Liberal Youth calls for reserved places on party committees

Liberal Youth (soon to be the Young Liberals) has called for places to be reserved on party committees for its members, citing the success of this approach in Scotland and Wales.

In an open letter to the Federal Executive, published on the Libertine blog, LY co-chair Charlie Kingsbury said:

…it feels obvious now that Liberal Youth, now being the largest voting bloc in the party, to be intimately involved in the decision-making process of the wider party.

This is already the case in both Scotland and Wales, where appropriate executive officers of the relevant state organisations of Liberal Youth (Ieuenctid Rhyddfrydol Cymru and Liberal Youth Scotland) sit on their Conference, Campaigns, Policy, and Executive Committees. In England too, LY England members sit on the English Council and Executive. It strikes us as peculiar that the same settlement is not imitated federally: if the Welsh, Scottish and English Liberal Democrats are able to trust their respective youth wings, it is surprising that the Federal Party does not do the same.

Through including Liberal Youth in the party committees of the federal party (as it already does for the FPC), it sends a clear message that Liberal Youth and the wider party of the Liberal Democrats are working together for the purposes of promoting a more liberal United Kingdom, and not in opposition to each other. This is especially important after we highlighted a number of concerns regarding ageism in the party that do not seem to be reflected in Wales in particular, where Liberal Youth membership of their main committees is automatic.

Three members of the Federal Executive, Josh Dixon, Neil Fawcett and I, have all signed the letter. I signed because I know how well it works in Scotland. I know how much we’ve gained not just from LY participation on our party committees, but from other organisations such as ALDC and Lib Dem Women too. It’s great for communication and for ensuring that our actions are inclusive of all these groups.

There is an argument that larger committees are somehow more unwieldy and can’t do their jobs properly. In my experience of 3 years on the Federal Executive, committees do their jobs properly if they have all the information they require to make their decisions, so that’s an irrelevant argument.

Conference will be voting on detailed proposals coming out of the Governance Review in September. I hope that FE will look at the possibility of reserved places for SAOs as well as maintaining a high proportion of directly elected representatives. What do you think?

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

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24 Comments

  • “Liberal Youth, now being the largest voting bloc in the party…”

    If Liberal Youth are the largest voting bloc in the party, why do they need special representation? Surely this means that they have the votes under OMOV to elect people who serve their interests on these committees.

    I’m not opposed, yet. I’m just trying to understand.

  • Richard Underhill 10th Apr '16 - 6:51pm

    Give it a try.

  • @Alex

    Fair point. I guess what I’m driving at is that I accept that special representation is needed for some groups. I support affirmative action. I support AWS. But Liberal Youth, by their own admission, are the largest bloc in the party. What merits special positions being set aside for them?

    On that note, how would these positions be filled? What is turnout like in Liberal Youth elections? When I was a member (2 years ago) I remember turnout in LY elections being tiny. Is that still the case? Will any youth position on these committees be able to claim a strong mandate to speak on behalf of the youth wing?

    Please do not think that I am opposed. I am making up my mind. I put these questions because I want to make an informed decision – and that necessitates a degree of cross-examination.

  • Oh, and one more point:

    “How would you like it if you were elected to something and told ‘You fit personal characteristics X and therefore must do as you’re told by other people fitting personal characteristics X regardless of whether you agree with them or not, and not the people you actually appealed to in your election’?”

    Isn’t that exactly what having a youth position set aside on these committees entails? You tell people that this person represents them because they are also young?

    I’ll shut up now; I’m hogging the comments.

  • James Baillie 10th Apr '16 - 8:43pm

    As a young liberal (both capitalised and uncapitalised), I do support these proposals, mainly because I think there’s a need for ageism to be tackled in the party as a whole; the youth wing need a level of extra clout because frankly they get a very raw deal at conferences. (I’d also note that YL is only the largest single voting bloc because there aren’t other age-categorised ones, whilst I don’t have the numbers I imagine that an equivalent “Pensioner Lib Dems” group might be at least of similar size and probably larger).

    On the other hand, I do have some concerns, mainly that it needs to come hand in hand with a real reform of how YL operates. Under thirty people got to YL conference at the weekend (an event in Scotland which was advertised by one email with only a few weeks of notice) – and they proceeded to set our stances on issues as large as tuition fees and no platforming, passing motions that were towards the extremes on both issues and have been quite divisive among the youth of the party. The issue of mandate, especially if policy keeps being made by such a narrow (and hardly randomly selected) group of young liberals, is real and I want to see it being given not just further consideration but real action. As it is, I don’t feel like YL speaks with a voice anything like mine on most policy issues, and an exec member – especially if bound to YL policy – certainly wouldn’t make me personally feel better represented, although on balance I think it should probably happen anyway.

    YL is important – we really need it to tackle ageism and intergenerational fairness issues, and to help push the party to be more forward-thinking on technology and other issues where my generation has a distinctly different life experience. There are issues around policy though, especially with the sharply divisive nature of some recent motions, and as such I would currently, regretfully, have to say that it YL, whilst it still deserves its place on federal committees, doesn’t speak for me at the moment and probably wouldn’t speak for me on those committees either.

  • Having joined the party in Aberystwyth in 2000 and become active in 2001, I first became involved with the Welsh party by attending a Welsh conference in spring 2002. I then did a work placement in the Welsh Assembly that following summer.

    I was encouraged at the end of it by our then Welsh Party Chief Executive Chris Lines to get involved at the Welsh Party level by standing for one of the designated youth positions on the various Welsh party committees. I did and sat soon after on the Welsh Executive and the Welsh campaigns committees.

    I remember what may have been my first Welsh Executive committee meeting in the heavens above the Welsh party office at Bayview House in Cardiff Bay and being almost petrified to be in the same company as Mike German! I was an imposter, what was I doing there?! Without this early opportunity and encouragement, I may not have gained the confidence to become active at a wider level.

    But with this increasing confidence and with Chris Lines again being supportive by encouraging me to stand for the role of Ceredigion’s new organiser in 2004, I became even more involved with the party.

    Roll forward a decade+ and I’m now Honorary President of IR Cymru and Deputy Peesident of the Welsh Liberal Democrats. Had the system not been in place for me to get involved as a representative of our Welsh youth section within the Welsh party structure, I may not have gained the experience and confidence to go and do what I did.

    So this is a no-brainer for me. More power to Liberal Youth.

  • I think Liberal Youth should be invited to send non-voting representatives to each committee, as they currently do with FPC. Having at least the voice speaking for the interests of young members is valuable.

    However, I don’t think it’s currently reasonable for them to have reserved voting positions on committees when the turnout in their internal elections remains barely 5%. (It would be worrying if a major decision affecting the party was swung based on someone elected by just a couple of hundred members).

    Also we don’t let know yet what impact OMOV will have on committee representation, it may be that OMOV will enable a number of young people to be elected to committees, and if this is the case, it would render this somewhat unnecessary.

  • Nom de Plume 10th Apr '16 - 11:09pm

    ‘Libertine blog’- a surprising name for a forum used by liberals. I have always considered a libertine to almost be the opposite of a liberal – at least in the Marquis de Sade sense of the word. Despite its open form liberalism is highly structured – it attempts to create structure for an open society. As can often be seen here on LDV. They are radically different interpretations of freedom. It is perhaps a misunderstanding that some conservatives have as well. Have a look at the wiki article.

  • nigel hunter 10th Apr '16 - 11:53pm

    Pensioner LIb Dem’s can unite under the ageism label and work together to obtain results that would benefit both. ie housing, elderly downsizing to flats saving money. Young, flats to get on the first rung of the ladder or both, cheap rental accommodation for not all pensioners are well off. likewise the young. Youth and grandparents can work together to form Lib Dem policy.

  • amber hartman 11th Apr '16 - 1:07am

    As a parent (in my 40’s) I support this fully. The ‘Voice of the Child’, a board founded by Sir Simon Hughes, needs to be extended throughout society. I have seen children failed again and again in various situations because, ‘no-one listened’.
    We need to help the Young and Youth, in age appropriate methods, get involved and learn how to shape and change the system. It is only political but a way for the Youth to have recognition.
    As an Advocate for Children’s Right’s, I will assist wherever I can.

  • amber hartman 11th Apr '16 - 3:18am

    *not only political

  • Lorenzo Cherin 11th Apr '16 - 3:24am

    James Baillie

    In your points are the key to our party improving across the board , wider input , online voting , only after proof of online viewing of the debates , or at least of clocking in , or of reading by downloading of materials related . That ,if possible, would do wonders for participation.

    The move towards poorly attended gatherings in person , and narrow policies is very troubling for any party.For a mainsteam one , madness .This is not Corbynland !There is a home there for extremes !

  • LY or soon to be YL have had reserved places on all English, Regional and Local Party Execs for years.

    They add great value and this should remain as well as be replicated on Federal Committees.

    Honestly, their position can only be improved if we stop the anecdotes, the “I told you so’s” and most importantly the “when I was your age/We tried that in 1976” statements.

  • amber hartman 11th Apr '16 - 11:09am

    I do agree that online voting and watching of the conference would be beneficial- for cost and also for those unable to attend.

  • A Social Liberal 11th Apr '16 - 11:44am

    PaulH said

    “Honestly, their position can only be improved if we stop the anecdotes, the “I told you so’s” and most importantly the “when I was your age/We tried that in 1976” statements.”

    Are you saying that we shouldn’t learn from our past experiences?

  • Gordon Lishman 11th Apr '16 - 12:14pm

    If this proposal is to be part of formal constitutional changes, the proposers need to think through and answer a few further questions which will need to be part of the package:
    1. Should this be all SAOs or only Liberal Youth?
    2. If the former, should ALDC reps replace reps elected by all LD councillors?
    3. Should the rules for recognition and review of SAOs be changed if they get direct representation and, if so, how?
    4. If LY, there’s probably as strong a case for LD Women, but less so for others. Where and how should the dividing line be drawn?
    4. Should the Committees have extra directly-elected reps to keep a member-elected majority and/or (as per Alex above) should the ex-officio number be reduced – which would probably lead to a larger proportion of directly-elected places going to MPs?
    5. If the SAO reps (perhaps plus extra directly elected reps) made the Federal Executive even more unwieldy, would this add to the case for a “Federal Board”, meeting infrequently and giving up its oversight role to a small, co-ordinating group of specific place-holders?
    For information, the argument against SAO representation came mainly from SDP elements in the merger negotiation in 1987. They believed strongly that representation of specific interest groups undermined the wider responsibility of bodies which should represent the whole Party.
    The proponents of this view need to work out the overall package they are going to put forward, probably in the context of the flawed Governance Review proposals.
    For what it’s worth, I shall probably be in favour of YL representation but not other SAOs, with a commensurate increase in directly-elected places.

  • Why is every group always a special case with you guys. How has the party benefited from reserving places for the Liberal Youth on committees in Wales and Scotland? The party has never been more unpopular in those two countries. Your in danger of getting the committees the activists want, but none of the policies the public want.

  • If you want to abolish all reserved places, you need to give serious consideration as to how that would affect the balance of who we allow to make our decisions – and I’m not just talking gender, but age, region, background etc.

    The reason I would support this is based on personal experience of how impractical the current set-up is within the party.

    When I was LY vice-chair, around the time the 2015 election manifesto was being decided upon, one of Liberal Youth’s Freshers campaigns was on transport.

    We worked really hard on putting it all together, had generated a *lot* of interest from potential new members from its initial outing – and then? Disaster.

    Before we’d even had a chance to turn up to our first Freshers fare, the pre-manifesto was launched and the party had a ‘great’ idea for reduced fares for under-21s*.

    All that time, effort and money essentially wasted (and the policy wasn’t even as good as ours) – and all because the party is horrendously bad at talking to each other.

    Not one person at HQ thought to mention the Freshers materials on the very same subject sitting on their desk, or thought that – maybe – MPs might find what their youth wing are campaigning on useful on the doorstep.

    There is a built-in focus group for the party that they never use – either they dismiss people as kids or, when the election comes round, demand they become leaflet delivering fodder.

    You put one young rep on every committee, and you have a direct line to that group, to instant opinions, and a way to make young people believe the party takes them seriously – something that is far more beneficial than having allocated slots for MPs or Lords, IMO.

    (*it should be pointed out that, when David Laws found out about the Freshers campaign, he made it a point to arrange a meeting with LY and talk through it)

  • I have previously written in support of affirmative action in support of Young Liberals. It should be an almost redundant truism that the youth represent our future. Furthermore younger voters get a very raw deal in many ways and often those who purport to represent the young in the media and on the political scene are actually middle aged or frankly aged. We risk a referendum in which those who have put their working lives behind them will determine the fate of those who have their working lives ahead of them. If this happens it would be a democratic failing.

    Last time I wrote something of this sort a frequent contributor made the surprisingly complacent comment that the young will in time get older and will eventually have their opportunities. To me her response demonstrates why the party needs to go out of its way to avoid such patronising attitudes. Young voters need a voice, whilst it is not for us to impose our party upon them, we can at least facilitate their voice within the party.

  • suzanne fletcher 11th Apr '16 - 5:45pm

    A lot to think about, and there needs to be some way of making sure young liberals (love the name!!) have a voice, but should reform be piecemeal ?
    has anyone ever stuck pins in a map as to where people on these committees live ? would be an interesting pic .

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