Federal Council – a body still in search of meaning… or rules, for that matter…

I was elected to Federal Council in April, following the resignation of Alison Eden from the Party, so yesterday’s meeting was my first as an official member…

Joining any organisational committee part way through its term of office can be challenging, and I suspected that Federal Council would be no different, given that there is a degree of informational vagueness that currently pervades it. For example, it has currently decided that members may, if they wish, give reasons for their call-in requests and are encouraged to do so, but do not have to. It strikes me that, in order to consider the value of a call-in request, or even to respond to it, that’s exactly the sort of information I’d want.

Federal Council has also somehow managed to get one-sixth of its way through its first term without Standing Orders, a communications plan or a transparency policy, which led to the truly bizarre situation of a member demanding a point of order when no such order exists. Now this is not my first rodeo, as I was the first Secretary of the Federal International Relations Committee when, in 2017, it dealt with all of these things at its first meeting. I am, to put it politely, surprised that this has taken as long as it has.

The main item of business was, in itself, imperfect, as it revolved around a request to “call in” the Federal Board’s decision to appoint six members of the Disciplinary Sub-Group. Imperfect because, whilst thirteen members (the minimum required) had originally called it in, one of them subsequently withdrew their request, making the call in notice inadequate. Nevertheless, as the discussion had been put on our agenda, and the Party President had prepared a presentation, we went ahead with what might have become merely an interesting discussion without purpose.

And it did turn out to be interesting, although to some extent that wasn’t obviously a good thing, as individual members took it upon themselves to regale us with a somewhat partial history of events relating to the Sub-Group, making allegations which were unhelpful in themselves and reliant on presumed sight of a document that I for one had never seen. I wasn’t alone in that regard. However, a useful discussion on how the Federal Party might advertise vacancies so as to increase the field of applicants broke out, and I do think that Federal Council could give useful impetus towards improving that in the future.

There is a tendency to think that, if you put something on a website, you have successfully communicated – I like to think of it as the “Parish Council rule of communication”. The problem is that it relies on people knowing that either the notice is there or returning frequently just in case something is posted, and we do need to improve that, lest the Party’s key organs are run and managed by a small, self-selecting group. That isn’t a criticism of individuals, by the way, just a recognition that, if you’re heavily involved in an organisation, more information comes your way and the more likely people are to headhunt you.

We also discussed in broad terms the decisions made at the last Federal Board meeting. You could argue that doing so offers an opportunity for Federal Council members to second guess the work of the Federal Board without having much other than the papers to go on, and it may be that, over time, this adds value in terms of flagging up ideas that the Board might adopt.

It was dark by the time we reached our scheduled discussion of the draft Standing Orders and Council members were beginning to flag. A working group had produced the draft but it was clear that they weren’t going to be easily agreed, so I suggested that we defer them to a separate meeting to be scheduled early next month. Council fell upon the suggestion like a drowning man upon a life belt, so that’s another meeting to look forward to in due course.

We’ll also be discussing a work plan then, which sounds like a valuable idea, enabling Council to be proactive rather than reactive.

It’s almost certainly too soon to judge whether or not the new Board/Council architecture will work and, whilst my overall impression was less than satisfactory, I have already spotted amongst my colleagues some whose efforts are more likely to make Federal Council effective going forward. I hope, in time, to be seen as being amongst that number.

* Mark Valladares is a directly elected member of Federal Council.

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4 Comments

  • Zoe Hollowood 12th Jun '23 - 6:15am

    As a member of Federal Council I was quite surprised to see this article. Mark has only been a member a short while, replacing Alison Eden after she stepped down and so has less of the history of the council and decisions that have been made than those who were members since its inception. In addition Mark joined a heavily male dominated committee which already had twice as many men as women, his addition to replace Alison worsened that ratio. For Mark to intimate that he has come in to save the day and we were like a ‘drowning man’ is a sentiment and phrase I find patronising and inaccurate. I personally think it would’ve been good if our Chair was first featured in Lib Dem Voice regarding Federal Council to give a view with more of the context of our work over these past 6 months.

  • Zoe Hollowood 12th Jun '23 - 9:59am

    @Mark…I don’t think you have understood my point at all.

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