Author Archives: Matt McLaren

How to get your Conference amendment selected for debate

The full Agenda or Spring Conference 2022 (11-13 March) is now out. There are full range of motions on a diversity of topics and, as such, probably at least one instance (if not many) whereby something has been proposed in relation to a particular issue which you may yourself disagree with.

That is where amendments come in. Both business motions (concerning how the party operates internally) and policy motions (concerning our position on and policy proposals for a particular external issue) are subject to amendment. The deadline for amendments is Monday, 28 February 2022.

The Federal Conference Committee (FCC) runs a drafting advice service so that anyone thinking of submitting an amendment (or an emergency motion for that matter) can get advice on how best to draft this, to maximise your chances of getting the amendment selected for debate. The deadline for requesting drafting advice is Monday, 14th February 2022 and you can access the service here.

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What’s the point of the English Party?

You could perhaps be forgiven for not knowing that the English Party even exists. Unlike Regional Parties in England, which have a direct relationship with members and are consequently well-understood; the all-England level of the party lies veiled in a murky labyrinth of internal organisation generally understood only by those initiated into the hidden secrets of its bureaucracy. Or at least that’s how it appears to most ordinary members (and even many longstanding activists!)

Nevertheless, the internal party matters reserved for England level (as opposed to being devolved to Regional Parties) are all pretty important. From approval and selection rules for parliamentary candidates, to setting the budget which determines how much Regions and Local Parties get from membership subscriptions and how much is available to be spent centrally to fund field-based Regional Development Officers, to setting the overall standards for operational and governance decisions at lower levels (such as rules applying to local agreements to work with other parties, how to settle membership disputes, and how Council Groups need to operate in order to be officially recognised etc.)

It might all sound a bit dull, but it’s absolutely crucial work that has to be done. Certainly when it comes to the work of the oft-maligned English Council itself (the governing body of the Liberal Democrats in England, made up of the Regional Chairs plus directly elected representatives from each Region), none of this work could easily be performed by Regional Parties acting autonomously. And were it to be, that would undoubtedly create an unmanageable patchwork of different rules and process from region to region which – certainly when it comes to things like PPC selections – would be extremely difficult if not practically impossible for participants to navigate.

The problem with the English Council, if I may say so, is not what it does but rather 𝘩𝘰𝘸 it does it. With what is in theory supposed to be a representative and accountable body in practice being almost entirely self-selecting, shrouded in misunderstanding or complete ignorance as to its role, and totally unaccountable as a result.

I am on a mission to change that – seeking to massively improve channels of communication between those sitting on the Council and ordinary English Party members and between its leadership on the Council’s Executive and the crucial volunteers running Local & Regional Parties. But it’s not easy and I keep encountering serious roadblocks. Since late December I have been trying to find a way to send out a detailed report back on the English Council’s important December 18th meeting to members in my own Region, only to be thwarted at every turn. Perhaps not unreasonably, as existing channels of communication are perhaps better focused on traditional things like campaigns updates etc., but there really should be some mechanism for the Region’s elected representatives to be able to report back to and be held accountably by the members that elect them regarding their work on the Council. Clearly no such mechanism currently exists.

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We MUST stop using the language of votes “not counting” and “wasted votes”

As Liberal Democrats we all care about electoral reform. Nevertheless, we really don’t make a strong case for it by saying that people’s votes in safe seats “don’t count” or that we have untold “wasted votes“. That is of course one way to look at it, but completely ignores the reality that any electoral system will have people who vote for candidates or parties which aren’t then represented – even with Proportional Representation (PR), such as those voting for parties which achieve less than 5%.

More fundamentally, even under the current First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) system every vote counts (and I’d be the first to take to the streets if it didn’t) since every vote is literally counted to see which candidate has the most (such an act is, of necessity, a comparison and involves weighing every pile of votes against every other). By talking about wasted votes we are conflating voting at all with voting for the winner – a specious argument since the very idea of electing someone (again, of necessity) means choosing between competing candidates and therefore having both winners and losers.

That is not to say that FPTP is a good system, it isn’t! Outside the United States (which is an exclusively two party polity in a way the UK hasn’t been for decades, a presidential system, and otherwise not a democracy we should wish to emulate for a whole host of reasons) almost no liberal democracy in the world still uses FPTP – certainly no other in Europe. But in making the case for reform we should rely on and encourage voters’ innate sense of fairness when presented with the facts of the result, rather than a present a questionable interpretation of their role in democracy as it stands.

As such, it would be far better to focus on the HUGE disparity between the numbers of votes cast for different parties and the MPs these actually elected (i.e. in 2019 ~26,000 for an SNP MP vs ~51,000 for a Labour MP and a staggering ~335,000 for a Lib Dem MP). Add this point to the threat to democracy manifested by any party which gains only a MINORITY of votes thereby acquiring absolute power by having a MAJORITY of MPs, with no checks on that power save a weak House of Lords (presenting examples such as Blair taking us to war in Iraq despite the public being overwhelmingly against it, or Thatcher introducing the poll tax, or Boris delivering a devastating no deal Brexit, if that goes on to happen) and you have a very powerful argument for reform.

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Opinion: What’s going on in Brussels? Nominations to the European Commission

Charlemagne is back in EuropeFollowing on from my post last week on post-election developments in Brussels, here’s the second of two updates. Whilst yesterday’s focused on developments concerning the formation of political groups in the Parliament itself, today’s will address issues regarding nominations to the European Commission.

It now looks likely that at its meeting later this week (from 26th to 27th June), the European Council (made up of the Heads of Government from all 28 EU countries) will nominate the Parliament’s preferred candidate for the …

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Opinion: What’s going on in Brussels? Political groupings in the European Parliament

European Parliament chamber, StrasbourgFollowing on from my post last week on post-election developments in Brussels, here’s the first of two updates. Today’s will focus on developments concerning the formation of political groups in the Parliament itself whilst tomorrow’s will address issues regarding nominations to the European Commission.

Political parties have until tomorrow, June 24th to form their European Parliamentary groups. In order to qualify as a group, you not only need at least 25 MEPs but these must be drawn from at least 7 EU countries represented in the Parliament.

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What’s going on in the European Parliament this week?

European FlagDebates between the political parties in the European Parliament to form the all-important political groups, on which depends importance Committee places and speaking rights, continue in Brussels this week.

The Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe (ALDE) Group, in which the UK’s Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder sits, is continuing negotiations with liberal-minded parties either newly elected to the European Parliament or no longer content with their existing groups.

It is now unlikely that ALDE will remain the third largest group in Strasbourg-based Parliament as the European Conservatives

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The European Election – Fighting an Integrated Campaign

European Union flagIn a speech earlier this month Nick Clegg detailed just how crucial the European Union is for prospects of a stronger economy and a fairer society here in Britain (you can read the full text of his speech here).

The Liberal Democrats’ success in the European Election is thus hugely important in making sure the EU lives up to its potential in contributing to that combination of increased economic strength and greater social fairness that we are uniquely in a position to deliver. The election is also significant from a political perspective, with the party’s eventual performance being used as a yardstick for our relative success or decline by pundits and opponents alike.

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The European Election – Campaigning on the Issues

We are now just 30 weeks away from the next round of local elections. Crucially, these have been arranged to coincide with the EU-wide election for the European Parliament. Obviously who gets what seats in Brussels and Strasbourg seems far more removed from our ordinary lives than the running of the local Council, but it is still hugely important.

As a candidate in the European Election, I am very keen that we do not end up wasting time talking about Brussels obscurities. Instead, those of us selected to stand for the European Parliament are trying to talk …

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Opinion: we shouldn’t make the poor pay for the irresponsible: on why Theresa May is wrong (again!)

I am fully aware of the evils of alcohol: believe me, I’ve spent my fair share of nights out on the town (and now have the dubious privilege of living above a dodgy nightclub in an otherwise pleasant area), so I have seen first-hand what binge drinking looks (and sounds, and smells) like. It is not a pretty picture, and in addition to being a blight on neighbourhoods in town centres up and down the country, it is a huge health nightmare.

But how do you solve this problem? To quote from Yes, Minister, the Government’s response rather looks like a …

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Opinion: Debating AV with the Evening Standard

Last Wednesday saw one of the few debates on the issue of AV that are taking place in the run-up to the referendum. Vince Cable paired up with Ken Livingstone to speak for the Yes side, and for the No position Lord Michael Howard teamed up with Olympic Gold Medallist and prominent Labour supporter Martin Cross (with a very humorous Clive Anderson in the Chair).

After Vince opened the debate with a brief overview of the issue, Lord Howard made a good and impassioned speech. However, there seemed to be a contradiction in what he said which thankfully Clive Anderson picked …

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Recent Comments

  • Peter Martin
    @ Chris, Adam and David, So can we all agree (except perhaps Alex ) that being in favour of the EU does require uncritical support? This is a big problem...
  • Alex Macfie
    @Adam: I rarely read BtL comments in newspaper articles as they tend not to be representative of public opinion. All I can say is that such opinions as you have...
  • Adam
    "Given the avalanche of unending and captious criticism of the EU from the pro-Brexiteer nationalist establishment prior to Brexit, it’s scarcely surprising t...
  • David Allen
    Peter Martin, "In practice, we seldom, if ever, see any criticism of the EU from its supporters." Yeah, yeah, yeah. When the Tories make a political broa...
  • Chris Moore
    Given the avalanche of unending and captious criticism of the EU from the pro-Brexiteer nationalist establishment prior to Brexit, it's scarcely surprising that...