Do we need a Special Conference to debate Vince’s reforms?

Party President Sal Brinton has told members at the North West Regional Conference this morning that the Federal Board will discuss whether there should be a special Conference to decide on Vince Cable’s proposals for Party Reform. There are two that require a change in the Federal Constitution. The first is the idea that any registered supporters would get a vote for party leader and the other is that the leadership would be open to someone who isn’t a member of the Westminster Parliament.

The supporters’ scheme itself doesn’t need the authority of Conference to set it up – that could happen straight away.

Doing away with the time that you have to be a member before you can be a candidate for the party is something that is decided by the state parties individually.

I wrote in August about what was needed to put the changes into action.

So, to change any of these things, the constitution would have to change. Here, article 2.10 is your friend.

  • 2.10  This Constitution may only be altered:

    1. (a)  by a two-thirds majority of members present and voting at the FederalConference;

    2. (b)  where any such alteration has been submitted in accordance with theStanding Orders of that Conference by the Federal Board or any other persons or bodies entitled to submit motions or amendments under Article 8.6 and notified to Local Parties at least six weeks in advance; and

    3. (c)  in the case of any alteration to the relative powers and functions of the Federal Party and the State Parties or to this paragraph (c), it is passed by the internal procedures of each State Party.

So we know we’d have to go to Federal Conference. But when?

We can’t change the constitution in Brighton because we would have had to have been notified of a constitutional amendment by now. Are we seriously going to do it in Spring or at any time between Autumn and Spring as the Brexit stuff reaches its climax? You’d have trouble setting a date that wasn’t likely to be consumed by a referendum or an election.

And are we really going to spend our Spring Conference, two weeks before we leave the EU, on internal constitutional matters? I would question the wisdom of that one because it really  would not look good. For me the sensible time to do all this would be September 2019.

So what does the Constitution say about how we hold a Special Conference?

Here we have Article 8.12 to help us out

The Conference shall normally meet twice a year, for a week in the early autumn and a weekend in the early spring; additional meetings may be summoned upon the requisition of the Federal Board or the Federal Policy Committee or the Conference itself or 200 members, in not fewer than 20 local parties. A meeting may be cancelled by the Federal Board in exceptional circumstances.

The cost of a Special Conference is measured in tens of thousands of pounds. Even if that is covered by a donation (and if it is, I think we ought to know who is paying and think about what agenda they might have), we have to look at the opportunity cost. The political situation is so fragile at the moment that there could be a referendum or a general election at any point in the next few months.

Those who favour a quick decision on Vince’s proposals will argue that we need to get on with it to show that we are changing and are becoming a different sort of political party. But as Adam Bernard pointed out yesterday, process changes aren’t the answer:

People aren’t supporting us because a) they don’t trust us; b) they don’t foresee us having any power any time soon; or c) they don’t like what we’re selling. None of these proposals solves any of those problems.

There is a lot of concern about a new party emerging out of the ashes of Brexit and taking all our support.

If you look at what has brought people to us in massive numbers in the last few years, the first huge surge came as Nick Clegg gave his powerfully heart-wrenching resignation speech in the wake of the disastrous 2015 election. Let’s just remind ourselves what he said:

It is no exaggeration to say that in the absence of strong and statesmanlike leadership, Britain’s place in Europe and the world, and the continued existence of our United Kingdom itself, is now in grave jeopardy.

And the cruellest irony of all is that it is exactly at this time that British liberalism – that fine, noble tradition that believes that we are stronger together and weaker apart – is more needed than ever before.

We must keep fighting for it.

That is both the great challenge and the great cause that my successor will have to face.

I will always give my unstinting support to all those who continue to keep the flame of British liberalism alive.

On the morning after the most crushing blow to the Liberal Democrats since our party was founded it is easy to imagine that there is no road back.

But there is because there is no path to a fairer, greener, freer Britain without British liberalism showing the way.

This is a very dark hour for our party but we cannot and will not allow decent liberal values to be extinguished overnight.

Our party will come back. Our party will win again.

It will take patience, resilience and grit. But that is what has built our party before – and will rebuild it again.

The second time was in the wake of the Brexit Referendum where Tim Farron so clearly said, very soon after the result, that we would campaign to stay in the EU.

There is a moral here. Say something that grips people and they will turn to you.

Surely that’s where our effort should be concentrated now, not on spending thousands on gathering in a room and looking inward, especially when any date we set might be upstaged by rapidly moving events.

I think that the leader has a right to put forward proposals and members and the Conference should consider them. However, as a member of the Federal Board, I am minded to oppose any request for a Special Conference. We can take it to Spring or delay until Autumn next year. The world won’t fall apart if we do that. Our country is at greater risk of falling apart and we should be devoting our entire attention to sorting out that mess in the short term.

What do you think?


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • James Baillie 13th Oct '18 - 4:29pm

    I wrote for LDV, and for my blog, a few weeks ago detailing the need for information on how these changes would be structured and discussed to ensure that they embraced the party’s culture and led to democratisation not an arbitrary centralisation of power onto HQ.

    I haven’t heard reassurances on a single one of the points I raised. Not one.

    I’m feeling increasingly despondent about, and thoroughly demoralised by, what looks and feels more and more like a vanity project come power grab being forcibly shunted through the party’s systems by a leadership that doesn’t give a damn about its activists, or about party democracy, or about our values. Concerns are being dismissed here there and everywhere, and a bunker mentality seems to be setting in, calling for a Special Conference before the member consultation has even finished being a prime symptom. So here’s a new question: what’s the point of policy-focused activists like myself remaining involved in the Liberal Democrats if party leaders don’t deign to consider us worth listening to on the future of our party?

  • Wait, what?

    The consultation closes on the 14th. Why is this happening before the consultation closes?

    Are they really doing this before their own consultation of members finishes?

  • Adam Bernard 13th Oct '18 - 5:00pm

    One wonders if there is *any* response to the consultation that would lead them a) not to call a special conference, or b) to *substantially* alter the nature of the plans, given that the leader is dead set on the idea.

  • nigel hunter 13th Oct '18 - 5:06pm

    This Associate member scheme could be tried out as a pilot in a small number of council wards where we are weak but are represented to see how it works.By getting the infrastructure in position a report on its progress can be put before Conference in Autumn 2019 where a decision can be made.

    Brexit ,where possible, could be used to put feelers out to interested individuals who as yet are supporters but not members..

    Yes, Brexit and May council elections shoul.d be our priority. Feelers could be put out to supporters and possible known voters how show some interest in what we represent . Individual wards could make these enquiries and the report back as to its feasability.

  • David Becket 13th Oct '18 - 5:23pm

    Those proposing a Special Conference do not have the interests of the party at heart. As much of this appears to be coming from Sal Brinton I question her suitability as party president. If we had as many e mails on current key policy issues, Fracking, Climate Change, Universal Credit and other issues we should be shouting from the rooftops, we would be in a far better position. The latest e mail with the clock counting down is an insult to our intelligence.
    If the party can afford a special conference on this nonsense then it does not need my money, and direct debits from my wife and myself will be stopped.

  • Barry Lofty 13th Oct '18 - 5:55pm

    I agree with Caron and have to say that I rejoined the party as a member after Nick Clegg,s resignation speech, I had always voted Liberal or Lib Dem, and was proud of our participation in the Coalition Government although recognising that we trusted the Tories too much and were badly let down. However the Lib Dems have not bounced back as I would have hoped and with regards to Vinces proposals I felt that any new ideas that would give us a new perspective would be the boost we maybe needed but as Caron and others have said there are more important matters to concentrate on at present!!

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Oct '18 - 5:59pm

    Agree very much with this article, comments and sent in consultation advice with this in mind too.

    I am a supporter of the reforms, yet see no reason that we cannot take a longer amount with this.

    A reassurance on an aspect often mentioning in some comments, that we might be about to face a bounce from an outside personality. It must be a fear unnecessary, anybody not an mp has already shown, if not a member that they have no intention of being one, anybody not an mp who is a member who thinks they might be an excellent leader, should be considered not a threat but very welcome.

    My campaign begins after the reforms are agreed…

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Oct '18 - 6:02pm

    On a lighter note of a sort, we must not fear a day of this at Spring conference, the Brexit issue shall be resolved then even if unresolved in ways that can work, plus we can see this as a unity issue, not one to bother or divide any members, but unite with new members, supporters, voters…

  • Laurence Cox 13th Oct '18 - 6:08pm

    I agree with Caron. If the Party hierarchy want to push this through it should be debated at the Autumn Conference in September 2019. Put it on the Saturday afternoon in place of consultative sessions and encourage as many members as possible to come for the day (e.g. a special reduced rate for one day’s conference attendance).

    Between now and then we need answers on the concerns expressed by James Baillie.

  • paul barker 13th Oct '18 - 6:47pm

    I have been a member (largely inactive) since 2004. I completed the consultation & was pleasantly surprised to find that it wasnt biased at all; my answers were broadly sympathetic to the changes.
    However I would be coompletely opposed to a Special Conference for all the reasons Caron gives, Autumn 2019 sounds fine to me.
    Once the results of the various consultations are in & presuming they agree, we can set up a Supporters scheme asap, that doesnt need any constitutional changes for most of it.

  • David Evans 13th Oct '18 - 7:44pm

    Perhaps the real question should be “Do we need a special conference to discuss Vince?”

  • Adam Bernard 13th Oct '18 - 7:51pm

    The only reason that I can think of for Vince’s urgency is that, at one of the private chats we know he’s been having with potential defectors and donors, it could have been hinted that these changes were a prerequisite for supporting us (rather than starting a new competing party)

    This risks us being turned into the New Centrist Party that the Cameroons and Blairites have been yearning for, and the reforms go a long way to ensuring that they don’t have to risk us existing members imposing an actually Liberal leader upon them, as opposed to the authoritarian “centrist” that they clearly want.

  • Adam Bernard 13th Oct '18 - 9:06pm

    … and even if Gina Miller was in fact the second coming of John Stuart Mill, she could hang around until Autumn Conference.

  • Tony Greaves 13th Oct '18 - 9:35pm

    Well said, Caron. Every one of your words should be cut out and sent to every member of this party.

  • Well, at least we can rely on Caron as guardian of the Constitution! Somebody has to do it.

  • Christopher Curtis 14th Oct '18 - 9:48am

    I agree too. there mustn’t be a special conference. I’m finding it hard to engage with the proposals on their merits (or lack thereof) when I am instinctively resisting the way in which they were launched and in which they are being pursued.
    You simply can’t trust anything that comes offering neat answers when there hasn’t been a proper discussion of the questions nor consideration of other approaches to answering them. No-one is denying the need for the party to change, grow and develop but would we really have seen these proposals as the key things to do first?

  • Nigel, Perhaps you consider it acceptable for a leader of a party that believes in equality to think it is OK to bring such a huge amount of that party’s central administration together to support the latest “new idea” in the way Vince has done in this matter.

    Huge publicity at Brighton, Five e-mails from Sal Brinton promoting and re-promoting the “consultation” which is so large and full of leading questions as to be almost designed to get a quick, instinctive positive response than a carefully considered “What problem is this quick fix designed to solve and will it?

    Put on top of that the Lib Dem Website where the first thing that comes up is a “Pre Register as a Supporter today” page. Talk about bouncing the party into supporting the party hierarchy. The message “If you reject this, you will totally alienate all those supporters” is already writ large.

    The only reason this has come about is because the leadership has decided this is going to happen and is prepared to put whatever resources are needed to get it through. Of course those resources should be used to fight Brexit, Universal Credit rollout, yet more cuts imposed on Local government etc etc.

    I am a Liberal because I fundamentally oppose the arbitrary abuse of power by the powerful – whether it is inside the party or outside, and this is as clear an example of that as I have ever seen and sadly it has been sponsored by Vince and he (and those around him) should know better.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 14th Oct '18 - 11:47am

    Not at all happy to see all of this on return from holiday in Ireland ( another important issue there). Agree with most of what said, and strongly so. Thanks Caron for setting out well.
    Just to add.
    1. Cost in terms of time and money for members, not just party. In run up to important elections we only get every 4 years here, and had losses last time. Am I cynical in thinking it is a London centric view we can have such a conference that costs less to members in time and money?
    2. Would be able to better assess a new system if we had any idea what sort of people are signing up as supporters? Brand new enquirers? Returning disaffected Lib Dem’s ? Those vaguely interested who will not be likely to engage anyway ? Potential troublemakers signing up to make mischief. Letting local parties see the local list would be a good start.
    PS. John Fletcher agrees with me (in case anyone adding up comments !) and adds that weather in January likely to disenfranchise a number of people.

  • Neil Sandison 14th Oct '18 - 12:54pm

    Caron is right a special conference is not justified ,far too expensive ,and a distraction from important activities like the local elections and Brexit . i have heard very few comments against a supporters organisation which could be agreed in principle at spring conference in the party business section . The rights of the new supporters and if those rights deminish the sovereignty of existing or new members in internal elections or should the powers of members be enhanced in leadership contests deserves more thought and should be considered in a white paper with recommendations at the Autumn conference .

  • Sal, I completely agree with you.
    Clllr Jean Evans, President Chester Lib Dems

  • David Evans 14th Oct '18 - 1:21pm

    Paul, Indeed, we had a Friends of Caversham Park Village Liberals scheme back in the 1980s – no cost, and it varied from Put up a Poster to Deliver Leaflets to Help with the Annual Fete and so on, but it gave us the opportunity to contact them at least once a year to see how things were going, re-issue the card and see how things might progress.

    As I think you realise, the issue isn’t having a supporters scheme nor is it whether that part of the proposal is causing controversy. The issue is whether a leader and those at the centre of the party should be a) expending all this effort on it when there are so many other things that are much more important right now or b) attempting to bounce the party into such a proposal which is portrayed as being totally bound indivisible, especially when it is clear that it really is ill thought out.

    There have been another couple of initiatives in recent years that were bounced on people with masses of publicity from the powerful, but little if any consideration or analysis of the consequences. Brexit is the most immediate, and we all know where that is going.

  • There are, in fact, at least three changes that would be needed to the federal Constitution – as well as the two that Caron mentions, it would also be necessary to define in the Federal Constitution exactly who is entitled to vote in the Leadership elections – in effect, the supporters’ scheme would need to be defined in the constitution. It would make sense to allow this scheme to ‘bed in’ before defining it formally in the constitution. There will also need to be a process for appointment of a Parliamentary Leader if the Party Leader is not an MP, which will need some mention in the Constitution (even if the electorate is restricted to MPs). I would therefore support waiting until at least the Autumn Conference to make the constitutional changes, while pressing ahead with the formation of the Supporters’ scheme.

  • OnceALibDem 14th Oct '18 - 2:08pm

    Looking from the outside it does seem like you’ve all gone slightly mad, spending huge amounts of time on some fairly esoteric changes which are (a) happening (in the case of a supporters scheme) (b) very technical and probably not contentious (reducing the time before new members can stand) (c) unlikely to amount to much in practice (allowing non-MPs to become leader.

    The only thing of significance is allowing registered supporters to vote for the leader. And there’s no evidence that this is what is stopping the party recovering support (at least in any sort of significant way).

    And there’s no clear reason why? It’s perhaps understandable that potential defectees might want some assurance they would be able to restand under a new party label – but that’s a relatively easy thing to introduce. The one example of this happening the MP was selected as a candidate (this was Paul Marsden – ummm – I may have to conceded this is not my strongest point!).

    If someone wants to defect on the basis they want a rule change to allow them to run for leader before they are even a party member. Well dear god I don’t think you should let them anywhere near! And if allow non-members to vote shifts the party’s centre of gravity such that a previous non-member could become leader then again – what is the real agenda here?

    Living in the North of England where the party is in continued decline, in an area where the local party is non-existent (last tweet a year ago, last web page update 11 months ago, net losses in May) I’ve no idea how you think this will help!

  • Toby Keynes 14th Oct '18 - 4:28pm

    Just to clarify: the basic supporters’ scheme can and should be got up and running as soon as all the software is in place.
    No constitutional amendments are required for this to happen.
    It would be an immense improvement on the current situation where we have hundreds of supporter lists held at various levels in the party but not properly integrated so that local, regional, national and federal parties can contact these supporters.

    As for the proposals to allow non-MPs to stand for the leadership, and to give registered supporters some voting and other rights: they can wait for an appropriate Spring or Autumn Federal Conference.

  • Katharine Pindar 14th Oct '18 - 9:06pm

    Simply, No to a Special Conference, Yes to waiting for the results of the Consultation. Probably good to have a supporters’scheme but not to accept Vince’s other proposals. If there are to be constitutional changes, anything simple move at Spring Conference, anything major, in September next year. We have more important matters to get on with, such as thinking of our future dealings with the EU, whatever emerges in the next few weeks from our riven Parliament.

  • Q. Do we need a Special Conference to debate Vince’s reforms?
    A. Certainly not! I agree with Caron and most of the other contributors to this thread. If there is a consensus in favour of a registered supporters’ scheme, by all means let that proceed without undue delay – but let’s not waste time and money on a wholly unnecessary Special Conference when Brexit and other much more pressing national and local campaigning priorities should be commanding the Party’s attention. Whatever the merits or otherwise of Vince’s proposed constitutional amendments, there is absolutely no legitimate reason why these should need to be urgently debated before the next scheduled Federal Conferences in either Spring or Autumn 2019 – unless, as the conspiracy theorists would have us believe, there really is a hidden agenda that our parliamentary representatives are not telling us.

  • Adam Bernard 14th Oct '18 - 10:49pm

    The constitutional changes being proposed are inert until we have a leadership election

    Unless Vince is planning to step down before Spring Conference, we don’t need to change the leadership rules before then. We can give supporters the vote on leadership at any time before Vince quits, and the effect is the same.

    (unless, as Sean Hagan notes above, there really is a hidden agenda that our parliamentary representatives are not telling us.)

  • Has the penny dropped yet that the proposal to have a Leader outside the Commons is an implicit vote of no confidence in our existing (or future) M.P.s. ?

    What sort of message does that send out to the electorate at large and to the electorate in the Lib Dem held constituencies ?

    It grieves me to say, as someone who has been involved in politics for near on sixty years, that I really have to question the competence of those directing the Lib Dems when they prefer expensive navel gazing to engaging in the issues of austerity, poverty and other issues affecting the lives of ordinary families.

  • John Barrett 15th Oct '18 - 11:44am

    David Raw – what you say is absolutely correct.

    A leader outside of the Commons also creates many other problems.

    If I decided, as a former MP, (who has access to Westminster and was undefeated, and former councillor, again undefeated, with time on my hands and no need for a party salary, who is also able and capable of travelling up and down the country speaking to members, groups potential supporters etc.) decided to stand as leader, Why should any MPs listen to anything I decided to say?, as I clearly decided to give up being an MP when I stood down.

    If I (or anyone else) wanted to stand as leader, the first thing I should be prepared to do is to stand for election. This also shows a strong commitment to the party, something which would be essential in any leader.

    I would argue that most other potential candidates would have much less of a track record than that and for them to think that they have the right, not only to stand as leader, but to lead my party, makes me think those proposing this change have lost their senses.

    I also believe that those with a longer track record, former leaders etc. and others who are in the Lords should also be ruled out of standing as leader. I am sure it does not need detailing here just why It would be a disaster for our party to go down that road.

    We should keep selecting the party leader from those elected to the Commons. If, as some ask, “what do we do if we have no MPs?” Then the discussion about who becomes leader will be the least of our problems.

  • Peter Watson 15th Oct '18 - 12:42pm

    Is it possible that a national party leader outside the Commons could actually be the party leader within one of the devolved governments/assemblies, and would that be okay for the Lib Dems as it is for the SNP? Could such a policy even allow Jo Swinson as an apparent leader-in-waiting to move to the Scottish Parliament?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Oct '18 - 2:56pm


    Incessant as your negativity is, why did you support, with a staunch and mean tone against other candidates, Sir Vince Cable with Jo Swinson as deputy?

    You are so keen on Corbyn, why do you not do as I did years ago, become a member of a party not this?

    If we cannot even consider a leader from other than the Commons, why has the Green party got two, UKIP one, and the SNP and Plaid Cymru?!

    We are in real need of a common sense approach and a sense of purpose, but we need a common decency, constant denigration of our friends is not it.

    I believe in this country and would like to more.

    I believe in good people. Sir Vince was not my choice and the prospect of dynamism from the leadership would excite me if I were part of it. I believe in my own capabilities. Sir Vince was not subject to a contest and thus can only believe in himself based on his own self confidence. Thus I take this as a level of leadership the others lacked and lack.

    We are in a real mess in this country. You are keen on telling us your priorities. We can address them and minor elements of internal reorganising without the bile.

  • Peter Watson 15th Oct '18 - 4:42pm

    @Lorenzo Cherin “If we cannot even consider a leader from other than the Commons, why has the Green party got two, UKIP one, and the SNP and Plaid Cymru?!”
    The Greens have one MP and UKIP none. I would hope the Lib Dems aspired for more than that.
    SNP and Plaid Cymru are more interesting. I would suggest that Westminster is not their priority and having a leader within their country’s own parliament/assembly is appropriate.
    What I have not seen (though I am an outsider and perhaps you have more information within the party) is an explanation of why Lib Dems consider a leader from outside the House of Commons to be such an important issue at the moment. Are recent leaders and their prospective replacements really that disappointing? Is there a secret new leader waiting in the wings? Is it about allowing a good potential future leader to move to one of the regional parliaments or an ex-leader to take back the reins? Is it about allowing parliamentary Lib Dems to be subsumed into a cross-party “movement” subject to co-ordination by somebody else?
    With Brexit being so huge that other very important political issues are deprived of the time and space to address them, it beggars belief that the Lib Dem leadership believes that this is worth prioritising unless there is more to it than is being made public.

  • Andrew Toye 15th Oct '18 - 6:20pm

    I am suspicious of those who say we need to “open up” when we are not really ‘closed’ . The cost of membership for those who are really struggling is about the price of a packet of cigarettes or a couple of pints of beer (OK this might prove a challenge if on state benefits).

    People in politically restricted occupations may benefit, but merely being a member of a political party shouldn’t be a problem (I am a civil servant and it has never been an issue).

    I have no problems with associate membership, but the risk of entryism by quasi-members voting for the leadership is too great to ignore.

    And certainly not waste valuable campaigning money on a special conference

  • Peter Hirst 15th Oct '18 - 6:31pm

    Spending time discussing Vince’s reforms, worthy though they are would seem like us being seriously distracted at a time when the media will be looking for newsworthy news as Brexit approaches. Let’s decide what we want and then organise it as quickly as we can without giving the impression that we are changing the deck chairs as the ice berg approaches. With a general election is 2022, let’s plan to have the changes in place by then.

  • David Evans 15th Oct '18 - 6:54pm

    Lorenzo, David’s comments are not “Incessant as your negativity,” but incessant in trying to get the party to stop making the same mistakes as it has continuously done over the last 8+ years. We are at 12 MPs and about 10% because our senior figures continue to refuse to face up to the fact that they have made a complete mess of the party’s future in that time. However, they were adept at coming up with a never ending series of minor issues to switch most members’ attention from looking to resolve our problems and instead looking ever onward to an unachievable golden horizon.

    The one reason why the Conservatives and Labour are so successful is because they have the willingness and ruthlessness to face up to internal problems and try to solve them, whether it was replacing Thatcher with Major (won them one more general election) or Kinnock taking on Militant (just saved the party, admittedly for Blair).

    So many of us just want to believe all we have to be is nice or at least not even a tiny bit nasty and it will all work out. Sadly being a successful Lib Dem in the real political world is so much more difficult than that.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Oct '18 - 8:14pm

    Peter Watson

    No , beggars belief is just too strong, my whole point is why cannot reforms be considered, they may be good or other views might be right, they may not, but the leader is entitled to lead and we are being able to consult, no real problem, it is actually rather democratic, should be more so perhaps, but no reason for weepy anger.

    David Evans

    David Raw is someone I like, rate and definitely think says much we can agree on. I can’t like , rate or agree on a constant praise or complacency on Corbyn at the same moment as actual active mockery of our party, our leader and any ideas for change. If I were leader we would not be now messing with a range of issues, from prostitution, abortion or many things never alluded to by either you Davids! We would be far less anti the whole reason for Brexit, and far more able to criticise the EU. We would be against the tv licence ,strong h on violent crime , kind on soft drug users and very kind and constructive to the unemployed and disabled. We also would be on abut twenty per cent in polls!

  • Peter Watson 15th Oct '18 - 11:03pm

    @Lorenzo Cherin “the leader is entitled to lead”
    But is he undermining his own leadership by prompting so much speculation about the procedures, timing and identity of his replacement?
    Media coverage of the recent party conference seemed to be dominated by these reforms (and Vince Cable’s verbal slip). Shortly before that were headlines about Vince Cable missing a significant parliamentary vote on Brexit in order to attend a shady meeting about whatever shenanigans is going on behind the scenes.
    Lib Dems often complain about not receiving a fair share of media attention, but currently they appear to be squandering a lot of it by allowing this inward-looking activity to overshadow important messages about the party’s approach to Brexit and other policies such as those debated at the conference.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Oct '18 - 11:05pm


    Nice one, good natured, appreciated, understood, agreed, but I might be seeking my own nominations…

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Oct '18 - 11:11pm


    I get your view, but regard it as more of the same, to little from all our leadership that is mainstream common sense, too much minority interest, even on Brexit have never been in tune with the tedious “exit from brexit” much preferred ” Happy days are hear again” the fdr theme many years later covered gorgeously by the great Barbara Streisand!

  • I was initially strongly against having a non-MP as leader – I have moved some way towards supporting it.


    Firstly we now – in this day and age – have many parties that do not have an MP as their party leader – SNP, Greens, UKIP, DUP, etc. etc. Today, there are many elected offices – mayors, devolved assemblies, council leaders. Surely charity leaders/activists, business leaders even trade union leaders to name but a few categories would also have a strong claim to have many of the qualities to lead a party?

    Secondly you can turn the proposition around. I don’t think that there are only 12 people in this country that can successfully lead the Liberal Democrats.

    Thirdly the question of someone a non-MP versus an MP in a leadership contest would be a question for the members (and may be registered supporters). I tend to believe that it is very important that someone knows the stresses of getting elected as an MP – arguably Nick Clegg had a too easy path to becoming an MP – essentially “inheriting” his seat. BUT that is a question for the members (and supporters).

    Most of those who comment here care deeply about “our” party – as @David Raw says it is a little like supporting a football team. But there is a tendency for us to want it to be our own little private club (whether football or not) – our own “pure” little sect. Probably something I share in my subconscious! We may celebrate promotion to League One but really we want it to keep playing a beautiful game with an English manager (as foreigners just don’t understand how the English play football) with local players as it always has even if that means languishing in League Two where it can be “our” club and not like Manchester United!

    That is WRONG!

    We need to think how to change our organisational structures. Labour and the Conservatives have. The Conservatives – kicking and screaming – now give their members a democratic say on their leader – when many of them might say that only having the support of MPs should be necessary for a leader. We have been at the forefront of British political parties in being democratic. And we also need to rethink that for the 21st Century and move forward on it.

  • Peter Watson 16th Oct '18 - 12:21am

    @Michael 1 “The Conservatives – kicking and screaming – now give their members a democratic say on their leader – when many of them might say that only having the support of MPs should be necessary for a leader.”
    On the other hand, Labour MPs regularly show the downside of having a leader who lacks their support!
    It looks like there are two main questions that are being asking about these proposed reforms: “Why?”, and “Why now?”. It is not obvious that either has been answered properly, leaving a vacuum to be filled by conspiracy theories.
    In particular, the objectives and the timing are a little mystifying given the significant rise in membership since 2015, evidence of recovery in current polls and local byelections, bitterly divided Labour and Conservative parties, the talk of MPs like Layla Moran and Jo Swinson as future leaders, and obviously the prospect of Brexit in a few months.

  • @Peter Watson

    “On the other hand, Labour MPs regularly show the downside of having a leader who lacks their support!”

    May be. But I am strongly of the opinion that a sub-Blairite MP as leader with little passion or vision would have led the Labour party to far worse result in the 2017 General Election. They needed to show a clear break with the Brown/Blair past. I followed the Labour leadership contest quite closely and other than Corbyn I could not work out what the others were saying – the members realised that – perhaps more than the MPs did.


    “It looks like there are two main questions that are being asking about these proposed reforms: “Why?”, and “Why now?””

    Equally you can turn it around and say why not now? If you are going to postpone everything to “later” then nothing ever gets done.

    I think that the Labour party and the Canadian Liberals show that we are no longer at the forefront of involving people. We were – being the only party to have OMOV for leadership elections and (more recently) policy decisions.

    On the “why”. We can remain a small little sect as arguably we are at the moment. Or we can be at the heart of a expanding Liberal movement. The proposals may be right or wrong and I, personally, am still thinking about them. But not to think about our structures and organisations and plan ahead would be a very poor strategy. And it does not preclude doing a whole range of other things and campaigns. But they say to fail to plan is to plan to fail.

  • Peter Watson 16th Oct '18 - 9:25am

    @Michael 1 “I am strongly of the opinion that a sub-Blairite MP as leader with little passion or vision would have led the Labour party to far worse result in the 2017 General Election.”
    I agree completely. Corbyn seems to have tapped into something (perhaps as much by luck as by design), and ironically has probably been helped by his demonization in the media which then seemed at odds with his personal appearances in the election campaign.
    “Corbynism” and the Brexit referendum result suggest that the electorate are cynical about the political status quo and are looking for something different but possibly don’t know what.
    Sadly, I feel that the Lib Dems helped to fuel that cynicism by the way they presented themselves in Coalition so are poorly positioned now to take advantage of it in the way they might have done under Kennedy or even Clegg before May 2010.

  • Jayne Mansfield 16th Oct '18 - 9:41am

    @Michael 1,
    I too followed the Labour leadership contest quite closely, and felt much the same as you . I had great hopes for Yvette Cooper, but all the candidates seemed very lacklustre when it came to the crunch.

    The great surprise was that Jeremy Corbyn after his election, was able to inspire a social movement, which is what I believe a political party ought to be. It is exciting. Whether it will be ultimately successful remains to be seen.

  • @Peter Watson

    Clearly it takes time from when a political party to recover from a difficult time – especially when that time has been in Government.

    Indeed to answer “why now” – parties do tend to look at their own internal organisation after electoral defeat. The Tories changed their leadership election rules after their 97 defeat. And Blair instituted OMOV in the Labour party after 1992.

    Although arguably talk of “movements” is a somewhat over-hyped. I would suggest that we would be sticking our head in the sand if we didn’t look at what is happening in other democracies and here in Britain. To have – as we have – a party structure designed over 30 years ago is not necessarily suitable for the internet age today.

    And we have seen in the US candidates like Bernie Sanders and yes – Trump. You have to question how likely it would have been that Trump would have got anywhere 30 years ago not having held any elected or military office and without the tools of facebook, twitter and the internet. And in contrast would say that Jeb Bush as the ultimate well connected, well financed insider would have got the nomination – and probably lost.

    Equally Clinton was the ultimate political insider and got “protected” by the Democrats super-delegates and the Democratic party establishment and arguably the Democrats made the wrong choice – and should have listened more clearly to “the people”. And the enthusiasm that Bernie engendered through a movement is interesting. And of course Labour, Corbyn and Momentum took quite a bit of inspiration from and learnt the lessons from that. So quite a bit of Corbyn’s success was by indeed design rather than luck.

    Equally there are lessons to learn from the Canadian Liberals. We should though also be careful – clearly America is a presidential system and the Canadian Liberals have a history of being in Government – even if they did languish for a while. Equally for us not to learn and apply the lessons from America, Canada, elsewhere and other parties here is wrong.

  • In view of what we are hearing about the goings on in Parliament a leader who is outside it might be just what the public want. This afternoon we should hear some more interesting facts.

  • Katharine Pindar 16th Oct '18 - 5:28pm

    I don’t think we have anything to learn about successful leadership, Michael 1, from either the Tories or Labour in the recent past or today! Let’s stick to our valiant dozen MPs for leadership, with help from the noble Lords, until we have more. What I think we do need is a clearer focused set of messages from the leadership, all hammering the same themes. It was a bit dismaying to hear a discussion at the end of the Today programme this morning, mentioning the political leadership, faults of both Tory and Labour leaders, problems of representations of centrists – and never a mention of us.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Oct '18 - 6:59pm

    I respect my colleagues, and some are here, yet this party can learn from Labour and the Conservatives. It can learn from early Blair and Thatcher. It can tap into what some people feel and necessary policies that deal with issues people care about from left to right.

    I am bewildered that this party is prioritising so much not important in policy. The reforms are not the point of departure from the thrust of direction for those such as me. The nonsense is.

    Ed Davey not supporting a mandatory sentence for carrying weapons even more offensive than knives, in the Bill now, is laughably soft and does not connect with the real concerns.

    Many deride Blair. He as Shadow Home Secretary was as eloquent as anyone on the not daft but clever slogan and notion tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime.

    This party appears, not tough on crime, not tough on the causes of crime, because it isn’t so much a crime as a public health issue/ poor dears

  • Lrenzo Cherin 16th Oct '18 - 7:02pm

    A movement is needed, not sure it can be led by people who are out of tough with the way people feel and what people fear, insecurity.

  • @Katharine Pindar

    um… I appreciate the point. And as I have said I minded to think that it is best that we have an MP as leader.

    But.. Firstly we believe in democracy and the good sense (mainly!) of people and especially liberal democrats. It is difficult to say why they should be denied a choice. I think it is difficult to say that there are only 12 people out of a population of 60 million that could successfully lead the party. And as I said the fact that someone was not an MP would be a question for the party electorate to consider.

    There is a further problem. I have not gone through the bios. But we would be virtually only left with either former coalition ministers or first term MPs (there may be 2 that aren’t which I suppose is a contest). I think both choices have severe problems for us. We need a clear (and clearer than now) break from the coalition IMHO with bold policies – and that will be difficult for a former minister. A newbie MP has their work cut out nursing their constituency. I appreciate that national publicity might help in them in that – but I am doubtful. To be a successful first term constituency MP is at least two full time jobs – to add a third is a big burden. Lacking in experience, I also feel that they might lack the confidence to be bold.

    It is tempting to say that other parties and other countries offer us nothing. It is tempting to say that we should not change. As an activist I have found that has been when the problems and the complacency has set in. Just when I have thought that I have worked out how to win elections, the other parties have improved and technology has moved on.

    And this is not about the very great qualities (! – well I am a Lib Dem!) of all of our current 12 MPs.

    I am not sure whether a non-MP as leader is a good idea or not. But we need to think through the pros and cons – and not necessarily settle for our first knee-jerk reaction..

  • As a further passing note Alec Douglas-Home was of course a peer when he became Conservative leader (and indeed PM).

    Wikipedia reports: “On 23 October 1963, four days after becoming Prime Minister, Home disclaimed his earldom and associated lesser peerages, under the Peerage Act 1963…. The safe Unionist seat of Kinross and West Perthshire was vacant, and Douglas-Home was adopted as his party’s candidate. Parliament was due to meet on 24 October after the summer recess, but its return was postponed until 12 November pending the by-election. For twenty days Douglas-Home was Prime Minister while a member of neither house of Parliament, a situation without modern precedent.”

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