Deputy precedents

For the past year, I’ve been observing a self-denying ordnance. Back at the end of September 2005, I submitted a complaint to the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Appeals Panel suggesting the Federal President’s decision to appoint a series of “deputy presidents” was ultra vires. Since then, I’ve been resisting the urge to mention the matter publicly.

A couple of weeks ago, the Federal Appeals Panel published its conclusion, following the receipt of the President’s response at the end of October this year, which can be found here. For the record I am content with the conclusions of this ruling and don’t wish to take the matter any further.

Superficially, this looks like a bit of a score draw. On the one hand, the Panel has upheld the substantive part of my argument that the President doesn’t have the power to unilaterally create such posts. On the other hand, the Panel has concluded that the Federal Executive, which does have the power, effectively authorised the creation of these posts, and thus from that point on they became legit.

However, given that my main objective in seeking this ruling was to assert the authority of the FE, I consider this ruling to be a ringing endorsement. There remain, however, a few implications that the party needs to seriously consider.

Firstly, the FE’s decision to “endorse” the creation of these posts was simply announced at a meeting. No paper was circulated in advance. This meant that individuals such as myself who struggled to make that meeting (it took place at the start of Blackpool conference which for me means taking time out of a very busy period of work to make such meetings), only ever learnt that such a decision was even being considered retrospectively. This isn’t how the executive body of a national political party should do business (I wrote about the FE’s impotence as the party’s most senior decision making body earlier this year in Liberator 312.

Secondly, the positions were due to be reviewed after a year. This has not happened thus far, but it does appear plain to me that it has been a dismal failure. The Deputy Presidents themselves have been all but anonymous and it hasn’t lead to anything meaningful. None of them appear to have had any clear idea about what they were supposed to be doing. All it has generated is a lot of ill will and confusion.

As I would have said if the FE had been permitted to discuss the matter in advance, I’m all for the party appointing “champions” who will work to promote the party to specific under-represented groups and vice versa, but such posts need to be seriously thought about. Is there really, for example, a case for creating a Deputy President for women, when we already have a Chair for the Campaign for Gender Balance, who should be doing precisely this sort of thing? Indeed, many of these deputy presidents merely duplicated existing roles such as the Chair of the Liberal Democrat Youth and Students or the Ethnic Minority Lib Dems, yet they have stayed with the individual concerned for months after they no longer have those elected posts.

Such posts should also not be called “Deputy Presidents”. We already have deputies for the President – each State Party appoints a “Vice President.”

Hopefully this ruling will provide food for thought for both the FE and the President. One thing is certainly clear: random, haphazard decision making of this kind, when it is not even clear with whom the buck stops, cannot continue.

Finally however, we really can’t afford to continue with a system that allows a complaint like this to continue for over a year. I’m not interested in pointing fingers here, but hopefully the Appeals Panel itself will now review how it conducts such business. A very simple principle needed to be established, yet the appeal dragged on, outlasting the elections for both Party Leader and Party President, both of which Simon Hughes was a candidate. He didn’t need thing hanging over his head, and everyone else needed clarity well in advance of both those contests.

James Graham was a member of the Liberal Democrats’ Federal Executive 2003-2005.

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This entry was posted in Party policy and internal matters.


  • Theo Butt Philip Theo Butt Philip 24th Nov '06 - 5:49pm

    Is it nessecary for there to be that much Latin in the Federal Appeals Panel’s findings?

  • hywelmorgan 24th Nov '06 - 6:27pm

    It’s how you spot pre-Woolf lawyers 🙂

  • hywelmorgan 24th Nov '06 - 8:42pm

    Just noticed this amazing sequence of events:

    1.1 This is a complaint brought in September 2005 by Mr James Graham against Mr Simon Hughes MP as President….

    1.2 The respondent replied on 27 October 2006,….

    Why on earth it takes over a year to produce a three page response to a fairly straightforward complaint I’ve no idea!

  • Don’t we also now need to ask what has become of the Deputy President’s has anyone actually heard from them or seen them do anything at all?

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