Democracy in the Liberal Democrat family

Liberal Democrats are agreed on equality and democracy, right? We all assume that this so. I am reminded of the old adage that to ‘assume’ can sometimes ‘make an ass of you and me’ (ass-u-me)!

In the run up to the European Parliamentary Elections in April 2019, we went through the procedure for the selection of our candidates for each European Parliamentary Constituency and, as expected, Party HQ sent out emails informing all the Membership of the process for these elections. Good so far? Many LibDem members living outside the UK were registered and eligible to vote in these European Parliamentary Elections but were ineligible to participate in the internal (s)elections. Our then CEO Nick Harvey quickly saw the problem and referred the matter to the Federal Appeals Panel for an early decision.

The Appeals Panel confirmed that the membership of Liberal Democrats Overseas, Liberal Democrats in Europe and Liberal Democrats in France Local Parties are ineligible under the Party’s constitution to participate in the selection of Liberal Democrat candidates for the European Parliamentary Elections. Furthermore, it was rightly highlighted that the Party Constitution will need to be changed to reflect agreed solutions to overcome the present status of members of these three Local Parties who are members of the Federal Party but not members of either the English, or Scottish or Welsh National Parties. Understandably, nothing could be done to rectify this inequality for members for those April 2019 (s)elections. However, this constitutional anomaly also applies to the selection UK Parliamentary Candidates where members from outside the UK and electors in UK constituencies were subject to the same injustice. To make matters worse, the Federal Board blocked the Constitutional Amendment proposed to correct this injustice at the 2019 Autumn Conference. A veritable failure of governance… which rolled the problem over into the 2019 General Election!

Our Party’s constitutional void and, worse, the lack of any statement by the Party hierarchy to those members thus afflicted has resulted in some loss of membership with a notable comment that ‘if they cannot fix this small problem, how on earth can we be trusted in government!’ It is difficult to explain this internal anomaly when we are campaigning for ‘Votes for Life’ and ‘Overseas Constituencies’ as a human right.

At this time of turbulence, apathy and general feeling of hopelessness, it would be a great fillip if our new President and newly elected Federal Board were to take up this small but important matter as it is at the core of our values and culture; equality and democracy.

We need decisive action from the 2020 leadership to rectify this internal party democratic deficit; we are ‘The Liberal and Democratic Party’, and, as the saying goes, “We deserve better!”.

* Paul Fisher is the Chair of Liberal Democrats in France.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds and Party policy and internal matters.


  • Elaine Woodard 15th Dec '19 - 4:35pm

    Paul, I hadn’t even considered how disenfranchised the overseas members are and you are right that it has to be sorted out. For this early election though you were not alone. There were a large number of seats who hadn’t already selected a parliamentary candidate – many despite their best efforts to get a returning officer appointed – and who had a candidate allocated to their seat by the regional party. I am extremely grateful to all those candidates who stood in these circumstances but it did anger many members that we were in this position.

  • Is a copy of the Federal Appeals Panel ruling on this available anywhere. I have a similar-ish appeal to them (on powers of the RO – in that case to disqualify ballots) and this may be relevant. – Ta 🙂

  • I have been hearing voices over the last couple of years calling for a radical rethink of our party. Since Friday some more have been heard and this matter adds yet another suggesting that our party hierarchy needs to change. Among other matters I have heard recently is the structure that is more akin to a large party than a small one; for example do we need the English Party anymore as well as regional committees ? Do we need all these Federal Committees ? Are our campaigns team in need of refreshment or replacement ? Tough decisions must be made and is the Federal Board up to it ?
    I have just seen Sal Brinton’s message and she says that in the review about to take place, we will be invited to comment, but how and how effectively can activists be able to take part in debate about the way forward for the party ? Electing a new leader will be a major part, but we also need debate about where we go post-Brexit and there is a feeling among older members that the party, as Vince has recently written, needs an overhaul.

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