What can we learn from the Federal election results?

Yesterday, we learned who party members had chosen to represent them on the main Federal Committees.  These were the first elections held under one member one vote. Previously, only those who had been elected as Conference representatives by their local party could have a say in the direction of the party.

Congratulations to all those who were elected – and commiserations to those who weren’t.

From 2012, Daisy Cooper and Sue Doughty led a process which led to the biggest internal democratic reform in the party’s history. In 2014, Conference accepted their proposals to give every member a vote. We now have not far off twice as many members as we did back then in the last days of the coalition.

So how did these elections go, and what can we learn from them?

Who was elected?

Former co-editor of this site Mark Pack is one of the best networkers in the party and that showed when he accumulated the highest number of first preferences of anyone for any committee by some margin. 1061 people backed him compared to 428 for his nearest rival.

It was a good day for bloggers. As well as Dr Pack,  Mark Valladares, and Jonathan Fryer being elected to the new Federal International Relations Committee and Jennie Rigg getting on Federal Conference Committee. I was elected to the Federal Board after spending 4 years on the predecessor Federal Executive and Mary Reid was re-elected to Federal Conference Committee. In general, a strong presence on social media strongly increased chances of election.

Another interesting feature of the campaign was that almost as many posts from candidates talked up other candidates as promoted themselves – and it was all completely spontaneous. It was a positive and supportive environment to campaign in.

There had been a fear that if OMOV was implemented, only the Great and the Good would be elected, but there is a high proportion of ordinary activists in there.

Elaine Bagshaw, who has led a Lib Dem campaigning revolution in Tower Hamlets, and the brains behind our Brent by-election success in 2003 and the winning Eastleigh campaign in 2013, Victoria Marsom, are both on Federal Board.

The Lib Dem Newbies did well too, with Joyce Onstad on Federal Board, Christine Cheng and Your Liberal Britain’s Jim Williams on Federal Policy Committee and Alex Hegenbarth on Federal Conference Committee.

Progress on diversity

The party’s new diversity quotas for committees were invoked in the case of Federal Conference Committee. There was a more diverse range of candidates than there has been in previous years. 8 out of the 15 directly elected Federal Board members are women and 3 out of the 15 are from BAME backgrounds. There are also more women on Federal Policy Committee who specifically said that they wanted to address gender inequality in society so let’s hope that their voices feed through into our policies.

There is still significant under-representation from people beyond the south of England. I may be wrong, but I think that Gordon Lishman, Helen Flynn and I are the only ones north of Birmingham on the Federal Board and Susan Juned from the West Midlands Lizzie Jewkes from Cheshire, Jennie Rigg and Alisdair McGregor from Calderdale are the only others. We need to look at why this is the case as it’s important that all areas of the country are represented.


We need to do more to increase turnout

Just 7347 of 78000 members took part in the poll. That’s less than a 10% turnout. The new Federal Board will need to look at how to increase the participation rate.  Since September, the party’s priority has, rightly, been the by-elections in Witney, Richmond Park and Sleaford and that’s bound to have had an impact.

We also didn’t know what committees we were going to be electing until this year’s Brighton Conference when the constitutional amendments drawn up by the Governance Review were debated. In future years, the build-up to the elections must start well in advance. Party communications from the start of election year in 2019 should flag them up.

During the campaign itself, we perhaps need to do more to remind members to vote. The party certainly sent two emails reminding people in the last week. I personally found that getting the information in an email more useful than the letter which came several weeks ago.  The process of voting was actually easy but it was time consuming. It could look a bit daunting read through the best part of 100 manifestos. Perhaps we should do more to emphasise that you don’t have to do it all at once, that you can do it a committee at a time – and you don’t even need to do the whole thing in one sitting.

We need also to look at some sort of forum to question candidates online and perhaps at state and regional conferences. Perhaps a section of the members’ website could be developed so that voters can interact with candidates.

We need more candidates

Out of 78,000 members only 27 people stood for 15 places on the Federal Board, 21 for the 12 places on Federal Conference Committee and 31 for 15 places on the Federal Policy Committee. The Federal Board needs to look at how to increases that pool for future elections. Again, that is about flagging up the possibilities way in advance so that people have the opportunity to think about it and collect the 10 nominating signatures required.

OMOV didn’t change that much

Two thirds of the members of the Federal Conference Committee had been on the committee before.  For Federal Board, there were 6 completely new faces out of 15, but Mark Pack had served the previous two terms on Federal Policy Committee. Federal Policy Committee saw most turnover with at least 8 new faces out of 15.

The new committees take office on 1st January and are in office for three years until the end of 2019.

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

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Gwyn Williams 18th Dec '16 - 10:49am

    One of the great strengths of our Party used to be its geographical diversity. When we had 20 or fewer MPs, possibly this was less noticeable as half of them came from Scotland. If we are to heal this divided country then we need to represent all parts of Britain. The mistake may not be OMOV but a system which is dominated by the capital and the South-east and has a paucity of regional representation cannot be described as federal.

  • Yes, it takes a long time to look through all the manifestos, but in my view, the real problem lies in having to put all the people – more than 20 in sone cases – you vote for *in order*. However, of course, without it, you are back to FPTP. Is there a solution?

  • Neil Mackinnon 18th Dec '16 - 11:12am

    I strongly agree with the point about geographic diversity. I think it is really important just now when the future of Britain as a continuing entity hangs in the balance.

    For the last seven years I have worked for a membership organisation and been responsible for organising the internal elections. I think I have learned three relevant lessons.

    Firstly, no matter how many reminders about the election you send the members you can’t get turnout to rise past a certain point (50% in our case).

    Secondly, having a large volume of candidates does not make for better outcomes. Two candidates who appeal to a similar segment of the electorate may split the vote and allow a less skilled candidate to win.

    Finally, I think term limits are essential. You should not be allowed to serve in the same post for more than two consequitive terms. This will allow for fresh thinking and fresh voices.

  • Katharine Pindar 18th Dec '16 - 11:16am

    Thanks, Caron, and congratulations on your own re-election. Taking part for the first time, it was as much as I eventually found time for to read the 27 manifestos for the Federal Board and to vote. The manifestos showed how much work people had done for the Party and how relevant their biographies were, so I was perfectly happy with 27 candidates for 15 places and didn’t feel short-changed. Looking at the results for the Federal Committees just now, as with FB I don’t know many of the names, so I guess many ordinary members like me wouldn’t feel concerned to vote, but be content to leave it to the most active. One plea though – representation from the West Country is as important IMO as that from my north of England.

  • nigel hunter 18th Dec '16 - 11:27am

    There must be more emphasis on the North,, Wales Scotland AND Northern Ireland. This time of year is a busy one for everybody. Elections would be better ,say May with the representatives information being sent out well in advance for people to digest. Also sent by Email, Facebook, etc. Equally more interesting, grab peoples attention to show more interest in voting. Also do people know and understand the voting system. Just some thoughts to get the discussion going.

  • Thanks Caron for that insider knowledge to how things turned out and how the system works.
    Showing my ignorance but do the meetings of these various committees happen only or mostly in the South East (London), if so could they move around or take place online – with assistance from local technical boffins where needed.
    Perhaps the Party’s battle bus could be pressed into service to offer convivial transportation.

    Is it possible too for the wider membership to get a real flavour of what happens and what is possible at the meetings – a video tour as it were (no, not of the whole meeting) or an ability to attend all or part of the meetings.

    Personally, as well as looking to the diversity aspect as required, I also sought to prioritise to a greater extent those outside the south east.
    It is different “out here”.

  • Mark Robinson 18th Dec '16 - 12:57pm

    Being a newbie, I felt it was important to take part; however, it was fairly time-consuming. A turnout of less than 10% is terrible, though.

    My choices were to promote vocal and articulate candidates, with an additional focus on promoting diversity, so I’m pretty happy with the result.

    Something does need to be done to promote geographical diversity too, and I say this as a proud Londoner!

  • Tony Greaves 18th Dec '16 - 3:53pm

    How many members never got their “information packs” for the voting? 10% turnout is a complete flop. But given the complexity of the information and the difficulty of accessing it all on line, it is not surprising. Not a good advert for the party or for party democracy.

  • What we really learnt is that party could ballot members on policy, but still isn’t interested, preferring to waste resources on elections that hold little appeal to anyone.

    We also learnt that despite advocating STV the party has little idea about how it should work.

  • Duncan Brack 18th Dec '16 - 5:06pm

    I agree with almost everything Caron says, but not with her comments on turnout. I think almost 10% is remarkably high, bearing in mind that we were asking 78,000 members to read over a hundred manifestos for people, almost all of whom they had never heard of, standing for committees they’d also never heard of. Yes, all this information is available online, but it requires a real investment of time to work your way through everything, and for your average party member who doesn’t go to regional conferences, let alone federal ones, the return on this investment simply isn’t there. It’s interesting that the Federal Board saw a much higher turnout – it was the first in the list, so I suspect for many people, exhaustion set in after they’d worked their way through it. We have to be realistic about this – after all, turnout for the leadership election last year was only just over 50%, and that only required you to choose between two candidates, with much more publicity. Even when the electorate was conference reps we usually got much less than 50% turnout (about 20% the last time, I think).

    While it’s true that the great and good weren’t elected, that’s because they didn’t stand. Only one former parliamentarian stood (Liz Lynne for FCC), and she got a massive vote – the highest percentage of first preferences of any candidate for the three main committees – almost 18% (Mark managed 14% for FB). I think that also explains the higher turnout for FCC than for FPC – normally you’d expect the other way round. Again we have to be realistic about this – name recognition is going to count for much more with OMOV than it used to under the old system (and it counted for quite a lot then).

    On representation from outside the south of England – it’s worth remembering that half the UK’s population live south of Oxford. I haven’t seen recent party membership figures, but I suspect the proportion is even higher. There’s also at least one more non-southern candidate than Caron mentioned – Kamran Hussein, on FPC. But it isn’t that non-southern candidates stand and don’t get elected – it’s that, by and large, they don’t stand.

  • One of the improvements for nomination forms is giving more than ten spaces for nominations, just so people can have an extra few in case not all of their nominators are members at the close of nominations (through non-DD lapse or any other reason).

  • Lorenzo Cherin 18th Dec '16 - 5:33pm

    Well done to those who time and again put so much in , and of course to those elected, Caron , Mary , others connected with this site .

    So very odd such a low turnout . I cannot fathom it . Why in the era of disgruntlement vs participation, rejection or inclusion, does an online election or post if preferred not deliver huge input ?!

    And three out of fifteen is a bit of progress on BAME representation, but much more to do .

    Get Floella on some blooming task forces Tim !

  • Stephen Hesketh 18th Dec '16 - 7:25pm

    A 10% turnout is very very disappointing. I wonder if this also has anything to do with ‘Your Liberal Britain’ extending the chance to “write our party’s official vision statement” in to the New Year?

    Setting aside my serious misgivings regarding the power this hands to writers and especially judges to (re?)set the party vision statement (what is the Preamble we all sign up to as members if not exactly that?), what these elections suggest is that getting ones name widely known through various personal and unofficial party social media outlets counts for as much as political values, experience and longer term commitment to the party. I appreciate I may be out of step but, as a Liberal, I am principally interested in the type of Liberal and their location rather than their sex and or orientation.

    This is however the first year for OMOV, hopefully next year candidates will produce CV’s of a more meaningful content regarding values and what they hope to bring to the appropriate party body if elected.

    Regarding London/SE England bias, rotating meetings between say London, Cardiff, Birmingham, Manchester and Edinburgh etc must surely be something to be considered by any body presenting itself as federal, representative and modern.

  • paul holmes 18th Dec '16 - 8:15pm

    Caron, so is it the case that other than for one Committee, the new Diversity Quotas did not ‘have’ to be invoked? Liberal and Democratic members of our Party, in a secret ballot, elected a diverse range of candidates.

    Just as, for the last 3 General Elections or more, Liberal and Democratic members, in secret ballots, selected a higher % of female candidates for Target Seats than the % of women on the Approved Candidates list.

    I note with interest Duncan Brack’s observation that the problem of under representation on Party Committees by ‘Northern’ members is not that they don’t get elected [due to some terrible bias by a largely southern membership] but that not enough apply in the first place.

  • Phil Wainewright 18th Dec '16 - 11:50pm

    I ended up not voting because I found the task overwhelming. I made my Federal Board selections, but never ended up going back through the rest because I couldn’t find time.
    I think given what people were being asked to do, a 10% turnout is pretty impressive. And (am I allowed to say this?) those who had the stamina to complete the process were probably those best qualified to make the choice.
    I’m certainly happy with the result.

  • David Hopps 19th Dec '16 - 8:16am

    I don’t think we should fret unduly over 10pc. This sort of democracy is difficult: it takes a long time to do well. Many new members, too, joined from a vague desire to make a gesture and are wary of active involvement. Many, too, are wary – as they should be – of voting with scant knowledge of candidates. Gradually finding a way to make use of people’s skills on a way they welcome is a challenge that every constituency must grasp. Only when we are skilled in talking to our own members will we be effective in talking to the country. Nationally, helping new members connect to the party with clearly stated core values is also essential.

  • Steven Raison 19th Dec '16 - 9:10am

    I Voted Bit by Bit. In Future Need to be more helpful to members with Special Needs such as myself. Needed a Think Break between Elections. Plus need to invest in New Cordless Mouse for Laptop. Will get one in plenty of Time for next set in 2019

  • Jennie Rigg 19th Dec '16 - 9:15am

    Holly Matthies did the Q&A serious that I usually do on her blog (I didn’t do it because I was standing).

    I think the South East bias is self -perpetuating. All the meetings happen in London because “it’s easy for everyone to get to” do only people who find it easy to get to London bother standing. This applies to myself, Alisdair & Kamran because of good train services to kings cross from Yorkshire these days – were it not for the direct train from Brighouse I would not have stood.

    As I understand it, experiments have been made in the past with moving meetings outside of London, but Londoners are more reluctant to leave the place than others are to travel to it, so attendance always falls markedly for outside-London meetings because the make up of the committees is so London centric.

    It will not be an easy problem to solve.

  • Little Jackie Paper 19th Dec '16 - 9:50am

    Jennie Rigg – A suggestion from another context (not a political party).

    To get around the London bias an organisation I knew set meetings years in advance. For example the meeting would always be the first Thursday in March or similar, whatever date that was. The venue was also set and anyone who stood for those committees was told explicitly that the expectation was that they would attend on those dates at those locations. No short notice, no excuses. ‘I can’t guarantee my diary so far in advance, this is unfair,’ was not good enough. I won’t say it was a panacea, and yes there was some moaning, but it did help.

    I’ve tended to find in other (again, not political parties) organisations that it became too easy to make excuses and that reinforced the problem.

  • Laurence Cox 19th Dec '16 - 1:44pm

    Having voted under both the old (as a Conference Rep) and the new systems, I definitely preferred the old, paper-based, system. You could sit in a chair with the booklet of manfestos, flipping back and forward and making marks against each of the candidates until you had a fair idea who you did want, who you didn’t want, and who you didn’t mind. The online voting system is much less transparent and my wife who is not a techie was put off from voting at all because of it.

  • David Evans 19th Dec '16 - 4:01pm

    What we can learn from this is that most members do not know anyone standing in the Federal elections – or at least enough to make them want to go through the hugely difficult process of voting.

    OMOV is a wonderful constuct in theory for a group to determine its way forward, but the vote has to be based on informed consent and most people didn’t have anything like the time needed to do it for 30 people, few if any they would have even met.

    Daisy and Sue promoted OMOV for the best of reasons, but saying “We need to do more to increase turnout,” shows about as much understanding of the problem as saying “We need to educate the electorate,” when people don’t vote for us.

  • Duncan Brack 19th Dec '16 - 5:34pm

    There are several reasons to hold the federal committee meetings in London. (1) The cost to the party is lowest, because meeting rooms in LDHQ or Parliament are free and there are no staff travel costs. (2) It is important to involve parliamentarians in the committee (they comprise almost a quarter of the FPC, for example, and chair the FB and FPC), and Westminster is the only place they gather together regularly. (3) The UK’s travel network is built round London. When I was Policy Director many years ago we tried quite hard to persuade policy working groups to meet occasionally outside London, and generally speaking it was those who lived outside London who was most reluctant, and least likely to attend, because unless the meeting happened to be near to where they lived, it was often more difficult to get to for them than London.

    I recognise of course that this makes life far more difficult for those members based outside London, and we should certainly discuss what we can do about that – but don’t pretend that meetings happen in London because London-based members can’t be bothered to travel anywhere else: that is not true.

  • Locating meetings outside London is difficult because London itself is such a large obstacle to transport. About ten million people live south or east of London such that they have to change stations in London or drive around the M25 to get to anywhere in the North or West of the country.

    That’s a sixth of the entire population of the UK, or more than the combined populations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

    In my experience, it’s not Londoners (say, people living in Zones one and two) that won’t travel to places like Bristol, Birmingham or Leeds, it’s people in the outer reaches of the London commuter belt who have two hours’ journey before they even get to the platform at Euston/Paddington/King’s Cross.

  • Paul Reynolds 20th Dec '16 - 12:34pm

    Thanks for the useful overview, Caron.

  • I agree with nearly all of this thoughtful analysis. OMOV didn’t change the results much. Not a huge surprise with a 10% turnout and remembering elected party conference reps greatly outnumbered those who actually turned up at conferences. It’s true that the results of some new names who made a good case for themselves are encouraging. But I’d qualify the comment about blogging. Mark Pack’s result stands out, but Jonathan Fryer and Mary Reid were very well known and established anyway.

    The geographical bias surely has a lot to do with long and expensive travel, though it must be easier to get to London from Manchester than from Hay-on-Wye or Cromer, shall we say.

    I was relieved that the online voting was done in a way that wouldn’t alienate new members who didn’t want to be bothered with huge lists (they just didn’t vote), but it wasn’t entirely clear that the invitations to vote online were the only opportunity to be presented. “You can vote online”, the email said, but it didn’t say “and you won’t get anything through the post, so use this link if you want to vote”. The actual online voting had some irritating factors which no doubt can be ironed out, but it was relatively clear what to do.

  • Neil Mackinnon 23rd Dec '16 - 1:40am

    For all the practical reasons being offered as to why every meeting ever has to be held in London the fact is that doing that sends out a message.

    If the British cabinet could meet in Inverness in 1921 then I’m pretty sure that the Lib Dem Federal Board could do it in 2017 without civilisation collapsing.

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