Should the way members of federal committees vote be public?

At the end of my post on the Federal Executive’s decision that the Liberal Democrats should (mostly) not fight police commissioner elections, a decision at odds with the views of party members we surveyed, I made reference to the fact that the details of such votes are not published and usually remain confidential. Sometimes news of who voted which way seeps out but, for example, you’re not officially meant to know that three members of the FE voted against that decision or who the three were.

There are arguments in favour of this, such as the idea that the committees have collective responsibility and – much like some council groups – decide their view in private and then collectively argue for it in public. However, one complicating factor is that most members of the federal committees are elected in various ways, so how can the voters in those contests sensibly cast their votes if the public track record of incumbents has important information missing?

A quick straw poll over on Facebook suggested that most Lib Dems support changing this rule but it has not previously generated controversy in the form of debates at conference, business motions or the like.

So over to you… what’s your view?

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This entry was posted in Party policy and internal matters.


  • Andrew Waller 31st Oct '11 - 5:58pm

    Mark you are right to draw attention to this democratic error. It is wrong for a party to keep us ordinary members in the dark on major issues like this. My own views on Police Commissioners is that they would not aid the situation but the party should have an open discussion about it.

  • Adam Corlett 31st Oct '11 - 6:29pm

    Surely the vast majority of members (myself included) have no idea what the FE have voted on and when, let alone who voted what way. Perhaps (unless I’ve simply unaware of it) we need a more frequent feed of information from the federal committees than the reports to conference and whatever is passed on indirectly.

  • Andrew Suffield 31st Oct '11 - 6:32pm

    Some votes, like this one, should be public. Some others, like decisions about individuals, should not. Sorting out which is which is a hard problem.

  • Ed Maxfield 31st Oct '11 - 7:07pm

    In answer to Mark’s question the answer is absolutely yes (subject to Andrew’s caveat).

    Re Stuart’s point, having previously stood for a federal committee I have some sympathy with the difficulties of writing a manifesto. If candidates are honest with themselves and the electorate they will know that they have very little influence over the agenda. So saying what you would DO as a committee member is not straight forward because you dont get to choose what gets debated in advance.

  • “Sorting out which is which is a hard problem.”

    Not that hard surely.

    Back in t’days it was agreed that the FE would post minutes of the non-confidential parts of meetings in the members only forum that was Cix and through the members only access Extranet. IIRC that practice was stopped by Simon Hughes when he became president with regular reports being made instead. The we had Roz who blogged about such things for a while until she stopped/was made to stop (depending on who you believe!). Now we get second hand reports of parts of meetings.

    I asked a number of questions of the FE & FFAC reports at conference – and am still awaiting answers. Though the chair of FCC has answered my question about what should be done to ensure questions tabled are answered.

    So all in all I’m not sure our elected committees are models of openness and accountability!

  • It would help if the agenda and minutes of meetings were published somewhere obvious! Nobody has any idea what is being discussed unless they are “in the know”. For a party that believes in openness we keep the proceedings of our governing committees exceedingly quiet.

  • Chris White 1st Nov '11 - 9:00am

    Tricky one because opening up how individuals voted may tempt the Party to take more decisions informally and thus in secret. But fundamentally you are right – Federal committees enjoy their anonymity too much. And don’t get me started on the English Party….

    In fact the FE voted overwhelmingly in favour of putting up candidates, in defiance of recommendations from some that Lib Dem candidates would be prohibited. I was one of those who had argued vigorously that any different decision would in fact be not only politically wrong but unconstitutional.

    As a result of this outbreak of common sense I am now looking for ward to campaigning for the Lib Dem Police Commissioner candidates in Hertfordshire.

  • @ Mark I wonder if how people say now that they voted corresponds with the decision actually taken.

    As an urban myth when the Liberal party voted for merge something like 123 people voted against. Liberator, with their usual eye for a commercial opportunity – produced “I was one of the 123” badges. And sold 150 of them!

  • @Sweyn – AIUI FE etc meetings are open to party members to attend. Though that is limited by space in the room and the practicalities of attending. I know of one person who volunteered in (then) Cowley Street who used to attend.

    Clearly some FE discussions need to remain confidential – both personal and political matters. However summaries of meetings are published elsewhere. English Council receives reports from its Federal Committee reps.

    (OMG – I just used English Council as an illustration of good practice in openness and transparency!)

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