Opinion: an open letter to Tim Farron – “And who made you King, anyway?”

imageIn his recent article in Liberal Democrat Voice, the Liberal Democrat Party President, Tim Farron, refers to a review of the Party’s disciplinary procedures, carried out by a senior barrister, Diya Sen Gupta, and goes on to say;

She has now made recommendations to us and I am determined that we will implement these as quickly as possible.

Now call me a stickler for process if you will, but where does Tim get off making such a statement? After all, authority over membership matters is a State Party matter, not a Federal one, and changes to the Membership Rules require the agreement of the relevant bodies – in England, the English Council – through a vote.

And what are these changes that Tim is determined to make? I don’t know, he didn’t actually say. For all I know, they may be just fine, although every constitutional change that I have ever encountered promises to make everything better, even if it turns out that they haven’t, and require further change later on.

But what intrigues me more than anything is that, with just one exception, most of the comments are about the use of the phrase ‘gold standard’, and one might assume from this that the members and activists who read Liberal Democrat Voice have decided that Tim can be blindly trusted. Now, Tim’s a decent chap, means well and all that, but an expert on disciplinary procedure? And are we the sort of people prone to saying, “He’s a decent chap, we’ll just let him change the Party’s procedures”, after a case where not only did the process seem to let us down, but where too many people seemed to think that interfering with it whilst it was underway was a sensible thing to do – and yes, I mean you, Mr Clegg.

And, for the record, I take the view that, just as in the judicial process, the executive should not interfere, in a disciplinary process, the party leadership should do likewise – it’s about trusting the rules you set up and relying on the checks and balances that you build into them. And, if the processes have failed, rather than delivering an outcome you don’t like (not always the same thing), seek changes.

So, Tim, tell us what these proposed changes are, and ask us to approve them. If they are fit for purpose, we almost certainly will. But promising something that you can’t personally deliver is one of the things that got the Party into its current hole, and until we understand that, it’s hardly likely to get better…

* Mark Valladares is a former Regional Secretary in both London and the East of England, and designed the disciplinary process for the latter once upon a time.

Comments on this post will be pre-moderated.

Screenshot above is from Monty Python and The Holy Grail. The Monty Python Live (mostly) website is here.

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  • Callum Leslie 23rd Aug '14 - 3:40pm

    Sorry Mark, while you’re in the right on this I think you’ve got your priorities seriously backward. Someone against whom serious allegations were made has been let back into party, making our party an unsafe space for women, and this is what exercises you? Our party’s processes should be reformed as soon as possible to stop other people getting away with it, and I’m entirely comfortable with Tim exercising his influence to get it done quicker.

  • Richard Dean 23rd Aug '14 - 4:24pm

    Another case of LibDems abandoning principles when emotion gets in the way? Throw away the democratic process because after all, this is important and Tim and Diya Sen Gupta know best?

  • Eddie Sammon 23rd Aug '14 - 5:09pm

    I thought this was a good article, but I am disappointed by Callum Leslie’s comment that replicates the basic argument of a large number of people in the party.

    The thinking seems to be as follows: we need more women, so we should start shredding liberal values until we reach that goal. In this instance Callum suggests anyone who receives allegations against women should probably be kicked out. He has even called the Lib Dems now an unsafe space for women, because someone not found guilty has been allowed back in.

    I care about the future of the party and equality is important, but I can’t see it is so important that liberal values should start being significantly dropped.

  • Thank you, Mark. An excellent article .

    “And, if the processes have failed, rather than delivering an outcome you don’t like (not always the same thing), seek changes.”
    ^ This is an important distinction that seems lost on some.

  • @ Callum Leslie
    I presume you disagree vehemently with party policy on control orders then? After all, people against whom serious allegations of terrorist activities were made are having restrictions lifted and being allowed to roam the streets, making the whole country an unsafe space for everyone. The Lib Dems not only support this policy but have actively campaigned for it. Why? Because there is insufficient evidence to prove them guilty and a liberal party that believes in presumption of innocence cannot advocate sanctioning people based solely on allegations, however serious or credible.

    That is what has shocked me about (some of) the reaction to this saga. This sort of guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude would be sad but predictable coming from Labour or the Tories but it’s shocking to hear it from Lib Dems.

  • Simon McGrath 23rd Aug '14 - 5:53pm

    @Callum “Someone against whom serious allegations were made has been let back into party,”

    Are we to exclude everyone against whom serious allegations are made ?

  • Tony Greaves 23rd Aug '14 - 5:54pm

    This is an excellent posting by Mark who clearly understands some of the basic principles of Liberalism and of the importance of both democratic decision-making in our party, and of due process.

    I suggest that Callum Leslie does not understand either. Serious allegations were indeed made , though they were exaggerated by opponents of Lord Rennard in a way that pandered to the tabloid press and TV. But the substantive allegations were dismissed through the due processes of the party some months ago – in spite of what might be considered over-zealous attempts by people in leadership and bureaucratic positions in the party to build up the charges.

    The two further charges, both of them ridiculous in the light of subsequent knowledge, were inevitably dismissed.

    It is a fundamental tenet of a Liberal society and system of justice that a person is innocent until proven guilty. The dismissal of all three charges against Lord Rennard mean that he has been found to be innocent of the complaints as presented and the charges as laid (though in fact no charges were ever laid in relation to the substantive complaints because the investigations – by first the police and then the party investigation – resulted in the complaints being rejected.

    In the light of all this the claim by people like Callum Leslie that Lord Rennard “got away with it” and – ludicrously – that this all means that the party is “an unsafe space for women” – arguably does as much or more to bring the party into disrepute than anything that has happened during this long and sorry saga.

    Tony Greaves

  • paul barker 23rd Aug '14 - 6:09pm

    Tims article had 2 strands, changing the Partys Rules & changing its Culture. I would have thought the latter was precisely the sort of thing The President should be doing. Perhaps Tim should have been clearer about the difference between the 2 strands & emphasised that his role in relation to Rule changes could only be one of leadership. I cant see that either Farron or Clegg have been “interfering” just doing their jobs in providing Leadership.

  • Tony Dawson 23rd Aug '14 - 6:29pm

    @paul barker:

    “I cant see that either Farron or Clegg have been “interfering” just doing their jobs in providing Leadership.

    The suspension for failing to apologise over unadmitted and unproven misdemeanours was clearly interfering. It was procedurally inept and made us look idiots. Is that ‘leadership’? As for the “English Regional Parties Committee”, has the full list of these people ever been published? They need to explain themselves.

  • Steven Williams 23rd Aug '14 - 6:34pm

    Unlike many of the comments above I think that this a poor article. I reads like a party appratchik waling out, saying….’will you think about the procedures?’

    Dearie me. Our party needs to change. Unlike Vince, Danny or even out leader…Tim seems to be stepping up and taking responsibility. At least someone is. Usually I like LDV articles but not this one.

    PS I hate public letters. Why not contact him directly?

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 23rd Aug '14 - 6:36pm

    @ Callum,

    I have studiously avoided comment on the issue of Chris Rennard, and intend to continue to do so. Don’t assume from such a stance that I don’t have a view, it’s simply that I wouldn’t be adding anything to what has already been said. But, on how we change our processes to address the genuine concerns that members and activists have, I want us to do it properly – no more, no less. I’m not on English Council, and so won’t have a vote on this anyway.

    And Tim has every right to seek to influence the process. But he didn’t say that, he said he was determined to make sure that they are implemented. And neither you, nor I, know what they are. So, are you saying that they are acceptable, sight unseen?

    @ Antony,

    You know he can’t do that, I know that he can’t do that. But if outsiders think that he can, and English Council decides otherwise, what impression would that give? Tim has now assured me that the proper processes will be followed, and I believe him. But one thing that I have learned in politics, and it is something that had been reinforced by my observations of coalition, is that if you promise something that you can’t guarantee to deliver, you get trouble.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 23rd Aug '14 - 6:39pm

    Oh yes, and a better picture would have been a still from the Constitutional Peasants part of Monty Python and the Holy Grail – which inspired the title. Humour can be most difficult…

  • Steven Williams 23rd Aug '14 - 6:56pm

    Can you confirm that you spoke, emailed, called or even tweeted Tim to raise your ‘concerns’ with him before this article was published?

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 24th Aug '14 - 5:59am

    @ Steven,

    No, I took him at his word. That said, I am aware that questions had been asked and not answered.

    @ Antony,

    You presume correctly. It might have been better if Tim had made that clear in his earlier contribution.

  • Geoffrey Payne 24th Aug '14 - 7:39am

    This is a strange article. Clearly the rules of the party need changing and it is good to see that the president of the party has made it a personal priority to see that this happens. No one is saying he can impose his views unilaterally, the party can still say no. If anyone thinks Tim Farron is exceeding his authority then as Steven Williams says, take it up with him privately. Why is this article on LDV?

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 24th Aug '14 - 12:56pm

    Surely everyone knows that due process via a ‘fit for purpose’ Complaints Procedure is the aim. All members I have read here are agreed on the way to get it done better. I’m sure Tim reads LDV and knows what we are saying. Let’s do it better!

  • peter tyzack 24th Aug '14 - 1:17pm

    I am more than happy for Tim to use his authority as our elected President and get things sorted out… Better to have it done and out of the way then get on and fight the election. Yes there are procedural principles, but decisions by the President can be ratified with a proviso that the incoming President will ensure that they are examined in detail in 12 months time.. lets stop this thing pulling us apart any further, and get behind the Party leadership for the campaign ahead.
    As we march ‘to the sound of gunfire’ I would far rather follow someone who has common sense and good instincts than one who has to keep checking the rule book.

  • Obviously Tim cannot make changes to the Party rules – but as President he has major influence on making them happen.
    As to what changes – should membership rules really be left to the states, or should the Federal Constitution be changed to improve the process across the Federal Party? For years the English Council and its EC Executive were fairly useless. When I was on it (several years ago now) it had an obsession with not allowing people to vote more than once, but instead of making rules to ensure that directly, it did things like preventing people being officers of Local Parties they were not a member of. I and some others warned about the problems that would cause, but the majority voted with the Executive. Now, Local Parties which cannot find a person for a key post become defunct because they can’t get a volunteer from next door to help. (An exception was made recently for Treasurers.) Perhaps the English Council has improved recently? If so, I haven’t heard about it yet.
    As has been said elsewhere major change should wait until after the General Election. But we can start thinking about it now.

  • Adam Robertson 24th Aug '14 - 9:47pm

    I agree with Mark Valladares, that it is improper for Tim Farron, to be actively involved in setting the new disciplinary code for the party. I have no problem, with Tim having influence but I am concerned that we are allowing him to have a lot of power because he is seen as a respectable person. For the record, I have come across Tim Farron and have found him very pleasant and respectable.

    However, Mark is right to point out that, we should be leaving it to the legal experts to sort out the details of this. I think politicians should not be involved in the detailed discussions of this, but rather the more broader discussions of the policy.

  • Once upon a time this Party appointed a single high-ranking lawyer to sort out the Rennard issue. He came up with a report which may well have represented the quintessence of legal brilliance, but left things in a hopeless mess.

    Now this party has appointed another individual high-ranking lawyer to design a disciplinary procedure. Discipline is of course a complete minefield, requiring expertise from a number of areas, especially human relations, and requiring a carefully evolved consensus to balance out the various conflicting aims – probity, fairness, the interests of different sides, and of course public image. Nevertheless, we are going to rely on a single clever lawyer to cut through all the issues with knife-like intelligence. Then we are going to implement everything this person suggests without further debate.

    Whomsoever the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

  • You may well be right, Paul – there will be plenty of further debate. That doesn’t mean however, that the powers that be don’t do exactly what they want to in the end!!

  • The point is they can’t if the committees/conferences disagree.

  • What are these recommendations. Certainly they were arrived at without any notice – and as someone involved in a disciplinary process where the region involved have now privately admitted to me that things weren’t done as well as they could be you’d have thought that would be a good case to look at.

    The “old rules” were written by lawyers – the problem isn’t so much in the detail of those rules but the failure to follow them and the in ability of people like the Yorkshire & Humber region to reach appropriate decisions.

  • Chris Keating 26th Aug '14 - 11:12pm

    Mark – in the context, what do you think Tim saying “I am determined we will change the rules” means?

    Do you think it’s more likely he means “I’m going to ignore all fifteen constitutions of different bits of the Liberal Democrats and you can’t do anything about it! NA NAA NAAAA NAA NAAAA I’M PRESIDENT?”

    Or is it more likely that the statement on Lib Dem Voice is a copy-paste of a press release aimed at people who don’t understand how the party works, and what he actually means is “I am going to ask the relevant federal and state party bodies to approve revised policies and procedures?”

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 27th Aug '14 - 1:08pm

    @ Chris,

    On the other hand, if you’re someone who doesn’t know how the Party works, how would you then respond, having read that press release if, because the proposals weren’t actually that good, they were rejected?

    Yes, I get the point that the language is tailored to an external audience, but the piece I referred to was what Tim submitted to Liberal Democrat Voice, and therefore presumably the message he intended to convey to its readers. I believe, however, that he risks over-promising and under-delivering, and that would do us even more harm.

  • David Evans 27th Aug '14 - 1:59pm

    I don’t think I have heard such a fuss made about nothing in a long time, as in this piece by Mark Valladares. On 7th May Norman Lamb said “I am determined that everyone should be able to get good quality care, and to be treated with dignity,” – No accusation from Mark of Norman having monarchic pretensions. On 14th March 2013 Nick Clegg said “I am determined we do not make them wait any more (for an independent press watchdog)” – No accusation of Nick showing regal delusions . On 23rd June 2013 Adrian Sanders said “I am determined it (the Parliamentary Diabetes Global Network) it will do much more.” – No accusation of Adrian being an anti- republican.

    But TIm says “I am determined that we will implement these (recommendations) as quickly as possible.“ – Big Open letter to Tim in LDV from Mark Vallidares entitled “ And who made you King anyway.” Stop making a fuss Mark. It doesn’t reflect well on you.

  • I am sure Tim will abide by the democratic processes of the party. He was elected by them, after all…

  • I too am determined that we will implement the recommendations of senior barrister, Diya Sen Gupta as quickly as possible.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 1st Sep '14 - 8:09pm

    @ MIke,

    And what exactly are you in favour of?

  • Erlend Watson 3rd Sep '14 - 3:27pm

    Could we in the wider party actually get to see these changes? Rather than have them put through English Council at the last moment.

    It is possible that Callum might see them as insufficient. It is possible that others might see them as kneejerk.

    We won’t know until we see them.

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