Governance review – more exciting than you think, honest.

I often think that if any executive body wanted to do some real power grabs, it would circulate them in a document entitled “Governance review” in the hope that nobody would actually read them and work out what they meant.

Actually, you don’t get away with that in this party where we have been known to have quite a bit of an obsession with constitutional geekery and process. I often feel that we get too tied up in the wording of tiny parts of the constitution and not enough in its practical application and the culture we need to foster to make the party work well. In a party that values openness, transparency and accessibility for government, we don’t have nearly enough of them in the way we run our party.

Party reform was a massive issue in last year’s presidential election campaign. We all know we want to do something different, and the Governance Review now underway is designed to work out the precise details for reform. How can we say that we are run by our members when only a select few are even eligible to stand for some of the most important power-wielders? Are we truly making the most of the talents and professional skills of our members?

Everyone will remember that horrid “spaghetti” organisation chart that was published in the Morrissey Report. It didn’t quite reflect reality and there’s a much better organisation chart in the Governance Review’s Consultation Document. In the introduction, Party President Sal Brinton says that every Party committee she asks says it’s vital and recommends the abolition of another. Sensibly, the Review asks open question about the principles which should underpin the way the party is run, the jobs it needs to do and the sort of cultural changes we need to make. Diversity is an important theme – how do we break down the barriers affecting under-represented groups. Does that involve quotas and other measures for candidates in both internal and external elections?

Often you’ll hear people talk about having a “modern”, “professional” “grown-up” structure in a way that  means taking more power to the centre and concentrating it. For me, being these things is about trusting our members, giving them real power and making sure all have the opportunity to serve the party at its highest levels.

It’s not about what I think, though. It’s about what party members want to contribute to this consultation. At Conference, there are a number of ways that you can make your voice heard:

  • The consultation session in the main hall on Tuesday 22 September between 4:45 and 6:00 pm;
  • Speak to a member of the Federal Executive at the Information Desk – we are trying to cover 10:30 am – 4pm Saturday -Tuesday
  • Attend a “strategic conversation” facilitated by an FE member. I’m doing one on Tuesday night.  Sign up at the FE Helpdesk

You can also talk to any member of FE at Conference about anything you like – you can find a list of names and mugshots here. Seriously, we have been elected to serve you so tell us what you think we should be doing. The 5FE members who are specifically responsible, along with Sal Brinton, for leading the Governance Review are Sal Brinton, Dawn Barnes, Antony Hook, Al Ghaff, Rodney Berman and Dan Farthing-Sykes.

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

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  • Thank you for posting this. 🙂 The logical thing would be to take stock of our guiding values, and our size and means as a party, and build up from that. What do we absolutely need; what would make life easier without being strictly necessary; what would be nice to have if we could?

    Very interested to see how this project goes, and to help out if I can. 🙂

  • Thanks for this Caron.

    Compare and contrast the very different recent fortunes of the Co-op and John Lewis Partnership. The Co-op was lumbered with a byzantine system where members voted for delegates who voted for representatives who in turn voted on …. or something like that! It added up to an interlocking maze of committees that few understood, that didn’t work and that inevitably – and humiliatingly – imploded.

    JLP by contrast offers a very different model laid out in their constitution.

    It has clear principles and rules with a formal structure that, as I understand it, comprises:
    1. A Partnership Council elected by the Partners (employees) and representing them. (c.f. Conference)
    2. A Partnership Board mainly elected by the Council. This is a ‘supervisory board’ responsible, among other things, for “issues of major policy” which includes approving the Business Plan but it doesn’t run the business as such (hence ‘supervisory’). (c.f. Federal Executive).
    3. A Chairman responsible for the business’ commercial performance. (c.f. Party Leader – and perhaps for some things – Chief Executive) and duty bound to accept as fully as possible the recommendations of the Council. He also undertakes to share power and maintain open communications with Partners at all levels.

    In effect, operational decisions are delegated upwards to an executive chairman (aided by his support staff) but power over strategic decisions is held by the Board. The chairman must also account to the Council for “the progress of the Partnership under his leadership” every half year and the Council can fire him if it’s not satisfied.

    The Lib Dem approach is muddled but far closer to the Co-op model. It is based on the idea that the more cooks the better because, so it is wrongly assumed, this leads to everyone being involved. What actually happens is the kitchen becomes so crowded that most avoid it. The JLP model works on the basis that a single executive cook will prepare a better broth – but is fully accountable for the number and happiness of staff and diners. While it’s not directly portable to a political party it would be a superb starting point – and moreover one which the track record shows works very well indeed.

  • Alex Wasyliw 25th Sep '15 - 9:45pm

    Is there a way to submit an idea to the governance review team now conference is over?

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