Opinion: The party needs a better nomination system for the Lords

Like many others, I let out a sigh of resignation when I saw that yet more appointments are being made to the unelected and unaccountable House of Lords. Nothing against the individuals receiving a peerage this week (some of whom I have known personally and all of whom I’m sure will be excellent representatives), but yet again it’s a fairly predictable mix of ex-MPs and party insiders.

Liberal Democrats are right to nominate their own choices for these positions – better off having an influence over a broken system than being excluded from it altogether – but it got me wondering why a normally ultra-democratic party is still selecting Lords nominations behind closed doors and with only nominal input from ordinary members. Isn’t there a better nomination process the party could put in place, perhaps even one which blew open positions in the House of Lords to a much more diverse body of Liberal Democrats?

I got talking to a (non-party) friend about this. She was baffled by the whole thing. So we decided between us to devise a new House of Lords nomination system for the Liberal Democrats, as you do. Admittedly this took us all of 10 minutes and didn’t even make it as far as being written down on the back of the proverbial fag packet, but I am still fairly confident it is a significant improvement over the current way things are done:

1)    Nomination to the party list for the House of Lords is open to each and every Liberal Democrat member (probably self-nomination and subject to a minimum membership period).

2)    The full list of nominations is then published on a dedicated webpage. It doesn’t really matter if there are 10 or 1,000 nominations – personally I would see the latter as a healthy sign.

3)    The entire party membership is then able to vote for who they want from the available list, using their membership number as proof of identity.

4)    The nominations with the most votes (yep, you guessed it!) are then put forward as the party’s nominations to the Lords.

No doubt this admittedly fairly simple plan can (and will) be picked apart on the detail, but it is no more flawed than the alternatives.

In practice I would expect that many high profile Lib Dems, such as ex-MPs and celebrities, would top the ballots anyway. It would, however, give ‘normal’ members the chance to put themselves forward, and would encourage more diversity in Liberal Democrat peers. Unsung heroes of the party and popular local activists would finally get their chance to be recognised and fully utilised by the party.

And whilst the loss of control by central office would initially make some nervous, why shouldn’t members be trusted to make good choices as they are for other party positions? It would also send a powerful message about democracy, and perhaps, heaven forbid, even get the party some positive headlines.

Most importantly, allowing all members to choose the party’s peers does goes back to an important principle, and the underlying reason the Liberal Democrats campaign for an elected House of Lords: the only qualification for being there should be that you are democratically elected.

Until we see a fully elected House of Lords, surely the next best option is to at least lead by example by ensuring the party’s own nomination process is as democratic and transparent as it possibly can be?

* William Summers was the party’s parliamentary candidate in 2010 for North West Norfolk and creator of www.whatthehellhavethelibdemsdone.com.

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  • The problem is that the party loves using stv for elections and you can’t do that on a poll with no closing date. Also if there’s no closing date, what happens if a person wants to change their vote? perhaps they want to use their vote for a new person who has just appeared on the list?

    That said I am sick of the leadership completely ignoring the interim peers list, and I do think the voting system could be brought more up to date. A website would be a good idea – perhaps run on a similar system to the ldv members forum – but maybe each member gets a time limited vote? like 6 months or a year and then it express and you have to go vote again?

    Also, I might be a bit mean here but if it’s NOT stv then I’d like to see a method for voting people down as well as up. I don’t know about everybody else but when I full in an stv voting slip I put who I want to win first and then it fills up from the bottom with those who I would least like to see win…

  • William Summers 2nd Aug '13 - 10:55am

    @Jennie – I haven’t mentioned anything about not having a closing date, sorry if that’s unclear. I would think it would have to be the usual process of a nomination deadline followed by all names being published and then a voting deadline.

    The actual voting system would be up for debate, though whatever it is it would be an improvement on the current system, which to the best of my understanding seems to be an agreement between members of a panel with input for party HQ rather than any actual real voting at all.

  • Sadie Smith 2nd Aug '13 - 11:01am

    Could get names additional to Interim List from Regions. I am still grumpy about lack of midlands represtenation, so could be a touch biassed.

  • A more democratic and representative approach would simply be to allow any member of the public, prepared to self-identify as a Party supporter, to vote. A massive open primary, that gives the Party a big supporter database at the end as well presumably as better peers.

    I don’t though agree with your ‘anyone can stand’ approach. All parties screen Parliamentary candidates, for the sensible reason that someone carrying a Party badge should have some connection to supporting the Party they represent, and be competent to do so. Parties should retain control over candidate approval.

    And that would help public engagement. People are not going to sift through thousands of ‘Am I hot or not in ermine’ pictures, or read their biogs. A restricted list would get more serious selection.

    As for the interim peers list. Having hacks pointlessly troll around conference seeking your support for a position of no meaning is demeaning for everyone. Ditch it.

  • Helen Tedcastle 2nd Aug '13 - 11:14am

    @ William Summers

    ” Liberal Democrats are right to nominate their own choices for these positions – better off having an influence over a broken system than being excluded from it altogether…”

    I think you mean Nick Clegg. The Liberal Democrats didn’t appoint this list. Rather than setting up another structure to hold the Leader to account for his patronage, perhaps Nick could be persuaded that it is in his own interests as party leader to bring forth a list which reflects Liberal Democrat values and attitudes, rather than those of the old parties.

    I still believe it is possible that leaders can set a new tone and style of leadership, if they so choose. But the choice is theirs .

    It is so easy to fall into the trap of playing the Westminster game of keeping insiders happy and rewarding donors, and believing that this form of muscular decision-making it a sign of having ‘arrived’ as a serious player.

    To my mind though it is a sign of weakness, because of its conformity with a system of patronage that badly needs updating.

    I agree with Sadie Smith. It is totally unjustifiable for the West Midlands to be passed over again regarding peerages – also the North West. It sends out all the wrong signals from the centre to these regions.

  • Sorry William for misunderstanding. It did read to me like you were proposing a rolling, continous website.

  • David Evans 2nd Aug '13 - 2:02pm

    It’s not the nomination system, nor the voting system, just that no leader has ever paid any attention to it, and a party that still hasn’t got the courage to hold its leader to account. Its members are prepared to stand up for any other group disadvantaged by those in authority except themselves.

    Until we have the courage to stand up for our values within our party, we will remain so ineffectual as to be almost indistinguishable from the other parties once we get into power. Thus the call to all those left of centre supporters who have left the party in dismay over the last three years must be

    “If you really do believe in the values of Liberal Democracy, don’t leave, but return and fight for those values. Otherwise those values will slowly die and it will be your fault, along with thousands like you.”

  • Charles Beaumont 2nd Aug '13 - 4:02pm

    I agree with @Andy. We could lead by example: the other parties don’t want the public to have a say on their legislators, but the Liberal Democrats have been committed to that principle for decades. So we should select candidates along similar lines to PPC selection and then open the election to the public – all of the public – in an online vote. As long as we are confident of our candidate selection processes then the election shouldn’t worry us – all of the candidates will be well-vetted Liberal Democrats who have demonstrated their potential as parliamentarians.

  • Helen Dudden 2nd Aug '13 - 4:30pm

    This is a very outdated situation, support a political party and you win a title.

  • Tony Greaves 2nd Aug '13 - 5:47pm

    Well well Andy Mayer wants to fill the LD benches in the Lords with national media celebrities (TV, Twitter, goodness knows what). And he thinks they would work for the party and the party’s policies and principles? Ah, of course not…


  • Debby Hallett 3rd Aug '13 - 7:59am

    It seems to me that we’ve missed an opportunity to demonstrate how a more democratic process might work. I’m a new Lib Dem, joined in 2010. I notice more and more where the party isn’t walking its talk. All the thought and effort put into a policy debate and formation, only to have MPs ignore it if they like. All the work on Lords reform, only to follow the pack lemming-like and appoint more new Peers. I’d like to see Lib Dems in government standing more on principle.

  • The party may need a better nomination system for the final selection of our new peers, but first it should expect our leader to respect the decisions of our sovereign representative body i.e. Federal Conference and nominate the majority of new peers from those elected to the Interim Peers list. I believe that the rules were modified so that all former members of Parliaments / Assemblies were automatically acceptable. Therefore the leader could have nominated 6 from the elected Interim Peers list and 4 from the former members of Parliaments / Assemblies and then he would have been following the will of the sovereign body of the Party.

    We should ensure the leader will think twice before every doing this again (Tony Greaves posted on one the articles on the new lords that most of our leaders have ignored the decisions of conference on this matter) and amended article 10.2 by added after no confidence vote of the House of Commons Parliamentary Party that the leader is removed after a no confidence vote by Federal Conference.

  • What about including Alliance Party members in the scheme, and possibly Gib Libs and (Manx) Lib Vans.

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