegg keeping the former while relinquishing the latter. One thing the coalition has shown us is that there is quite a big contradiction between the two roles of being the national leader of the party and the leader of the party’s team as junior coalition partners.

    Before the Liberal Democrats take any step to break the coalition, I think we need to see that there is popular support for us to do so. At the moment, I don’t see it. I don’t see any great call in the country for any of the possible alternatives. I don’t think you can just throw away an election result less than half-way through its term just because you don’t like who won it, and as I’ve argued, the Tories won it under the terms that both Labour and the Tories accept (but by our support of proportional representation, we do not). What I would need to see in order for the government to be brought down is 1) Sufficient number of people who voted Conservative saying “we now agree that was a mistake” 2) Sufficient number of people, however they voted previously, saying “We’ll back the Liberal Democrats by voting for them if they bring the government down” 3) An acceptance by the Labour Party that their policy of supporting our electoral system on the grounds “the party with the most votes should get all government power” is mistaken, and in the light of how it is being abused by the extreme right-wing party which dominates the current government, they will be willing to reconsider it. Now, right now I see NONE of 1), 2) and 3). That’s a bit of a problem.

  • Depressed Ex 11th Mar '11 - 5:05pm

    The Liberal Democrats do not control the government, and are therefore not in a position to push through complete Liberal Democrat policy. So I don’t think the party leader or ministers who are MPs from the party should be automatically condemned for every policy that goes through which is not in accord with party policy.

    Of course that’s why I mentioned the NHS, because that is a case of the Lib Dems voluntarily scrapping what was in the coalition agreement and adopting a Tory policy instead.

    So demonstrably Clegg and Burstow in this case have not been “doing the best they can to forward party policy.”

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