Mark Pack’s December report: Fixing our broken politics

The importance of electoral reform

So much of our country is broken. Failing public services, failing government, failing to give hope for the future. Key to fixing that is to fix our political system, and that means fixing the electoral system for the House of Commons. First past the post is the broken mechanism at the heart of our broken politics.

Which is why Ed Davey recently gave an important speech to the IPPR, focused on how we need to make the next Westminster general election the last fought under first past the post. In his speech, Ed said:

The first step is getting the Conservatives out of government. Then, we must reform our electoral system to make everyone’s vote count equally.

It’s clear that first past the post distorts democracy. It has allowed the Conservative Party to cling to power – despite a majority of the British people voting against them at every election. Leaving them free to change Prime Minister as many times as they like, without a shred of accountability. I don’t need to tell you how damaging that has been for our country and our democracy.

But we have a real opportunity right now. For the first time ever, a majority of the British public now supports electoral reform. People know it’s the only way to bring about the change we so desperately need.

You can read his speech in full here and you can sign up to back our fair votes campaign here.

Thank you

We only have a chance of making that plan a reality thanks to the support of our members and helpers right across the country, and from our overseas branches too.

Thanks to that support, we’ve made a lot of progress in 2022 and we end it with more councillors, more Lib Dem majority councils and more MPs than we entered the year. With a huge round of local elections coming up in May and a Westminster government so mired in economic failure, we can look to the next set of electoral challenges with increasing confidence.

As council by-elections show us week in, week out, where we get our organisation right, where we listen to what matters most to voters and where we’re determined to up our game, there continue to be dramatic swings and wonderful victories to be secured.

Thank you for all you’ve done over the last year. I hope all our staff, volunteers, members and helpers get a good rest over the festive season, and the very best of luck for the next one.

New party website is live

As you’ll see if you follow that link above to Ed’s speech, our new and much improved party website is now live. This is part of the party’s big change in technology systems, with a new website system, email tool and online event tool for local parties too.

There’s plenty more to come with new content and features for both the national site and for everyone else using these tools across the party. But it’s worth particularly highlighting the new short summary of our party values that’s online, as I know many members have wanted an updated page to share locally and put in local email newsletters and the like. Party press releases are also appearing on the site too.

Improving the website is one part of improving our internal communications. The new, long-form ‘explainer’ emails that now go out after major events have gone down very well. (If, for example, you didn’t receive one after Ed Davey’s replacement conference speech last month, drop an email to [email protected] and the team can check your records, such as whether the party has an old email address for you or has you down as opted out from such messages.)

Another improvement just launched is the new local party officer newsletter, which particularly highlights the great work going on to recruit members…

Four local parties doing great membership work

Congratulations to Twickenham & Richmond, Bath and North East Somerset, Woking and Luton local parties who have been the four best performing local parties recently in recruiting and renewing party members locally.

Not only does this strengthen our grassroots organisation, but each locally recruited or renewed party member earns the local party a cash bonus, helping pay for all the big elections we’ve got coming up in the next couple of years.

Watch out for party posts to be filled

At the start of each three year cycle for our Federal Board, there are then around 50 further posts that the Board needs to fill, across a wide range of party activities, such as membership engagement, finance and technology.

At our December meeting we agreed plans for advertising these, with a trio of posts prioritised for urgent filling with adverts for them appearing this side of Christmas. The trio are all posts which also chair a group or committee (our elections and finance committees and our fundraising board). So getting the chair in place is important for getting that whole team up and running too.

For the other roles, we’ll follow the more traditional timescales and fill them early in the new year, allowing a little more time to ensure we’re properly casting the net widely to get the best and most diverse set of applicants.

All the vacancies will be advertised on the party website.

Each will include contact details if you’d like to find out more about any of the posts, or by all means drop me an email on [email protected] at any point if you’d like to discuss ways of getting more involved in our party.

December Federal Board meeting

Alongside those decisions on filling party posts, our newly elected Federal Board met in early December to get various things set up and running ahead of our first proper full meeting in January. This included agreeing to go ahead with the plans from the last Board for what business to put to Spring Federal Conference in York, updating the standing orders for the Disciplinary Sub-Group (DSG) ahead of appointing members to it next year, and getting things in place for how we communicate with each other, when we’ll meet next year and so on.

An important change for the Board will be the new role for a Federal Council to scrutinise our work. As our constitution says, “The Council shall be responsible for scrutinising the work of the Federal Board, including ensuring that decisions are being taken in line with the party strategy as voted for by Conference.”

I hope the new Federal Council will soon have a chair in place to help us all get stuck into working out the right relationship between the Board and the Council, and taking the necessary decisions, such as how we share information, that will go with that.

Transphobia definition

The November Federal Board meeting agreed an updated definition of transphobia to use in our party’s internal complaints processes.

Since the original definition was agreed several years ago, this general area has been an active area of legal cases. As a result the legal advice the party commissioned from an expert KC concluded that, although it was still legal for us to have and use a definition in our disciplinary processes, there were elements of it that needed to be changed given the current law and legal precedents. Despite the calls from some for the party to drop its definition completely, instead the Board decided to revise it so that we continue to have a definition that helps set the bounds on what is acceptable behaviour for a party member.

However, both the way in which the change was arrived at and communicated, along with the substance of the change, has caused considerable discussion and concerns. The process for making the change, including the timing of the publication, and the engagement with LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, one of our official party bodies, did not work as well as it should have, and my apologies for that.

As a result, along with our Chief Executive I’ve met with the executive of LGBT+ Liberal Democrats, and we’ve agreed on a series of steps to dig further into their areas of concern and to improve the party’s engagement with them.

I know we have more to do on that, both on this issue and more widely, and I will do my best to work closely with LGBT+ Lib Dems and others to achieve that.

It’s worth adding that none of the above has altered our public policies on trans rights, which have been repeatedly and overwhelmingly supported by party members through our democratic processes. The party continues to fully support trans rights, including supporting reform of the Gender Recognition Act and for a total ban on so-called conversion therapy. It’s important that we continue to try to bring that support to life in how we operate as a party too.

Robert Woodthorpe Browne MBE

My condolences to Robert’s family and many friends across the party after his sad death a few days ago. Robert had long been one of the party’s strongest internationalists, with an impressive ability to work successfully with liberal colleagues from across the globe. He was also wonderfully supportive and kind, the very best of people to turn to for advice and problem solving.

Mark Valladares, who worked closely with Robert for many years, has paid tribute to him here.

Congratulations and thanks to…

Congratulations and best wishes to the new team of people elected to our federal committees in the party’s internal elections.

Additional congratulations to Cllr Nick da Costa, who members of Federal Conference Committee (FCC) have re-elected as their chair.

Thank you also to a trio of federal committee chairs who have said they’ll be standing down: Cllr Lisa Smart (Federal Communications and Elections Committee, FCEC), Helena Cole (Federal Audit and Scrutiny Committee, FASC) and Mary Regnier-Wilson (Federal People Development Committee, FPDC). All three have put in huge amounts of work and made tangible differences to how well the party is run. Thank you all for your contributions, and the very best of luck for your future party work too.

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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8 Comments

  • Massimo Ricciuti 9th Dec '22 - 2:15pm

    Thank you, Mark. Also in Italy we need to do the same things. Bipolarism system failed badly…

  • As much as I would like PR it would raise a lot of questions and challenges. For example, what would the role of the Lib Dems actually be? Would they stay together as one party? Would the Greens take over as the third party in England? Is enough being done to create a core vote so if PR happens the party would survive?

  • Peter Hirst 10th Dec '22 - 3:11pm

    Given that pr would increase our MPs at a stroke, it is strange that Marco argues that it would threaten our survival. It might mean we work more closely with other Parties such as The Greens though that must be good and they surely deserve more representation. It would alter our campaigning strategy and in my view make our longer term relevance more certain.

  • Peter Watson 10th Dec '22 - 7:39pm

    @Peter Hirst “Given that pr would increase our MPs at a stroke, it is strange that Marco argues that it would threaten our survival.”
    I agree with Marco about the risk to Lib Dem survival for the reasons outlined by Mark Valladeres. I could imagine, under PR, the Labour and Conservative parties splitting and creating significant centre-left/right parties. I don’t think that would leave room for the LibDems, especially given the party’s failure to carve out much of a distinct identity in recent years.
    I also agree with Mark Valladeres that more clearly defined political parties could be a good thing, and he makes an excellent point about democracy.

  • I would want the Lib Dems to hold together as one party in the event of PR. I feel that the “social liberal” and “orange book” wings balance each other out well and that most economic liberals are also social liberals. I would not be happy with a German style party system where you have the Greens on the left and then a centre right ish Free Democrats party.

    The key is to prepare for PR by building a core vote around the country who identify first and foremost as Lib Dems.

  • “Given that pr would increase our MPs at a stroke, it is strange that Marco argues that it would threaten our survival.”

    That is not guaranteed as most PR systems are not perfectly proportional and impose a natural threshold. A stark example of this was the 2014 European elections where the Lib Dems got around 6% of the vote and were reduced to just one seat. So there is a risk of the party being squeezed out by the arrival of PR.

  • Suzanne Fletcher 11th Dec '22 - 3:42pm

    I’m late to comment, but well done on the “values” section of the website, and as Mark Pack knows very pleased about the press releases – the lengths he has gone to so i don’t have to get up early to ask about it again at conference!!

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