Author Archives: Christopher Bones

The 12 Op-Eds of Xmas (Day 5)

Throughout the festive season, LDV is offering our readers a load of repeats another chance to read the 12 most popular opinion articles which have appeared on the blog since 1st January, 2008. Fifth in the series is this posting by Christopher Bones, which appeared on LDV on 12th February…

Chris Bones writes… The Party Reform Commission – taking the Lib Dems forward

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Chris Bones writes… The Party Reform Commission – taking the Lib Dems forward

At the beginning of the year Nick Clegg as Leader, Simon Hughes as Party President, and Chris Rennard as Chief Executive asked me and my colleagues, Cllr Duncan Greenland, Kate Parminter and Paul Burstow MP, to produce a report into how the Liberal Democrats’ internal organisation could be built upon to double our number of MPs over the next two general elections. I was delighted to have this opportunity to serve the party, which I have supported for nearly 30 years, in this way. The process has been hard work, frustrating at times, surprising – but in the end rewarding.

All conference delegates should have received the executive summary of our work. An electronic version of both the executive summary and the full report, which runs to over 90 pages, will be available later today for party members in the members-only section of Liberal Democrat Voice. There will be an email from the Party President going out to all members later this week drawing their attention to our work as well as a number of articles in this week’s Lib Dem News.

I know that many Liberal Democrat bloggers, including Stephen Tall here on Lib Dem Voice, have expressed some concerns about how the distribution of the report has been handled. I understand and to some extent share those concerns. Communication in these circumstances is a problem straight out of the management textbooks, and unlike the answers in the textbooks I have to take issue with those of you out there who believe there is one right way of doing things.

Whilst the way we organise decision making and at times shroud it in unnecessary mystery is an area we take on in our report and address through some very direct proposals for streamlining and opening up party structures and processes, there was a very real dilemma in the way we rolled out the full report. The problem with resolving a dilemma is that, whatever you do, some people are not going to be happy and I take accountability for the decisions made on communication given the structures and processes we employ today.

Under our current setup we felt it would be wrong for affected party bodies and committees, and indeed potentially affected individuals, to read about our proposals for their futures at the same time as the mass of the party membership. Had we done this we would have faced equally powerful criticism from those who believe that the democratically elected bodies that run the party should be communicated to and consulted with first.

We as a Commission tried to ensure that we spoke to those who would be most affected by our proposals first, and explain our thinking to them and engage in dialogue with them – a process which is currently ongoing with, amongst others, the Federal Executive and the English Council Executive. Additionally we have had to present to the Federal Conference Committee, to the parliamentary parties in Westminster, and (rightly) to staff, many of whose roles are affected by the review. We have still to hold reviews with the party in Scotland and Wales, and no doubt there will be others along the way who want their say.

In addition we have the environmental dilemma of printing off a 90-plus page full report for every conference delegate or, as we eventually decided, to agree a shorter executive summary and issue the full report online, drawing as much attention to it as possible through channels such as LDV, Lib Dem News and others.

Finally, there was the issue of timing the release of the full report: August, when everyone is away on holiday, or wait till the first week of September when Lib Dem News re-starts, and we can get as much publicity for it as possible.

This may sound defensive – it isn’t meant to be: it is an explanation of the real dilemmas that face any leadership in how to communicate proposals for change. It is a shame that for a small minority the process of communication has led to entirely inaccurate speculations about motivations, hidden agendas and internal politics.

However, I can appreciate that from the outside the to-ing fro-ing between various opaque party committees and the communication dilemmas on timing may have looked somewhat unaccountable and undemocratic. Whilst the communication issues are real and sensitivities need managing in any organization, the to-ing and fro-ing does need challenging and changed for the better.

I believe that the whole process therefore made it clear that we a need a much more transparent and accountable decision making process for issues such as this report. And that, happily, is precisely what this report is proposing.

In coming to our conclusions we heard from hundreds of party members and local parties, spoke to many leading figures in the party with a diverse range of experience and knowledge and consulted widely with party bodies and committees. We received a great response from the party as a whole, which was characterised by consistency in the issues being raised.

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