This is a report of the meeting of the Liberal Democrats English Council, held on Saturday at University College London.
The English Council is the governing body of the Liberal Democrats in England and meets twice a year to consider matters of importance to the English Party.
Speech from Nick Clegg
The day started with a speech from the Deputy Prime Minister. Before heading off to chair meetings at the G8, Nick Clegg had stopped into University College London to give a message of optimism to party members.
While he touched on some of the themes he would later discuss in his speech to the Local Government Conference, this speech was primarily intended to rally the troops.
He was optimistic about the future prospects for the Liberal Democrats. The experience of coalition government has been a stormy one but the party had come through resilient; “we haven’t been broken… having been tested in the furnace”. He said he was grateful to the party membership, whose achievement this was.
He said that the Liberal Democrats were “unapologetically in favour of centre ground politics” repeating the message that it was the only the Liberal Democrats who could deliver a stronger economy and a fairer society. This put the Party “in the right place”, especially that this centre ground is a space being vacated by the other two main parties.
In conclusion he argued the Liberal Democrats can do much better in 2015 than critics of the Party allow and even better than we often believe ourselves.
The future prospects for the Party were also the topic of the two presentations that followed the speech. These were from Sarah Ludford MEP about the London party’s preparations for next year’s European Elections, which was particularly well received by the members present, and a presentation from the Liberal Democrat’s Director of Campaigns, Hilary Stephenson, discussing the recent local elections and where the party goes from here.
The meeting was then given a report from the Chair, Peter Ellis, which generated a lively debate on the topic of diversity and representation and what more the English Party should be doing to in this area.
This was followed by a report from the Vice Chair, Mike Wheatley, who focussed on the work of the regional party committee. This body works with the regions to encourage co-operation and the exchange of good practice. It also provides support to the regions in operating the party’s disciplinary procedures and had in recent months been dealing with several difficult disputes. He also noted that the English Party have published a new guide to the role of the regional chair.
He also reported back on the plans for the re-organisation of local parties. Each region has been working on their proposal for the new boundaries, a combination of constituency and local authority, that each of the local parties in their area will cover. It appears that, while the process has been at times difficult, the regions have made good progress. The reorganisation plans need to be in place by the end of this month and the English Party will be issuing new guidance on the next steps.
The meeting also received the usual reports from the Treasurer, the Chair of the English Candidates’ Committee, and from the English Council’s representatives on various other party bodies. Finally, the meeting passed,with some discussion but without controversy, a number of minor constitutional amendments to the English Party’s constitution and the model constitution for local parties.
* Andy Strange is a member of the Lib Dems' English Council. He blogs at Strange Thoughts.