Conference Countdown 2015: Would you abolish One Member One Vote if it was already in place?

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A good test of a proposed new rule is to imagine: if it was already in place, would you be convinced by arguments to abolish it? So imagine with me that the Liberal Democrats had one-member, one-vote (OMOV) in place, instead of our conference representatives system, for electing our federal committees and for voting at party conference. A world with all party members able to vote in both.

It would not be nirvana. You can imagine some being concerned about the time and cost involved in coming to conference and the members who therefore miss out. You can also imagine complaints when ballot papers come round that members do not know enough about what the candidates are like or their track records.

So take one more step down imaginary lane with me and picture me at a podium in front of you, laying out all these problems and revealing – hooray! – I have an answer.

The solution? Take the vote away from 93% – yes, just over nine in ten – of all party members. And then, let us also introduce a form for each local party to fill out annually – a form of electoral registration, but one where only two-thirds of would-be voters actually get registered. So from every member having a vote, we’ll cut it down to just over 4% – a little under 1 in 20 – having the vote.

Who could object to that? Well, pretty much everyone, I would hope.

To take the vote away from 19 out of 20 members would require absolutely drastic problems to be justified. None of those putative problems with OMOV would come close.

So let’s return to reality; the unfortunately reality where the franchise for party committee elections is just 1 in 20 party members and where we keep the power to vote at conference out of the hands of just under 40% of the members who will be at Bournemouth conference where a move to OMOV is being put to the vote on Monday afternoon.

There certainly are hiccups and issues with moving to OMOV. I am very well aware of them, having been one of the prime movers behind the amendment which sent back the previous OMOV plans for further thought.

However, this time round, the wording of the proposals has been fixed (and credit to the Federal Executive for involving critics of the previous plans such as myself in revising them). There are still issues to push on with reducing secrecy around what the elected members of committees get up to and with having the right election regulations.

But is any of this a reason to say to 19 out of 20 members: no, you can’t have a vote in our next committee elections? Or to say to the nearly 40% of members who will be at conference but without a vote, we’re all happy for you to be voteless?

Absolutely not.

Which is why if you’re one of the select lucky few who currently has the vote and will be in Bournemouth, I hope you will join me on Monday in voting to let others join us in having the right to vote too.

* Mark Pack is a member of the Federal Board and editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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15 Comments

  • When it comes to electing Committees, you have me convinced. But policy, no still not convinced. The advantage of conference is that the issues are openly debated, then we all vote based on having heard the arguments presented and properly cross-examined in front of us. Can you replicate that outside conference? If so, fine. But I suspect not. It really isn’t that hard to get elected as a conference rep if you’re so interested. The gain in a wider electorate for deciding policy would I fear be outweighed by the poorer quality of the policies adopted.

  • Julian: I used to think “It really isn’t that hard to get elected as a conference rep if you’re so interested” too, but the evidence just keeps on coming that for whatever mix of reasons, that’s not how it works out. So for members in Bournemouth next week, around 40% of them will be there as non-voting rather than voting reps. That’s a massive slice of members who are coming to conference and won’t have the vote.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Sep '15 - 3:27pm

    Mark Pack | Wed 16th September 2015 – 11:55 am It takes a lot of dedication to read the lengthy conference motions and papers that the deliberative process has produced since the merger of the Liberal Party and the SDP. Even the attendance of voting reps who have made the journey is patchy, as can be seen from the hall. Some of this is affected by scheduling, for instance did you attend the motion on football and hear about a gay football club getting homophobic abuse from their own fans?

    Mark Pack 16th Sep ’15 – 1:46pm Some of the non-voting reps are non-voting out of choice, despite the cost in money and time they do not want the responsibility and increased level of involvement. HQ wanted friends and family recruited into membership, so perhaps you could ask them how effective it was.

  • Nick: in the past, such as when OMOV came to the autumn conference, there’s been a decent smattering of people opposing the principle, so yes, I think it’s worth doing them the courtesy of explaining why (I think) they’re wrong.

  • A Social Liberal 16th Sep '15 - 10:22pm

    I am not sure about OMOV. In principle, I agree with it but I have some reservations. How does a debate take place in cyber space, what happens if someone who wishes to speak doesn’t have the necessary hardware, or bandwidth or decent upload speeds. Indeed, what happens if the would be speaker doesn’t have the skills or income to get the necessary hardware either into the house or up and running. Indeed, can we afford the wherewithal to be able to pipe debates to 60,000 homes, live and simultaneously.

    Then, of course, there are the other aspects of conference which would be missed if it became an online event. No networking, no interviews with the press or pictures in the media of the great and good. Indeed, can you really see BBC Parliament carrying the pretty dire pictures which are going to come from some home computer systems in a debate. Imagine, no fringes, no Glee Club, no training.

    Sort the above out and a cyber conference might be viable, it isn’t at the moment.

  • Is OMOV really one member one vote? Or is it one member who is rich enough to attend conference one vote? I am putting this as a genuine question, I don’t know the answer.

  • Richard Underhill 16th Sep '15 - 11:24pm

    Mark Pack 16th Sep ’15 – 6:04pm Tell us then.

  • SIMON BANKS 17th Sep '15 - 9:48pm

    OMOV does not in any way answer the problem that a tiny minority of members make policy. Local parties are entitled to so many reps now that it can only be in a tiny number of cases that people who want to go and vote can’t get a place as an elected rep (unless their local party is on the doorstep of the conference). What it does do is cut the link between the voting member and the local party. At present we have a responsibility to all our local members. We’re required by the constitution to give a report (I’m sure many don’t, but that could be tightened up). We can be lobbied or questioned beforehand: as our only rep attending (we’re entitled to ten) I did just that. So-called OMOV means local party members attending and voting would be under no obligation at all to involve the much larger number of members who are interested but don’t have the time or money to attend.

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