Morrissey Progress Report – first thoughts

Morrissey Progress ReportAs promised earlier, here are my first thoughts on Helena Morrissey’s progress report which she published earlier today. There is so much in the report that I could go in to but these are the main points I’ve noticed.

The party needed to come out of this well, and show good progress in 18 months. To a certain extent it does, and the people who needed to come out of it most well were the leader, chief executive and president, the holders of most power in the party and who are perceived by the public as its face. They were praised for their commitment and for what has been achieved. It was the lack of progress at regional and local level that concerned Morrissey and she wants to see that changed. In many respects I agree with her. However, those of us who value the say that grassroots members have in this party should make sure that there is no “mission creep”. It may be a temptation to take more power than is strictly necessary to the centre and we need to be vigilant on this point.

Morrissey outlines the solid progress that has been made so far on each of her recommendations but is clear that there is still more to do. She suggests further action on two broad themes – structural reform and specific action to make sure that people are aware of the standards of behaviour expected of them.

Do we need separate constitutions?

She talks a lot about the party’s structure. I almost choked on my tea at this sentence, though:

There is no sensible reason, for example, to have separate Constitutions for the three state parties (the English, Scottish and Welsh parties).

As a Scot, I would not be happy about any attempt to centralise the party and prevent the Scottish Party from exercising some flexibility, as it currently does, being 5 years ahead of the game on One Member One Vote for example.

It is certainly true that the Scottish Party has moved to adopt the procedures in certain areas used by the English Party. This is particularly true in terms of candidate approval and selection. One of the first things I did way back in 2001, just after I moved home to Scotland, was to oversee the implantation of what was in effect the English Party approval process. We adapted it for our own needs, though, changing certain elements to make it work for us. In recent years, we’ve effectively adopted the English selection rules. Now there’s a move towards harmonisation of the disciplinary processes, something that I’ve been involved in as Convener of the Scottish Party’s Finance and Membership Committee.

However, having separate constitutions has enabled us to go our own way on structuring our own Executive. Where the English Party has this unwelcoming, opaque morass that few new people have a hope of penetrating, we are pretty transparent. Any member can stand for election to our Executive in an all-member ballot. In addition, we have places for our SAOs on our Committees so that women, young people, ALDC and the Greens (at the moment) can make themselves heard. There are hopes that EMLD will launch in Scotland too.

It’s not quite the same in the English Party, though, with endless hierarchy to chisel your way through, something that’s easier in some places than others.

English Party structure and its impact on diversity

Morrissey is pretty scathing of the English Party’s structure and the impact this has on diversity. She alludes to the lack of English Party support for the Leadership Programme as evidence to support this point. She makes it perfectly clear that she wishes to see it continue after the General Election.  She made some points that were pretty similar to those I made in my recent post about diversity and the English Council Executive’s appalling gender balance.

I wanted to explore the relative success of the Leadership Programme, established in 2011, to see whether there were any replicable factors.

It transpired that this programme did not receive support from various influential committees and the creators feared that the proposals might be blocked. The Programme did get approved by Federal Conference but the English Candidates Committee, for example, did not advocate for the Leadership Programme or propose any other alternative solutions to these issues. This lack of engagement from influential groups inevitably limits the effectiveness of any initiative.

I enquired how people get onto such a committee and was told that the first qualification is to be a member of one of the English Councils. These council appointments are made at regional conference. After that, the process is opaque: there is no job description or list of skills or experience, so the tendency arises for a core existing group to self-perpetuate. Turnover is also low – there is no maximum term. The English Council Executive elections recently took place – at the same time as the federal committees, where the proportion of women elected was 44%. In contrast, the English Council Executive now comprises 22 men and just 3 women.

This highlights the need for transparent election processes at all levels – again, something that could be more easily achieved if there was and standardised good practice within a simpler structure.

A rebuke for Nick Clegg

Clegg generally comes out of the report quite well.  However,  he does get a (well deserved in my opinion) slight rebuke for not putting a woman in the Cabinet:
None of the five Liberal Democrat Cabinet seats are held by a woman. It was recently announced that there would be no changes to the ministerial team in the final months of this parliament, provoking some disappointment. Of course it is counter-productive to promote a woman in a ‘tokenistic’ way, but there was certainly at least one very credible female candidate and this was a missed opportunity.

The Rennard Case – where do we go from here?

The most controversial part of the report goes through the narrative of what she refers to as the Rennard Case. Her conclusions will not please everybody although it’s not clear what else could happen:

At this point, December 2014, every investigation has concluded with no further action to be taken against Lord Rennard. The process over the past nearly two years – conducted according to the prevailing rules – has run its course and although the outcome is a source of great frustration to some, I believe that the Party can only move on if that outcome is accepted. At this stage, given that the Party applied its own processes, there is no justification for it remaining ambivalent towards Lord Rennard – he should be just as welcome a participant or guest at Party events as any other.

It’s clear, though, that she has respect for the women involved. She recounts how senior party figures regret their resignations and praises them as catalysts of change:

The women involved can also take comfort from the fact that their actions shone a spotlight on the need for high behavioural standards throughout the Party and more effective processes for dealing with problems when they do occur. If the women who feel wronged can focus on this, they will realise that their complaints have left an indelible, positive mark, helping others to avoid the distress they have experienced. This is a significant achievement.

Her emphasis on the importance of forgiveness is very worthy but whether those involved feel it’s appropriate given the stress they have experienced is yet to be seen. She is aware of the divisions that have opened up in the party and navigates a careful and sensitive path through them.

I think it’s important that there is no attempt to interfere with any part of the Party deciding who it can or can’t invite to its events, or not, as the case may be.

E & OE

Errors and omissions excepted is something you see on bills. Basically it’s there to reduce liability if they supply wrong information no those or any other form of legal or contractual document. Morrisssey can’t be expected to get all the terminology of the Party correct, but there were a few errors which I think could have been avoided. There’s reference to a coltish Leadership Programme that doesn’t exist, although Scottish Liberal Democrat Women have certainly been doing a whole stack of work to ensure women know what options are available to them in tens of training and advancement in the party. There’s a reference to the English Party’s Regional Policy Committee when it was the Regional Parties Committee that dealt with the Rennard case. I realise she may have been given information some time ago, but the diversity teaining module in Scotland was run in Aberdeen and Invernessas well as Glasgow and Edinburgh, I’m nit-picking because none of this should change the substance of her recommendations. It’s just that this party is full of pedants some of whom might use those inaccuracies as an excuse to doubt the conclusions which would be both unnecessary and undesirable.

What happens now?

Morrissey makes a series of further recommendations but her work is now complete. It’s up to the party bodies to implant them and ensure that the cultural change we need continues. Several times during the Report she makes reference to the issues the party has faced not just being relevant to Liberal Democrats. She ends on something we can all agree with.

As voters, we need to demand change from all parties, to the point where men and women from a wide variety of backgrounds feel not just welcome in politics, but empowered to lead ongoing improvements in our society and economy.


All comments on this post will be pre-moderated.

* 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.


  • Kelly-Marie Blundell 18th Dec '14 - 10:23pm

    I’m really quite disappointed by both Caron’s response and the Morrisey progress review.
    The latter does not go far enough to address the things that could be done, instead, addresses only the shortcomings. It’s rather like being taken apart by a journalist with no chance to address the problems.

    I want to stand up for the English Party here. The English Party, of whom I was a representative for two years, work incredibly hard behind the scenes to address disciplinaries, fallings out and the sewage works of a major political party.
    Having attended the meetings, I’m well aware the balance of the EP is predominately male, white and middle class. I felt pretty left out myself. But speaking in debates at EP, I was always pleased to hear the shout for female and diverse speakers.
    Debates over Morrisey in Facebook led to many people running to stand for FE, FCC and FPC, without the realisation that it is the EP, that less sexy, less platform raising body, that they could influence and assist with. Even now, many Lib Dems do not give this body the respect it deserves.

    The EP strives for diversity, but this diversity requires local party execs and regions to be diverse as well. And more must be done to get people engaged with the detail orientated nitty gritty – not the stage presence they all aspire to, but the hard work that goes on behind it.

    On the Leadership programme, this was a radical move for the party to challenge diversity across the ranks. However, it raises much criticism as it is without democratic accountability, is unable to demonstrate financial accountability and is made up of nearly 50% of candidates benefiting from training who do not intend to stand in the General Election in 2015. This is a waste of resources, of brilliant talent and diversity amongst us and an abuse of democratic power within the party.

    Yes the party can do more to address diversity, but I fail to see how Morrisey’s insults and Caron’s report of them help any of us learn how.

  • Interesting quick summary Caron, It will be good to get debate and feedback on the report. Many of us is in the English Party are keen to see it abolished, yet its structures, as reported well here, demonstrate that it is a self-perpetuating and largely unaccountable body that without a full Federal Constitutional Review is near impossible to reform. The continuing debacle of lack of candidates in many regions sits squarely on the shoulders of this body.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 18th Dec '14 - 11:12pm


    Having sat on English Council and been Regional Secretary, responsible for getting people to attend English Council from two Regions, I have to say that one of the worst things about English Council is that its meetings were usually desperately boring, with a series of talking heads and very little interactivity. Whether or not that has changed, I don’t know, but it was hardly a major attraction, and that much does not seem to have changed. It was the desperate tedium that dissuades me from involvement, and I’m a bureaucrat.

  • An excellent, heartening and educative piece Caron, thank you for writing it.

    I shall however go on to be one of those dread party pedants by observing how that closing quote reminds me of a line I stumbled across recently: “men and women: for when ‘people’ is too inclusive and not enough syllables”.

  • Duncan Borrowman 19th Dec '14 - 12:46am

    Quire frankly the English Party should be locked in a room and the key thrown away. There are individuals who have exercised power in it for decades and achieved absolutely nothing. Let’s judge them by how the PPC crisis is solved.

  • Helen Dudden 19th Dec '14 - 5:10am

    Only when people change, will change happen.

    It was a foolish comment that those offended have compassion, others should think along those lines before this is the answer.

    In other words, take responsibility for your actions.

  • Eddie Sammon 19th Dec '14 - 9:18am

    Hi Helen, I don’t think Helena meant ‘forgive those who haven’t said sorry’, I think she just meant ‘forgive those who are sorry, if practical’.

    From what I read there were things I disagreed with and things I agreed with, so she has probably done a good job. I want to see what women think of it before judging, but she does go out of her way to strongly recommend more diversity when really she could have just recommended tougher rules, more support and a change in attitude (which she recommends too).


  • Eddie Sammon 19th Dec '14 - 10:26am

    By the way, I’ve just googled Helena Morrissey and found out she is the CEO of Newton Investment Management and has 9 children! Newton are no small firm and they are one of the best investment managers around.

    She also set up the 30% club for women on boards and has done this report for us.

    I’m so impressed. I don’t think we’ve mentioned Helena’s achievements enough. It brings gravitas.

  • I think Coltish should be Scottish – E &OE line 4.
    I agree with Carons comments & most of what I have read of Helenas, so far. There is nothing more The Party can do about Rennard but I would still never vote for him or work with him.

  • Julian Tisi 19th Dec '14 - 5:42pm

    I think Helena Morrisey’s report is very fair and balanced. I also pretty much agree with her recommendations and I hope as a party we listen.

    I don’t think it’s mission creep to say that the party’s incredibly complex internal structure has been a problem and Ishould be changed. And I’m with Helena Morrisey in agreeing that there’s no good reason to have separate constitutions for each national party. I know as a party we’re understandably worried by centralising things but sometimes, for reasons of simplicity, cost and clear democratic accountability it’s the right thing to do. That’s also why I think the English Party should be abolished – it’s a needless layer of bureaucracy so for that reason alone it should go.

  • Sue Doughty 19th Dec '14 - 6:17pm

    I think it should be noted that the criticism is not of the people in the English party (other than lack of diversity etc). They are all good, work hard and carry out a lot of functions on behalf of all of us. However the criticism of English Regional Elections and indeed the English Council structures are extremely fair. The lack of transparency of elections to Regional bodies in effect ensures that there is very little competition for places on it, and that co-options take place, usually from amongst a fairly narrow group of people. The work on OMOV which I have been undertaking has been to widen democracy and opportunity across the party, and to give a voice to far more people in our policy making while enabling more to play a key role in the party. It really is time to get a grip with the processes associated with Regions and the English Party if this body is to be truly representative of its members.

  • Helen Dudden 19th Dec '14 - 8:48pm

    @ Eddie Sammon. Yes Helena is a woman who deserves respect. I feel women can be a bonus in the workplace, we do have a different attitude, and often a calming influence.

    I misunderstood the context of the statement.

    An apology can be important to those who should have one. it would achieve little if you simply turned the other cheek.

    Being involved in child access issues, mediation is an excellent tool. Arguments fester into further angry words and more hurt.

  • ” A rebuke for Nick Clegg – – – a (well deserved in my opinion) slight rebuke for not putting a woman in the Cabinet:
    None of the five Liberal Democrat Cabinet seats are held by a woman. ”
    As so often when this sort of thing is pointed out, there is a discussion about the qualifications of women to fill such posts. Nobody discusses the duff and inadequate men who have been filling these posts for years. Clegg’s failure is not just that he did not pick one of the obviously suitable women but that he instead appointed less than suitable men. I would name one Cabinet member in particular but I fear that might break the LDV rules and get this comment trashed so hope it will be OK to say that being male and being a “friend of Nick” is not an obvious qualification for a seat at the Cabinet table.

    Does anyone know the ratio of men to women that Clegg has appointed to the House of Lords?
    He has been putting people into the unelected, unaccountable end of parliament for seven years now. Just imagine how many women of Cabinet status he could have appointed over seven years.

  • Tony Greaves 20th Dec '14 - 7:59pm

    John Tilley – I think it’s about 50-50 (I write “about” without checking the earlier lists in detail – the last list was 3-3).

    Paul Barker – “There is nothing more The Party can do about Rennard but I would still never vote for him or work with him.” This is one of the most illiberal comments I have read on here for some time. I am not sure who HM says should be expressing forgiveness (which is usually a good thing in any situation amongst colleagues).

    But the point is clear. Due process following the complaints took place both outside and (at great length and complexity) within the party. No-one I know thinks that the party carried this out in a reasonably expeditious and wholly competent way, and I think most people will agree that this caused difficulties and distress on all sides. But in the end the process was concluded and the outcome was as it is – no case to answer.

    As Liberals we must accept that. The concept of due process under the law/rules is so fundamental to what we believe about a liberal and democratic society. So continued throw-out comments such as the one UI have

  • 14 women have been appointed to the HofL by Clegg, according to this helpful briefing –

    Which also includes the following —

    978 party political Peers appointed since 1958.
    207 of these  have been women. 

    In an article in the Guardian in 1992, Madeleine Bunting argued that Paddy Ashdown, as Leader of the Liberal Democrat party, also sought to increase the number of women in the House of Lords. She quotes Liberal Democrat Peer Baroness Hamwee, who told Bunting: “I’m here because Paddy Ashdown wanted a woman Peer”. For Bunting, the appointment of female Peers is “a form of positive discrimination which works”.

     In 2011, the Liberal Democrat party conference adopted a resolution on gender balance in the House of Lords, which states:
    With specific regard to gender balance, conference calls on Liberal Democrat parliamentarians to:
    i)  ensure the reformed House begins its mandate with in-built gender balance
    ii)  pilot modern flexible working practices in the reformed House
    iii)  ensure any further interim appointments mitigate, rather than perpetuate, the current gender imbalance, and, if an appointed element is retained,
      iv) press for a transparent skills and competency based approach to new appointments.

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