A way forward for the English Party

Since late 2016, the English Party has been reviewing its structure and governance. This was initiated following the consultation conducted by the Federal Party following the 2015 General Election, which revealed some considerable criticism of the English Party for a lack of transparency and accountability.

The English Party established the English Review Group towards the end of 2016, with members drawn from each of the 11 English Regions. This is chaired by Sally Symington, who has not previously been a member of any of the English Party committees. She was recommended for her common-sense approach, her fresh eye, and her experience of managing similar projects in her working life. She has proved to be an excellent choice, and has deservedly earned the respect of her fellow Review Group members. Work was put on hold during the by-elections at the end of 2016, and resumed in January this year.

The first task of the ERG was to identify some future scenarios that could be put out to consultation, which we did with the help of Professor Chris Bones. The consultation was initiated at the Spring Party conference this year and a session was held there which was open to all members of the English Party. Members were also contacted by email and asked to give their views online. ERG has since then spent many hours working together to come up with a final proposal that was presented to the English Council on December 2nd. The English Council voted overwhelmingly to reform the English Party along the lines proposed by the ERG. The full document presented to English Council members can be found here.

The key changes that have been agreed are summarised at the beginning of this document, so I won’t go into them here. I will simply say that I am delighted that we have agreed a much more transparent, accountable and streamlined structure for the English Party, with the Regions having a much greater say in the decision-making process, and with much greater emphasis being put on campaigning, diversity, training and compliance.

The next stage is to re-write the English Party Constitution and a small working party has been formed to do this. This will go to English Council in the middle of this year for their approval. The plan is that the English Party and the Regions will conduct elections for 2019 under the new rules, and the new structure will be in operation from January 2019.

I would like to thank everyone who has played a part in this process, in particular Sally and the members of the ERG, who have worked their socks off to get this together. I have deliberately kept a watching brief rather than attempting to get involved in the process or trying to direct it, as I really wanted this to be a collaborative effort and representative of a wide range of views. I am, however, fully behind the recommendations that have emerged. Our new, more streamlined structure will put more of our focus on what we exist to do, which is not to talk amongst ourselves, but to talk to the electorate and win their votes.

* Cllr Liz Leffman is the Leader of Oxfordshire County Council.

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This entry was posted in News and Party policy and internal matters.


  • The reform of the English Party is a retrograde step from an involvement point of view. The current Byzantine system of getting elected to the English Council Executive in the past allowed someone like me (with no Federal profile and a very small regional one) to become a member. The new system removes the 12 ordinary members of ECE. In the past it was possible to get elected (often non-contested) by the Region to the English Council and then get elected (often non-contested) by the EC to the ECE. So an almost totally unknown person like myself could take part in the English Party governance at the very top. Now a person will need to have a high profile in their region to get elected as Regional Chair or across the whole country to get elected as English Party Chair, or Treasurer, or Vice-Chair for either Candidates or Standards.

    The changes I like are Regional Treasurers being members of the English Finance Committee and Regional Standards Officers being members of the English Standards Committee.

    The party has changed from when I joined it. It was never possible for the English Party to impose changes on Regional Parties. I remember the English Council rejecting the model constitution for regions as being a step too far towards conformity and centralised control.

  • Neil Sandison 14th Dec '17 - 1:38pm

    I was getting to the stage of thinking the the English Party was just a figment of my imagination .Glad you mentioned Candidates perhaps the English party can look at the scenario of Theresa May doing a runner post Brexit in June 2019 with a snap general election .How will multi constituency local partys cope with raising multiple deposits and free post mailings not all regions are running Candidate deposit schemes .Local Chairs and executives are very much out on their own and would appreciate tangible help from the English Party.

  • Kay Kirkham 14th Dec '17 - 5:25pm

    Having the AGM at the Autumn Conference is a matter of concern. These conferences always take place in the south of England ( for reasons which I understand) so what arrangements could be made to involve members from the far-flung regions in the north? ( declaration of interest – I live in Yorkshire!)

  • Laurence Cox 14th Dec '17 - 6:36pm

    @Kay Kirkham
    Now that the Party (in MP terms) is much smaller and we do not attract the same level of commercial interest, not being in Government, I would like to see us visit other venues for Autumn conference. I always liked going to Harrogate, because I am a RHS member and could combine conference with a visit to the Harlow Carr garden.

  • Simon McGrath 14th Dec '17 - 7:40pm

    @kay, laurence – the party is very restricted on where it can have its conference as there are very few venues which are a) big enough and b) cheap enough. Its not a conspiracy -its economics.

  • Mark Smulian 14th Dec '17 - 8:10pm

    @ Laurence – Call me old fashioned but when I go to conference I always like to be able to sleep in the same town.
    I quite like Harrogate as a venue but it has lost so many hotels and guest houses to private residential and care homes that it now has nothing like the accommodation needed for a Lib Dem conference. This is also why it has lost the Chartered Institute of Housing and Chartered Institute of Personnel conferences, both of which were previously held there for decades.

  • There are other problems with holding the English AGM at the Federal Conference. The first one which is less important is geography. The English Party might be holding its AGM in Wales or Scotland. I think I attended an English Conference in Cardiff when such things existed – pre 1994. The second is affordability, unless the current rules have changed every member of the English Council can claim travel expenses over the first £10. It costs money to register for Federal Conference which I think starts at £15 if you receive benefits and normally starts at £55. This reform therefore widens the number of people who can attend but restricts them to those who can afford to attend the Federal Conference.

  • Humphrey Hawksley 15th Dec '17 - 8:27am

    Any institution lives and dies by its management structure and the calibre of those who sit on its committees. Liz Leffman and her colleagues have worked hard on these reforms for the English Party. The aim is to create a structure through which quality candidates can win seats and the Liberal Democrats can once again influence the British political landscape. It requires attention to microscopic detail against the backdrop of a big vision picture of who we are and what we can do for each voter. It’s interesting, therefore, how quickly this thread moves from Liz’s piece about talking to the electorate and winning votes to hotel accommodation and whether or not to hold a meeting in Harrogate.

  • “The aim is to create a structure through which quality candidates can win seats”

    This was – and will be – a very minor factor. If Lib Dems now believe that committee structure is the key to this then they are in a bigger pit than I thought.

  • Peter Hirst 16th Dec '17 - 5:38pm

    If the changes mean the English Party focuses on providing infrastructure to the Regions then that is good. The challenge is to provide logistical support while not draining the Regions of committed workers. Regions work differently and what works in the south-east might not in the north-east. So it needs people who understand its limitations and don’t try to usurp other bodies. Best not seen or heard except by regions and the Federal Party. Still not totally convinced that it is needed.

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