Looking forward to our party’s next chapter

I’m just in the door, home from a wonderful weekend in York at Conference.

It is a miracle that I am  able to write this, given that I left the Novotel Bar at 4:15 this morning after a night of great fun with friends. You may or not be impressed to know that when I got back to my horrible little room, I laid out my clothes for the morning and plugged in everything to charge that needed to be charged.

I was back at Conference by 9:15 this morning feeling a lot better than I deserved.

These are anxiety inducing times but there is an excitement too. We know that we are about to enter a new phase of our party’s story.

I am very grateful to Vince for stepping up and showing authoritative leadership for two years.

He has made us the party of Remain and in his speech today he was clear that we will not be watering down our core values to satisfy any authoritarian centrist group that might appear although we will work with them to change our politics for the better.

I am incredibly excited by the prospect of the upcoming leadership campaign. I know who I will be backing if they stand. The last contest in 2015 was conducted while the party was consumed by grief after the horror of the election. We had gone beyond denial to anger and sometimes pure rage by the time it had finished.

This one will be much more positive and dynamic. I am looking forward to it.

The big decisions on Vince’s party reforms took place. Vince wanted to set up a scheme for registered supporters who would be able to vote for leader, he wanted us to enable non MPs to become leader. He also wanted to enable people to become candidates within 12 months (or 9 months in Scotland) of them joining the party.

Before we went to York, I had thought that the reforms might just get through. There was a question mark over votes for leader, which had never been that popular amongst  most people I had spoken to over the last few months. I wondered if it could get the required two thirds majority.

There was quite a lot of debate round this point. In my speech, I said that we didn’t have the resources to protect ourselves against entryism, especially if we allowed members of other parties to become supporters and vote in our leadership elections. I reminded Conference that there were only 500 votes separating Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne in 2007.

To be honest, I wasn’t fussed about any of the package. The supporters’ scheme on its own, is a fine model, built by the Federal People Development Committee, but I feel that the opportunity cost to us of ploughing resources into it that could be going into training or winning elections was too much of a distraction.

Christine Jardine proposed the motion, saying that she would have liked the chance to be able to sign up to be a supporter when she was working as a journalist and not allowed to be a member of any party. She also said that she would have loved the chance to vote for Charles Kennedy as leader. She argued that it was important to open up our party.

In a series of 7 votes, conducted with extreme competence and clarity by Federal Conference Committee Chair Geoff Payne, Conference approved the supporters’ scheme but voted down votes for leader and non MP as leader. In fact votes for leader didn’t look as if it even had a simple majority.

Geoff also deserves credit for being able to ascertain a 2/3 majority. He called the waiting time to become a candidate vote as having passed. People asked for a count and, sensibly, he agreed. It passed 513-245, which is 68%.

The other counted vote was on whether registered supporters could be on policy working groups. That went through 453-327.

An amendment explicitly forbidding supporters being allowed to be members of other parties was passed.

Got to say something about this debate. Pretty much 800 people sat in a room for the better part of two hours talking about the constitution of the party on a day when there were  rugby matches going on. I know some people skived off to watch the Scotland England game (and how amazing was that Scottish comeback?), but that showed how engaged people were in the issue.

The debate was also conducted with passion and good humour and mostly showed our party at its best.

It was a super weekend in York and there is so much more to tell you over the next few days.


* 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.


  • The debate on the supporters scheme was depressing. What on Earth were the arguments about?
    There was a lot of talk about how there are some areas where people help locally with great enthusiasm. But they do not want to be members of the national party. The reality was not addressed. That is that there are areas where people actually behave like liberals, keeping people informed, discussing their issues.
    Then there is the national party. Behaving like the other national parties.
    However there is a determination to ignore this real issue.
    How can we build a party which people feel a part of?
    What we have is a party where members receive frequent emails which do not seek to involve them, but ask for money.
    It is all a question of outlook. Do the people who have control see themselves as partners with everyone else in building a liberal society? Or do they see them as people to be used?
    To many people who are liberals they see the latter, as they read the begging emails.
    So maybe when liberals look at the Liberal Democrat’s they do not see a liberal party?

  • On the issue is communication my point has to do with the nature of that communication. My experience has been that many people do not like being treated like that. In the end it is a question of how one sees the nature of democracy. Any campaign needs resources. Perhaps the best way might be to ask members their ideas about money raising – and how a party should be run. At least a starting point.

  • I wasn’t able to attend Conference, but did discover I could follow a live stream on YouTube. I enjoyed listening to some of the speeches by new and young members, and those gave me more hope for the future than any Supporters Scheme ever would.

    I have two gripes – one minor and one major! The minor one is why didn’t HQ advertise the fact that anyone could follow the debates on YouTube? There was no link or mention of this on the party web site (or LDV) and no email to members letting them know. We had a long debate about getting more people involved in the party, but nothing to encourage the majority that couldn’t attend Conference to follow it online.

    My major gripe though is about the way Conference disenfranchises most members. We had a Constitutional amendment passed, which fewer than 600 members voted for. Think about that for a moment….. We complain about the iniquities of the FPTP voting system, and question the legitimacy of the Brexit vote when only 37% of those eligible voted in favour of it, yet we passed a constitutional amendment with less than 1% of members voting in favour.

    Surely it’s time to allow and indeed actively encourage members to follow Conference debates online, and also provide a system to allow online voting on motions?

    Lots of members can’t attend Conference either due to the cost, or because of family or work commitments, and they shouldn’t be disenfranchised because of that. Party policy shouldn’t be kept in the hands of a small clique of a few hundred who are the only ones who can physically attend.

  • Thanks to Caron for a balanced report but I would welcome a more detailed layout of the Votes on each element of the Supporters scheme.
    I dont know if the phrase about “Authoritarian Centrists” was in Vinces speech but its not helpful. If we arrange British Politics on a spectrum from Liberal to Authoritarian then We & The Greens (GPEW) are up at one end of the scale & most Voters are a long way from us. Of course we are right but we are in an extremist minority. We will never break through with just Liberal Voters, we need to build an Alliance with those who are more Authoritarian than us but less so than May & Corbyn.
    We need to focus on where we agree with potential allies, not endlessly rehearsing old quarrels.

  • Just want to back up Nick Baird’s comment about the online coverage on youtube. This was excellent, and presumably the party spent some resources on enabling it. So it’s really unfortunate that it wasn’t advertised better! Like Nick, I only found out about it by accident. The party should advertise this better next time, but LDV could have done a better job too in raising awareness.
    All of that said, the conference looked really interesting and what was most striking to me was how diverse it looked. The EU debate in particular was full of excellent young speakers from all sorts of backgrounds. Very impressive.

  • I heard a thoughtful, well-informed, critical debate, Liberal Democrats at their best. I don’t know what debate Tom Harney heard. What were the arguments about? Well, for example, whether local parties could share lots of campaigning information with supporters’ groups including members of other parties. Whether having a dual leadership would be exploited by the media and opponents. There was no argument about having a supporters’ scheme and many opponents of some specific proposals were enthusiastically in favour of such a scheme. What was a bit odd was that the speeches in favour of the unamended proposals did almost nothing to argue a positive case for the controversial measures, concentrating on arguing that the minus points weren’t too serious. Since though I spoke against resgistered supporters including members of other parties, I voted for supporters having a vote for Leader, I actually regret that the specific advantages of such an arrangement weren’t put.

    Never mind. We considered major proposals in a thoughtful, mature way. Now to promote being a supporter and make sure strong links are built at the local level.

  • Nick Baird hits the nail on the head: Conference will never devolve voting more widely because it is not in the interests of the unrepresentative members who can afford the time and/or money to attend – variously the retired, the unemployed, the devout or the wealthy – to do so. That way they can, and do, skew policy to suit their own agendas.

  • Indeed David. Power and influence are seen as zero sum games so why let others get anywhere near the decision making processes ? That’s just a dark reality about human nature that even liberals are likely to succumb to.

  • Nigel Jones 18th Mar '19 - 2:23pm

    Nick Baird’s point about widening participation on-line is an important one. If LDV and other comments I heard prior to the debate are representative, I do feel however that the vote went more or less the right way. Before conference there was an impression that messages from senior party figures were at odds with those from grassroot members, except for the general agreement for a registered supporters scheme. There are still two questions though; one is resource administering it, the other is the one raised by Richard Kemp and Caron Lindsay about how much difference it will make to the issue of party progress in the public domain.

  • Sue Sutherland 18th Mar '19 - 2:57pm

    I can’t make it to Conference because of illness but accept that this is the way the party makes policy. However, I think the debate about a supporters group (which I agree with now) has thrown up a much needed discussion about how members are regarded and involved in the policy decision making process. At first it seemed that supporters were being more highly valued than members. I do hope that this discussion carries on and leads to more member involvement.

  • Ruth Coleman-Taylor 18th Mar '19 - 3:20pm

    To Nick Baird and others who see some kind of conspiracy in votes at Party Conference being cast only by those who attend, I ask you to cast your minds back a few years.
    We used to have a system where every Constituency was allocated a number of votes in proportion to their local membership. Constituencies were encouraged to meet and discuss the agenda and advise their voting members how to vote. So the voting at Party Conference did take account of the views of Lib Dems who, for whatever reason, could not attend Conference and potentially reflected the wishes of the local membership.
    This system was voted out a few years ago in favour of the present system where any Lib Dem who can attend Conference can vote.
    As far as I know, no-one has analysed the effect of this change, but it does potentially give the possibility for the voting to be skewed in favour of the interests of a particular area or region as well as simply reflecting the views of people who can afford to attend.

  • Ruth C-T: exactly. One member one vote may *look* more democratic but isn’t, for exactly that reason.

  • Hi Ruth – that must be before my time! To be fair, I don’t see a conspiracy. Regardless of how things may have been done in the past, I think technology allows us to do things better now.

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