How you can support One Member One Vote for Party Committees

lib dem conf votingIn March, Sue Doughty invited members to take part in a consultation on the idea of allowing one member one vote for party committee elections and on party policy at Conference. The Internal Democratic Reform Working Group, which Sue chairs, then looked at the submissions they received and the feedback at a consultative session at York Conference. They have now drawn up some radical proposals which will give every  member the right to vote on policy at Conference and in Committee elections which they want to submit for debate at Conference in Glasgow this Autumn. If passed, they would take effect from Autumn 2015.

These plans were passed by the Federal Executive last night and the motion will go forward in FE’s name. However, Sue and her Working Group were keen to offer members the chance to offer their support for the motion as well.  We are looking forward to a lively debate at conference on this and have received feedback on both sides of the argument.

The text of the motion is being finalised tonight particularly the constitutional implications but the draft is as follows:

Title: Expanding the Democracy of our Party with ‘One Member One Vote’

Conference Notes that:

  1. The strength of the Liberal Democrats derives from its members at all levels.
  2. Federal Conference provides the primary opportunity for members of the Liberal Democrats to participate in the development of party policy, to debate a wide range of issues, and to meet party members and key organisations at fringe meetings and social events.
  3. Currently, voting at conference is confined to a limited number of members including MPs, Peers, Prospective UK and European Parliamentary Candidates, Elected Mayors, Leaders of Principal Councils and those who have been elected as Conference Representatives by Local Parties, the number of Representatives being determined by the size of the Local Party.

Conference notes with concern that:

  1. Although that system works well with large and active local parties with a large number of Conference Representatives, it provides reduced opportunities for: members of small and less active parties to attend and vote at conference, younger members who have reported that they often have to wait for older members to ‘resign’ from being Conference Representatives, and members who do not enjoy a strong link with any local party for a number of different reasons.
  2. The current arrangements for electing Conference Representatives, and substitute representatives are cumbersome and rely excessively on strong communications with local party secretaries and on Local Parties ensuring that new members are actively encouraged to attend conference. Active members who would otherwise attend Conference, can be dis-incentivised from doing so if they are not elected as Conference Representatives.
  3. Many members may not be able to maintain strong links with one Local Party and are therefore less likely to stand for election or be elected as Conference Representatives, thus denying them the opportunity to vote at conference.  Some members have reported that this can be the case for members who are tenants and who may move house frequently, for those who work abroad, or work unusual and anti-social hours.
  4. Over 70% of new members join the party online, the majority of them in response to the national profile of the party, and express a strong interest in national policy but their links to their local party maybe weak, particularly in parties with fewer members.
  5. Local parties with under 30 members are not entitled to elect Conference Representatives Because the Federal Committees of the Party are elected from Conference Representatives, those who are unable to vote at conference on account of not being a Conference Representative cannot stand or vote for the major committees of the party either.
  6. Our current voting arrangements are anomalous allowing new members to become Conference Representatives in their first year but only allowing those members with a full year’s membership to vote to select their Prospective Parliamentary Candidate.

Conference welcomes:

  1. The decision of the Scottish Liberal Democrats to adopt “one member one vote” entitling all of its members to attend, speak and vote at their national conferences.

Conference accordingly believes that:

EITHER

  1. All members of the Federal party of at least one year’s membership should be entitled, subject to the payment of the relevant registration fee, to:

a)Vote at Federal conference

b)Stand for election to those Federal Committees which include directly elected members

c)Elect members of Federal Committees

OR

  1. All members of the Federal party should be entitled, subject to the payment of the relevant registration fee, to:

a)      Vote at Federal conference

b)      Stand for election to those Federal Committees which include directly elected members

c)       Elect members of Federal Committees

13 Conference resolves to amend the Constitution as follows: (this is currently an incomplete list)

  • Paragraph 2.7 (a) , replace “representatives present and voting” and replace with “members”
  • Paragraph 3.2, delete “but excluding the appointment of representatives to Federal Conference”
  • Delete 4.3 (b) in full
  • Paragraph 4.9, delete “A Local Party shall not while its rights are suspended be entitled to representation at the Federal Conference.”
  • Paragraph 5.5(b) delete reference to Conference Representatives, replace  with members
  • Paragraph 6.1 , delete (a) to (h) inclusive and replace with “those members of the party who have registered for Conference in accordance with any provisions set out by the Federal Conference Committee and who attend”
  • Delete paragraphs 6.2, 6.3, and 6.4 in full and re-number the following paragraphs
  • Paragraph 6.5, delete the word “consultative”, replace “any member” with “all members”, and delete “and for all members who are not representatives to address other sessions of the Conference”
  • Paragraph 6.6 “delete 200 representatives entitled to attend the Conference” replace with  “200 members”
  • Paragraph 7.2(i) delete “elected by Federal Conference” replace with “directly elected members”
  • Paragraph 8.1(i)delete “elected by Federal Conference” replace with “directly elected members”
  • In Paragraph 12.1 for “A candidate for the office of President shall require the nomination of not less than 200 representatives entitled to attend the Federal Conference in not less than 20 Local Parties (including, for this purpose, the Specified Associated Organisations representing youth and students as provided by Article 13.8 replace all after “nomination of not less than…” with 200 members.

Conference Resolves to amend the Federal Conference Standing Orders – Glossary of Terms as follows:

  • Delete “Elected representative”
  • Delete “Non-voting member”
  • Special Conference:  Replace “conference representatives” with  “members”
  • Voting Member: Delete 2nd sentence

Conference Resolves to amend the Federal Conference Standing Orders as follows:

  • Paragraph 1.3(d) replace “conference representatives” with “members”
  • Paragraph 6.2 – delete “If the person who is excluded is a voting member of conference, their local party or SAO shall be contacted immediately and invited to appoint a substitute for the remainder of the conference.”
  • Paragraph 11.1 (a) delete “voting” before “member”.
  • Paragraph 11.2 Change Title to Reference Back (Moved by a Member) and (a) delete “voting” before “member”
  • Paragraphs 11.5  and 11.6 delete “voting” before “member”
  • Paragrapsh 12.5 and 12.5 delete “voting” twice, in each case before “member”

Conference resolves to amend the Committee Election Regulations as follows:

  • 3 (e) – delete “voting” before “member”
  • 6 replace “conference representatives” with “members”

If you would like to support the motion, then please email Sue at [email protected] with your name, membership number and local party by 11:30 am tomorrow, 16th July so that the motion can be submitted before the deadline of 1pm.

 

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

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62 Comments

  • So the proposal is to make the change without doing anything at the same time to strengthen the ability of members to find out what those they have elected are doing and so be able to hold them accountable in a meaningful way? If so, that’s very disappointing, especially as the importance of doing that came through so strongly in the consultation session, from both people who are in favour of OMOV and those who aren’t.

  • What Mark said – if the party is actually serious about improving internal democracy, then it needs more than just bringing in OMOV and claiming it will sort everything out. As it stands, brining in OMOV for elections without improving the rest of the process is just going to turn them into a ‘who’s the best known?’ contest.

  • Some very valid criticisms from Mark, Nick and Gareth. I really want to see those standing for election putting a manifesto saying, in the case of those standing for re-election what they have done, and those who are new saying what they would do. But the fact remains that newer members are seriously disadvantaged by the status quo. I agree entirely with Gareth about people who turn up to committee meetings just to register attendance are a waste of space but there is nothing in this proposal which will change from what happens now.

    Gareth you know me well enough to know that the last thing I would do is to bury bad news. It is a fact that tomorrow is the last day to put forward conference amendments. If we had three people of the calibre of David Allworthy I would have had all of this ready to go a long time ago. Put aside the cynicism please and of course if you disagree Conference is the right place to debate it. I presented this to the Federal Conference Committee, and gained their support. It would have been great if you had been there to put the other side of the debate but you were not.

  • Mark, your comments about making people accountable doesn’t at all go against either what we are proposing or the current situation. We have time to get this right so any proposals on how to do this would be very helpful

  • Mark – can you suggest some amendments to bring about more transparency ?

  • Paula Keaveney 16th Jul '14 - 7:44am

    I’ve got mixed feelings about this but on the whole think we should open up conference to all members. Every year there are people from my local party who want to go to conference but who lose out on voting rights because the deadline has gone to arrange representative swaps (often if you are in work you can only find out quite close to the event that you can get leave). If someone is keen enough to take leave, travel to the event, read all the stuff etc it seems mad that we don’t trust them with a vote. We have also had situations where a local party was suspended and members from that local party, who were regular and keen conference goers, suddenly lost their vote. Given that the suspension was nothing to do with them, that seems very unfair. It is however really important, when it comes to the committees, that we know what individuals we have elected have actually done. I know its possible to publish an attendance chart, but this only tells me where a particular individual happened to be sitting on a particular day.

  • Paula Keaveney 16th Jul '14 - 7:44am

    On another note Caron, wasn’t the Gurling review meant to be on the agenda at FE this week? Any report back fro that?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 16th Jul '14 - 8:07am

    Paula,

    Yes, we did consider the Gurling Review. It had a lot of very good, practical stuff in it. We had a very long discussion, a realistic one, on how to proceed now. One of the things that I raised was the need to communicate to members that the Party got their concerns and were acting on them. The party needs to see action and soon. There should soon be information on here, not just about the Review but about what will be happening in response to it. Actually, quite a few things have been put in place already and there’s much more to do. I will be chasing up to make sure that all of this is well communicated.

    The Gurling Review had over 700 submissions and read almost 2000 pages of evidence from the party’s grassroots. I looked down the list of contributors and it was virtually all people on the ground, not from the Westminster Bubble who had provided the basis for the report’s recommendations.

  • David Evans 16th Jul '14 - 8:15am

    Sadly this proposal, developed by some for the very best of reasons, will deliver something massively different from what is intended. Those most likely to be elected to committes will be those who, for whatever reason have a significant public profile already and those already serving on committees. Thus almost everyone outside the M25 will find themselves unelectable unless they are already well known for activity, probably outside the party, which gives them a media profile, or are those promoted by a particular group or a particular influential individual.

    People a long way from London already face massive obstacles in getting onto committees, but at least they have a chance to get themselves known by attending conference, speaking at fringe meetings and taking part in the general socialising that occurs. A side of A4 with “What I intend to do if elected” is nothing like good enough, and is totally ineffective when compared with one that contains a personal endorsement by an ex-leader or whatever.

    Finally, allowing any member who turns up to vote at conference will skew even more the voters’ profile to those living near the conference venue. Of course the solution that will be put forward to this in Phase 2 will be online voting for all. That, in turn, will bring its own problems with a further concentration of power at the centre.

  • Nick Barlow 16th Jul '14 - 8:26am

    ” I really want to see those standing for election putting a manifesto saying, in the case of those standing for re-election what they have done, and those who are new saying what they would do.”

    The problem is that candidates for these committees don’t do that now – most manifestos are little more than ‘I’m a hard-working campaigner with a passion for liberal democracy and social justice, here’s a list of committees I’ve been on’ – and there’s nothing in the proposals that will make this happen. We need to have a plan for how we’re going to reinvigorate participation in internal democracy instead of just assuming that having OMOV automatically makes everything more democratic.

  • I’m getting a lot of support from the membership on this, had a number of people keen to support it. It’s a really popular measure, that was broadly supported at the consultation session.

    I think Sue has done a lot of work to engage members on FCC and FPC and tho people have concerns about accountability, I think most of us have experience enough to understand not making the perfect the enemy of the good.

  • Nick

    “We need to have a plan for how we’re going to reinvigorate participation in internal democracy instead of just assuming that having OMOV automatically makes everything more democratic.”

    I think that’s sensible and I think OMOV is a good first step. Let’s work together on what that plan might look like

  • Sue Doughty 16th Jul '14 - 9:56am

    Nick
    I absolutely agree with you about a strong manifesto. I’d like to see more opportunity for people to learn about the work of the committees – perhaps a session at conference so that those interested know what’s involved. In the case of FE the majority of the work we do is not glamorous but does ensure that the party runs. Louise is quite right to say that there is more to be done but we strongly felt that this could be done in steps.
    Mark
    The committees report to conference and receive questions and comments. Caron on FE has done much this year to publicise the areas where we are working. We have made no claim anywhere that OMOV will ‘sort out everything’. All it does is allow all members to vote on our policies and to participate in our committee elections
    David
    We have members on FE living in Scotland, Wales, the West of England, the North of England, and the South. In fact I think a substantial majority live outside the M25, many of them a long way outside.
    The issue of profile is important and we do have people who turn up on committees now who have a high profile but less ambition for the workload. To have everyone elected from amongst the people who turn up to conference also delivers a group of people who are well known to conference reps – big fishes in a small pond.
    It is a fact that most MPs and Peers, and I speak from experience are very busy already and really don’t want to take on a committee it they can’t put the time in. For PPCs and MPs there is very little profile with the electorate and certainly serving on our committees is not going to win votes in your own constituency.
    Gareth
    Every proposal in the motion other than the issue of whether you should have 1 year’s membership was consulted on. The reason for including the 1 year membership was that it was raised at the last minute. FE is neutral on this and so presented it as a choice for debate.
    We are expecting a lively debate and so it should be! This is a big change but one which Scotland has taken in its stride and has operated for some time.

  • Sue, looking at the 15 directly elected reps to FEx on the party website, 8 out of 11 who indicate their location are elected are from the South East; One from the NW; one from the Midlands and one from Scotland. I think two of the others come from the NW; and two I don’t know. Wales gets its reps from direct representation; there don’t seem to be any from the NE; Yorkshire or the East Midlands. Nor do I see any from nearer the West Country than GVJ in Portsmouth. I don’t know how these proportions compare with the membership, but I think it will get worse rather than better under your proposals

    Finally, I’m not sure what you are getting at with your comment about “Big Fishes in a Small pond”, but it does sound a bit condescending towards Conference.

  • matt (Bristol) 16th Jul '14 - 11:20am

    I know little of these technical matters, but would a compromise deal be one where the existing individuals with voting rights at Conference retained them with votes weighted to, say, equal 3 or 4 votes each, whilst members had one vote each?

  • @Caractacus that isn’t true you can get elected as a conference rep by your local party and not go to conference and still get your ballot for the internal party committees.

    How long until having introduced OMOV we are told that it is expensive so we will give party committees four or five year terms?

  • chris j smart 16th Jul '14 - 12:41pm

    The influence on the selection of party positions and policies I had as a member was virtually non existent, unless I persuaded the local party to my view. One member one vote is a nonsense in this context.
    I have far more individual influence in the national Trust and my professional Institution using on-line and postal voting via the Electoral Reform Services to ensure fair play.
    It would be so simple to request each individual member’s vote on policy, membership of committees, leadership etc. It would mean true one member one vote democracy within the party.
    I am sure there are very good reasons why the party does not use these methods but I find myself unable to think of any.

  • Louise / Sue

    I wholly support your proposal – if we’re a party about members voting on policy all members who are willing to go to conference should be able to vote. Furthermore every member should have the right to vote who for who they want on committees.

    Mark/Gareth’s points on more transparency about what committees do ARE incredibly important as well, but for me this is such a big aspect of our governance it should be handled in a separate proposal. On this point we really should be stripping away as much secrecy as possible, allowing agendas, reports on debates and actions that come out committee meetings to be readily available to all party members. Attendance and voting records should be available to members as well.

    I don’t accept Nick’s point though that it’ll turn into a ‘who’s who’ contest without this. There are tonnes of ways for less known prospective candidates to get their manifesto across these days (Facebook, Twitter, WordPress etc), not least LDV itself 🙂

  • Paula Keaveney 16th Jul '14 - 12:44pm

    I suspect the geographical involvement on committees at the moment is less to do with actual geography and more to do with timing. I looked at standing for a committee last time but a check showed it met on a weekday evening, which would have meant travelling on a working day. I could in fact have done some of it but if elected would have been doing so knowing that on around half the dates I wouldn’t have been able to get out of work.(some jobs are such that leave is impossible at certain times) Tedious though this may be, the only way to make it equally possible for people from all over to take part is to schedule committees on a Saturday or Sunday.

  • Oh, just on whether people have to wait for a year to vote I’d suggest not doing this. Conference comes up every 6 months, it would be massively annoying if you had 11 months 28 days membership before conference and then had to wait another 6 months.

    If we’re expanding voting we should expand it to everyone, period. I think any fears of an army of 5th columnists signing up days before just to vote/disrupt conference are unlikely to materialise 🙂 most people really aren’t interested enough in the details politics!

    Also – this change could massively increase conference attendance – which is not only a money spinner for the party but will really invigorate existing members and spur on new members to get more involved with the party. As I wrote last year my first visit to conference certainly had that effect https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinon-dont-confuse-declining-membership-with-a-decline-in-interest-in-politics-36432.html

  • Duncan Brack 16th Jul '14 - 1:16pm

    People seem to have forgotten that spring conference passed a constitutional amendment increasing the number of conference reps local parties are entitled to by four. So my local party, for example, is now entitled to ten voting reps rather than six (plus the PPC, and council group leader when we have one). In all the years for which I’ve been a member, I only remember one occasion on which there’s been an election, and then there was only one surplus candidate. I think that given this, the number of local parties who would send more people than they have places for would be tiny (probably only those in or very near to the conference venue).

    And just to correct Caracatus – the Liberal Party never had a system whereby any member could turn up and vote. They had an elected rep system like we do, though it was more generous in its allocation – pretty much like what we have now, in fact.

  • @ Duncan

    The spring conference amendment didn’t resolve the issue of local parties with less than 30 members not being able to send reps, or that people living in an area with no local party can’t become conference reps.

    Beyond all this though there’s a principle at stake here – do we believe that one member is more important or their opinion is more valid than another? Does that feel right for the Liberal Democrats? might be fine for the Tories or Labour but not for us.

    If we want to sell ourselves as the party where members make and vote on policy lets actually deliver on that promise, instead of having this outdated conference rep system that completely bamboozles new members and excludes members from the policy making process simply because of where they live.

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 16th Jul '14 - 2:36pm

    Point of fact on the supposed problem of a deadline by which conference reps must be notified to the conference office-

    My understanding is that even at the conference itself if you can produce a letter from your LP secretary confirming you are voting rep of your local party you are giving the appropriate pass (and voting rights). I’ve done it myself.

    Similarly to Duncan, in 16 years as an active member I have never known my LP fill its quota of representatives.

  • Tony Rowan-Wicks 16th Jul '14 - 4:17pm

    The membership wants one approach and the leadership just wants sound bites to support the TORIES. Why is this pushed on us to decide so much in a few hours? I only saw it this afternoon. I have not taken it all in yet but it looks like ‘late news and members will not be able to discuss, hold local meets and come up with reasons’. Sorry LDs, but this is not the way to run a brewery let alone a political party. I’m sticking with my local brewery.

  • @ Gareth Epps

    Gareth Wilson’s points on transparency would carry more weight were those who argue for secrecy and against things like records of who voted which way not the same ones as those the most stridently in favour of OMOV for federal committees.

    I’m not sure where your going with this but its fascinating nonetheless. I would have imagined these views would be incompatible, you’re either in favour of more transparency and expanding enfranchisement or you want to keep things as they are as you believe elected representatives (i.e. conference reps) know best.

    I want OMOV and more transparency, as do most of the grassroots (I think).

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 16th Jul '14 - 4:40pm

    It’s interesting how many of the arguments against this motion are so reminiscent of those used by opponents of House of Lords reform earlier in this parliament (both in terms of principle and the “making the best the enemy of the good” approach).

    I have yet to hear an argument against OMOV that does not sound like the party establishment setting its face against giving more power to all members (and therefore diluting their own).

    Is the motion perfect? Probably not. So let’s amend it. But it would represent a dramatic step forward in democratising and modernising the party.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 16th Jul '14 - 4:42pm

    Oh, and well done and thank you to Sue and her working group for finally getting some progress on this.

  • Tony Greaves 16th Jul '14 - 4:57pm

    These proposals are completely silly and (in the name of democracy) are a recipe for the party establishment to gain a stranglehold on all the main committees (which being a cynic on these matters I guess is secretly what is behind it all)!

    Democracy is about people voting in an informed manner and the elected persons being accountable to the people who vote. There is no way that this can apply to all-member elections for party committees.

    The result will be: (1) the most well-known people will get elected, regardless of their views on relevant matters. (2) there will be some embarrassingly low turn-outs since people don’t like voting when they are ignorant of the candidates or the issues.

    You have all been warned!

    Tony

  • Tony Greaves 16th Jul '14 - 4:59pm

    As for the report of the Gurling revue, I am told that it was handed out at the FE and collected back in again at the end. It will not be published, indeed it will remain top secret, and the 700+ people who gave evidence to it will not have access to the conclusions.

    And this is the party of open governance? What a farce! (Will someone please tell me that the news from the FE is wrong?)

    Tony

  • “a recipe for the party establishment to gain a stranglehold on all the main committees (which being a cynic on these matters I guess is secretly what is behind it all)!”

    Lord Greaves – you’ve levelled this accusation before and tbh I always find it very disappointing* Once again, I am involved in OMOV because I genuinely want to have a better experience for members of the party.

    I would say upsetting, but reviewing my emotions I’m not upset, just profoundly disappointed.

  • Mick Taylor 16th Jul '14 - 5:45pm

    The proposal is a recipe for ensuring only the well heeled make decisions in our party, since in practice it will mean that anyone can attend conference IF THEY CAN AFFORD IT. So it won’t open up the party to more democracy at least in terms of conference, especially amongst people with middle to low incomes like pensioners, the unemployed, working people on minimum wage etc.

    In terms of OMOV for federal elections, I find myself in full agreement with Tony Greaves.

    No-one will get elected unless they have a high profile and that is not good for the party either.

  • Nick T Nick Thornsby 16th Jul '14 - 6:17pm

    “How can we possibly trust [X group] to vote in an informed and sensible way?”

    So has gone the argument against every democratic reform in history. Depressing to see it being put forward here.

  • Caractatus makes the important point that policy was ignored by leadership.

    I would like to be able to vote for a party that says what it means and means what it says

  • @Simon Here’s what I would have made part of the package of reforms (and I think it should be a package, because of the mutual dependence of them) – I would make mandatory written reports to members after each federal committee meeting (the current good will commitment to do this is often not achieved), I would also reform the secrecy rules so that the way people on federal committees vote is usually public and so known to the voters (with some scope for private matters, similar to local councils operate). I would also increase the size of manifestos allowed for the online voting option, and make the much more prominent in the online voting system too so that it isn’t ‘here’s the ballot paper with a few names you’ve heard of on it, and oh buried away is a small link to hear about the candidates’.

    That’d be a good start – and I’m sure others have other good ideas too.

  • Joshua Dixon 16th Jul '14 - 8:54pm

    The principle of OMOV is something I support. However, it all rings incredibly hollow as a promise to help strengthen democracy when it isn’t partnered with a commitment to clean up our internal committees. OMOV will make me less likely to stand as there is no way I’d stand a chance of winning. Establishment figures will end up winning time and time again and will remain unaccountable.

    So yes, lets have OMOV, but my god lets at least get it right when we deliver it. If we let this pass sloppily the door will be shut on any other proper reform anytime soon, I fear.

  • Toby Fenwick 17th Jul '14 - 1:07pm

    I have no problem with scrapping the FPC and FE secrecy provisions, but I remain gobsmacked that OMOV raises such opposition. In fact, I struggle to see why it is remotely controversial in a party with “democrats” in its name. Yes, those with higher profiles stand a better chance of winning elections – ie, the same as any other election; no, this isn’t a reason to skew conference reps in favour of a certain size of local party.

    I can’t thank Sue and Louise enough for pushing on with this. Internal democracy is one of the main things that sets us apart, and we should celebrate this.

  • “the FPC’s imposed secrecy rules prevent me from saying how”

    which shows that those rules need changing

  • matt (Bristol) 17th Jul '14 - 3:35pm

    Toby: “In fact, I struggle to see why it is remotely controversial in a party with “democrats” in its name.”

    Because there are tensions between the ocnepts of federal democracy (in which regional groupings act as checks and balances on each other, and are usually given equal status as decision makers) and unicameral democracy (in which one decision making body makes decisions by majority and is usually at least nominally sovereign).

  • Toby Fenwick 17th Jul '14 - 6:47pm

    Matt – intriguing. What regional federal checks and balances are currently in place that provide substantially more benefit than OMOV? Because the bar to avoid enfranchising everyone is pretty high – though not insurmountable.

    Far too many people who I’d normally expect to back enfranchisement seem to oppose OMOV as it isn’t in their narrow interest, so another defence of the undemocratic status quo would be most welcome. Please do flesh out this argument – otherwise, I’m sold on OMOV.

  • Antony Hook Antony Hook 17th Jul '14 - 7:29pm

    I think one idea behind each local party electing a number of representatives is that conference should then be broadly representative of the views of members of a whole.

    The risk with the proposal not to elect representatives is that it is not “one member one vote”, it is “one person who turns up, one vote”.

    No votes for those who can’t turn up. No-one they have elected to represent them.

    That may produce a conference less representative of all members’ views than at present.

  • So, the present committee system just doesn’t work. If it did we would be polling vastly better. But is there any reason to suppose that OMOV for those committees would make any material difference whatsoever because I don’t see it? Sure, it would enable everyone to happily tick the box labelled ‘democratic’ but that’s about as far as it goes.

    What we need is a structure that works and this isn’t it.

    The American liberal Chris Hedges has argued the last properly democratic President was, surprisingly, Nixon because, according to Hedges, he was the last president to be scared of the electorate. Since then big money has had all elections sewn up (often giving to both sides as insurance) so presidents no longer have to worry about ordinary people – and so they don’t.

    There is a lesson for us here. By accident we have adopted a system where the leadership simply doesn’t have to care about the wishes or sentiments of members – and so it doesn’t (as we have seen). This is incredibly dangerous because it leaves the party wide open to being hijacked by a psychopath or narcissist (personality types that are greatly overrepresented in those that seek power compared with the general population) or simply wrecked by someone getting promoted above their ability.

    So the change I want to see that would make a difference is to be able, both constitutionally and culturally, to have a proper power struggle at the top and depose a leader when necessary as the Tories do. It’s tough for the individual but good for the party. Now that would make a difference.

  • Mick Taylor 17th Jul '14 - 8:21pm

    Let’s be very clear. OMOV will not be representative because as Tony Greaves says the turnouts will be abysmally low and no-one without a high party profile will get elected.
    The present system has faults – viz secrecy as explained by others – but it has the virtue that conference delegates are selected in proportion to constituency membership and so is broadly representative of constituencies, regions and recognised party units. By throwing it open to all [and right now anyone can attend conference but not necessarily vote] you risk putting party decision making into the hands of the wealthy or the fanatical.
    I have no axe to grind in all this and I have no vested interest to protect. I am not trying to defend the status quo or support the leadership.
    I think conference has a lot of other facets other than decision/policy making. The ultimate end of the move to OMOV will be the scrapping of conference as a policy forum [with its showcase element] and its replacement with on-line or postal ballots on policy without the benefit of full debate. I for one don’t think that is the way forward.
    Let’s first tackle the problems in the present system – eg get rid of secrecy and mandate membership reports – and give them a chance to work, before throwing out the current system.

  • @GF
    I suspect that you are right. Clegg does not fear the membership.
    Did you have any particular reform in mind, like having a mandatory leadership contest every year with a challenger?

    The problem with many things in life is that it is easy to see the problem but hard to see the solution. What other countries can provide an example to follow?

  • Toby Fenwick 17th Jul '14 - 9:18pm

    @Mick Taylor

    Your point about conference is well taken but off base – only those you describe as “wealthy or fanatical” get to go and vote now. And as anyone who’s been to conference recently knows, the debates can be good, but the payroll vote of the MPs, Lords etc do tend to wander in just before the vote to vote the leadership line.

    A much better route would be to combine OMOV and online voting – thereby including far more of the party who for whatever reason can’t make conference.

  • This is a bad proposal. If we look at “Conference accordingly believes that” we discover it believes that only members who have paid the conference registration fee are entitled to stand for election to and to elect member of Federal Committees. Is this what was intended?

    Is there any reason that clause 6.10 (h) isn’t being changed apart from the bad wording of the changes to clauses 7.2 (i) and 8.1 (i) (shouldn’t it be 8.1 (i) (i)?)?
    When changed these will read “… (the number) directly elected members”. I wonder who elects them as it doesn’t say who the electorate is. I think it would be better to have “elected by all members” if that is the intention or “elected by those members who could afford to register” if that is the intention.

    The timing is bad. Next year we would discover how the amendment passed this spring to increase the entitlement of Local Parties would work.

    However I don’t mind more people being entitled to attend conference, but I do oppose the idea of every member being posted a ballot paper and the manifesto books so they can vote for the members of the Federal Committees. Was the Federal Executive informed of the cost of this? I assume costs will increase about 6 fold.

    The party should be able to come up with other alternative ways of addressing the issues of new members or those with no links to local parties becoming conference reps.

    I wish I could afford to attend conference to vote on this motion.

  • Well done .Caracatus – you have summed up the reality of local party activity in this area to a tee.
    Your experience reflects mine since I attended my first conference in 1976.
    In fact I am tempted to ask if the Kingston Borough party is one of those you have been involved in.

    18th Jul ’14 – 5:22am
    I am stunned by all these local parties that elect conference reps – I have been involved with loads of local parties and I’ve never known any of them to have contested election – conference reps have consisted of those who ‘do conference’ who can afford to attend. Other people are put off by the expense, their other commitments, not wishing to upset the usual nominees, or sheer lack of interest that means places remain unfilled or only nominally filled. the is the other classic approach of 6 people sitting around voting for 9 out of 10 nominees.

  • Mick Taylor 18th Jul '14 - 5:50pm

    Until the increase in conference entitlement recently agreed my local party quite often had contested elections for VOTING reps. There has never been a limit on people attending conference, only those that have a vote.

    When I was a young Liberal and short of cash my local party gave me a subsidy to enable me to attend conference. My branch recently subsidised a member attending Kickstart. So it isn’t always the well heeled who go as constituency reps.

    If this proposal is agreed then there will be no point being a member in a constituency, because everyone will be a potential delegate – if they can afford it – and this will mean that joining as a national member will become an attractive option. No more being hassled by constituencies to DO something, no need to get selected as a conference delegate, no need to persuade anyone that you should exercise a vote in electing party committees. Just pay your money and turn up.

    That is not representative democracy, it’s a plutocracy.

  • Despite the complaints, I’ve seen relatively few people argue against the principle of OMOV, but there do seem to be quite a few concerned about the implementation of it. As a comparison, imagine if someone proposed that we’d have an elected Upper House, but it would be elected by FPTP in large single member constituencies. How would you feel if someone then said ‘well, you’re obviously against electing the Upper House if you’re against this way of doing things’?

    The point is that just widening the electorate for something doesn’t make it more democratic – democracy is a process, not a single event – and I agree with Mark Pack that OMOV should be part of a package of changes to the way party committees work that will make them more representative and accountable. (In line with Gareth’s comments, I’d suggest that all committees should have a rule that a majority of their meetings will be held somewhere other than London) What worries me is that people are dismissing these valid concerns with a ‘we’ll have to get round to that later’ which makes me wonder if they were even considered.

  • matt (Bristol) 21st Jul '14 - 3:23pm

    Toby Fenwick – I’m coming back late to the discussion and am supposed to be doing something else, so I’ll be brief.

    Just to say, mine was a theoretical reply to a rhetorical questoin you asked, when you implied that why ‘democrats’ had to back OMOV. I intended to make a similar point to that Mick Taylor makes, that the current system seems intended to ensure a wide range of representation between party bodies and spread representiation geographically – this is what I meant by ‘checks and balances’ and ‘federalism’ ie the local parties seem to be in theory conceived of as acting (to an extent) as federal bodies / electoral colleges designed to balance one another.

    I agree that if the bodiies of the party are not inn fact functioning properly in this way, with people always being put into the same job because they want to, and with many small parties not having any representation, then the system is not democratic; but there is no guarantee that OMOV whilst in principle potentially ‘more’ deomcratic, will not be prone to the same failings.

    But anyway, my point was: to say that all democrats must support only one electoral and decision-making method is too much.

    I am not inherently in favour of either system and feel a compromise could be sought between the two systems.

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